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Austrian Villagers to Refugees: Please Don’t Fear Krampus

3440508_webThe integration of Syrian and Iraqi refugees is facing a terrifying challenge in rural Austria this holiday season.  Officials in the village of Virgen worried about how new arrivals from the Middle East would react to the local tradition of meeting so-called “Christmas Devils” who pretend to abduct kids.  “In the first week of December, the good, gift-bringing St. Nicholas wanders through the streets with his evil, scary companions called Krampus,” Kurt Glaenzer, the head of a local Krampus club, explained to NBC News. [2] Some of Virgen’s around 2,000 residents wear animal skins and don carved wooden masks on nights leading up to St. Nicholas Day on December 6. Loud bells tied to their costumes clank through the darkness of the night as the creepy creatures wander the streets searching for poorly behaved children.  “When the Krampus roams the town, he often wrestles people to the ground, symbolizing the abduction of bad children,” Glaenzer added.  [1][9] Krampus himself historically comes around the night of December 5, tagging along with St. Nicholas. He visits houses all night with his saintly pal. While St. Nick is on hand to put candy in the shoes of good kids and birch twigs in the shoes of the bad, Krampus’ particular specialty is punishing naughty children. Legend has it that throughout the Christmas season, misbehaved kids are beaten with birch branches or can disappear, stuffed into Krampus’ sack and hauled off to his lair to be tortured or eaten. [3] “The Krampus is the yin to St. Nick’s yang,” Seghers tells Smithsonian.com. “You have the saint, you have the devil. It taps into a subconscious macabre desire that a lot of people have that is the opposite of the saccharine Christmas a lot of us grew up with.”  In fact, Krampus’ roots have nothing to do with Christmas. [3] Instead, they date back to pre-Germanic paganism in the region. His name originates with the German krampen, which means “claw,” and tradition has it that he is the son of the Norse god of the underworld, Hel. During the 12th century, the Catholic Church attempted to banish Krampus celebrations because of his resemblance to the devil. More eradication attempts followed in 1934 at the hands of Austria’s conservative Christian Social Party. But none of it held, and Krampus emerged as a much-feared and beloved holiday force. [3]

Though the festival is well-loved, it gave rise to concerns that the new neighbors might be scared of the tradition and its nightmare-fueling costumes. Rather than cancelling the parade, town officials decided to educate the newcomers. [3] Fearing the spectacle would be misunderstood, community representatives last week visited the 22 migrants — including 12 children — who have been housed in the Alpine village since the end of October.  They were shown the frightening masks and given insight into the event’s history with the help of an Arabic translator. [1] The verdict? The newcomers had “lots of fun,” according to social worker Nicole Kranebitter.  The migrants “will now know what to expect when St. Nicholas and the Krampus creatures knock on their door,” Kranebitter added.  She said the next event planned for the families who fled war-torn homelands will be traditional cookie baking.

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The tradition—also known as the Krampuslauf, or Krampus Run—is having a resurgence throughout Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Hungary and the Czech Republic, and has gained recognition in the United States. [3] The creature has become so popular in recent times that he has a comic book series, parties of his own and even a new movie. After all, says Jeremy Seghers, organizer of a Krampusnacht festival being held for the first time in Orlando, Florida, why watch out when Santa Claus comes to town? “Because Krampus is coming to get you.” [3]

[2] Andy Eckardt, Austrian Villagers to Refugees: Please Don’t Fear Krampus, NBC News, Dec 1 2015, 9:53 am ET
[3] Jennifer Billock, The Origin of Krampus, Europe’s Evil Twist on Santa, Smithsonian.com, December 4, 2015
[4] Austrian village warns refugees about Krampus tradition. MSNBC, 12/3/15
[5] Rozina Sabur, Austrian town reassures asylum-seekers over unusual Christmas tradition, The Telegraph, 8:57PM GMT 30 Nov 2015
[6] Krampus Night – Introducing an Old Tradition to Refugee Families, Catherine Cavendish, Tuesday, 1 December 2015
[8] Asylum seekers face their fears with Krampus, TheLocal.at, 28 Nov 2015 12:28 GMT+01:00
[9] Austrian Villagers to Refugees: Please Don’t Fear Krampus, Red Ice Creations, 2015-12-02 6:30
[10] Syrian Refugees In Austria Embrace The Krampus, Viral Pirate, December 2, 2015


About Bill Wallace

Bill Wallace is a self-fashioned writter, a computer programmer and cybermarketer from Quebec City, Canada who decided to enter the political arena after his disillusionment with the socialist system under which he was living in the French Canadian province of Quebec.

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