All around the world, some young children’s most formative memories are made as they lay awake at night for bewitching Santa to arrive in his magic sleigh and eight flying reindeer in eager anticipation of what presents he may bring. Santa Claus – otherwise known as St. Nicholas rewards well-behaved children with gifts and leaves the misbehaved to his evil counterpart, Krampus – the reason kids are hell-bent on staying off the naughty list.
Krampus, fabled to be the son of Norse goddess Hel, who rules over the realm of the dead, pays a visit to the naughty children on 5th December to punish them. Krampus translates from German to mean ‘claw’ and has an appearance straight out of nightmares. He is a half-goat, half-demon who carries chains and a bundle of birch sticks to whip children into shape and sometimes throws them into his basket and takes them down to the underworld.
This pagan figure has been celebrated in folklore for hundreds of years, and there is no one definitive version of his story that can be held aloft. Though his origin appears to be unclear, the earliest tales of Krampus have been considered to be originated from Austria and Germany.
What is Krampusnacht, you ask?
Beginning centuries ago, festivals in honor of Krampus continue to this day, as the celebration of St. Nicholas Day would not be the same without honoring his evil servant. In the modern day, Krampus has become a symbol of celebration as a moral compass to be balanced – the good and evil. Krampusnacht or Krampus Night is celebrated in Austria and throughout the Alpine region.
Hundreds of young men and women parade through the streets of Austria dressed up in elaborate costumes of large horns, thick furry suits made with skin from either a goat or a sheep fashioned with devilish hand-carved masks in the image of Krampus, dancing and scaring all that comes their way on Krampusnacht. The Krampus run or Krampus parade is usually accompanied by St. Nicholas.
The festivities kick off the holiday season with townspeople running rampant through the dark streets. In recent decades, the festival has become so popular that it lasts for days before the creepy Krampus and St. Nicholas arrive on the 5th of December accompanied by the Perchten, the pagan spirits that appear traditionally between Christmas Eve and Epiphany, and the angels in white or black wings and long dresses. The streets are filled with gruesome creatures dancing, terrifying the crowd. These parades have acts of fire, loud music, and screams! Make sure you witness the action from a safe distance and not get very close, or you may get whipped by the Krampus! Also, look out for the thick mulled wine or fruity schnapps served at the stalls nearby as you enjoy the parade.
The Krampus parade usually occurs on St. Nicholas Eve, 5th December, or St. Nicholas Day, 6th December, at various locations. While you’re in Austria witnessing the hell break lose, here’s how you can make the most of the event by exploring the country.
Grab a basketful at the Christmas Markets
Austria celebrates Christmas with sheer grandiosity when the country transforms into a wonderland. The Christmas markets with ornately decorated shops at the heart of the magical winter attract thousands of tourists from all around the world.
Vienna boasts of the best Christmas markets in Europe, with a tradition dating over 700 years. The magical aroma of baked Christmas goods and the spellbinding backdrop at Spittelberg is sure to astound your taste buds and fill your Instagram feed with enviable vacation snapshots.
If a shopping spree is your guilty pleasure, then Karlsplatz Art Advent – home to Austria’s most authentic collectibles – is the place for you. Immerse yourself in the vast array of culinary delight at the Christmas Village on Maria Theresien Square and the heartwarming farm-produced specialties in the Old Town Traditional Christmas Market at Franciscan church. The marketplace in the Royal Schðnbrunn Palace is renowned for its exclusive products.
While shopping from nearly 60 exhibitors offering hand-made decors and handicrafts, don’t forget to try the delicious crescent-shaped Austrian biscuits freshly baked with fine bourbon vanilla – Vanillekipferl and hot punch.
Explore the wonderful classical concerts with musical spectacle through the festively illuminated Christmas Markets. Delight in the best of Mozart concert, one of the most famous composers of the classical period, which will bring you in a special mood for a magical Christmas season. The traditional concerts take place in many locations, but famously in the beautiful ‘Sala Terrena’, one of the oldest concert halls in Vienna – the hall where Mozart himself performed several concerts in 1781, and the Castle Hall in Salzburg Fortress.
The magical atmosphere, hundreds of enchanting market stalls, and being serenaded by the cruising choirs singing carols in Austria are the highlights of experiencing Christmas in this winter wonderland!
Ski and party on the pistes
Austria is one of the best places in the world to ski, with over 400 skiing destinations, varied pistes (a ski run of compacted snow) for all ages and skill levels, and state-of-the-art lift installations. From perfectly groomed pistes to snow parks, the ski culture is warm and welcoming even in cold weather. You’ll find yourself surrounded by friendly locals, delicious food, fantastic local schnaps, and even some dance to uplift your winter adventure vibes!
Experience the thermal winter bath
What can be better than a relaxing warm bath after skiing through the Alps? Austria is blessed with some of the finest hot springs in central Europe where you can immerse yourself in the Austrian thermal baths and springs to soothe your mind and body while rejuvenating your soul with the fresh Alpine air.
The Aqua Dome thermal springs in Triol have the architecture of gigantic flying saucer pools with healing properties and massage features. Don’t miss the Healing Thermal Baths Bad Waltersdorf, where you can pamper yourself in the hot springs, open fireplace, and relaxation oasis. If you’re up for more, take an organic dip at the thermal springs of the state of Styria.
Complete your Christmas with a sleigh ride
You must have dreamt of sleigh rides as a kid ever since you heard Jingle Bells’ opening lines, “Dashing through the snow…In a one-horse open sleigh… O’er the fields we go… Laughing all the way”. Witness this carol finally come true as you enjoy the view of Austria’s countryside on a horse-drawn sleigh. As the coachmen narrate stories and steer their horses, get cozy with your loved ones as the sleigh takes you through the snow-covered landscape as you experience the wintery fairytale.
Business, economy, and people of Austria
Whether it’s the impressive landscape with cascades of snow or the picturesque towns decorated in twinkling lights, Austria is a magical country to visit in winter. But apart from its famous tourist attractions, Austria is a leader in renewable energy, boasts a well-developed market economy, and benefits from a skilled labor force while offering its residents a high standard of living.
According to the International Trade Administration, “Austria’s economy rebounded with 4.5% GDP growth in 2021 and unemployment lower than before the onset of the pandemic, but forecasters recently lowered expectations to 3.8% growth for 2022 due to instability stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, Austria is experiencing a record number of vacancies, largely stemming from a shortage of skilled labor.” The country is primarily an industrial nation and an ideal location for a company, thanks to its outstanding location in the heart of Europe.
Austrian people value tradition, family, environment, and a good work-life balance. They are generally lovers of food with influences from Italian, Hungarian, and Bohemian cooking styles. Every time you meet someone in an intimate gathering or social occasion, you’ll experience the etiquette in Austria.
As you pack your bags with warm clothes to spend your Christmas holidays in Austria, be enchanted by the darkness and mischief of the Krampus festival, and relax in the alps, don’t forget to marvel at the incredible architecture or indulge in adventure winter sports – Austria is the right place to do it all. Make this wintery December a time to remember for years to come!