In Austria, December 5th is known as Krampus Day. As the evil counterpart of St. Nicholas, a religious version of Santa who brings chocolates and other sweets on December 6th, Krampus terrorizes Austrian villages the day before St. Nicholas’ arrival. Krampus often accompanies St. Nicholas and punishes the bad children (or adults) by whipping them with rods and chains. I have also been told that the children are either taken to hell in a basket on Krampus’ back, or some say they are simply kidnapped for a few hours. Especially in smaller towns, men (and some women) dress in masks, sheep’s wool, and devil like horns, then run through the streets frightening (or delighting?) children. Cheerful, no? See a Krampus picture here.
Of all the Austrian traditions, I think this one is the strangest. As I’m not a fan of costumes or horror, I managed to successfully avoid a perchtenlauf, the German word for the running of the costumed Krampuses. Austrians seem to think this is tremendous fun and a great thing to take children to. Supposedly the children also think that Krampus is funny and entertaining. I guess Austrian children just have more of a backbone than I do.
Steven Colbert has a good clip about Krampus. You can watch it here.