Krampus, Perchten and Glöckler

Krampus, Perchten and Glöckler are three types of mythical being who spring from historic traditions in Austria.

All of them are creatures who appear at specific times during the winter months and, although the original beliefs surrounding them may have disappeared, the customs and traditions surrounding these figures are still popular in the mountainous regions of Europe.

What is a Krampus?

Krampus in Seefeld
© AustriaDirect

The Krampus appear on the eve or the day of St Nicholas in the Advent period at the beginning of December. The ‘Heilige Nikolaus’ (which is where Santa Claus comes from) arrives to meet the children who have been good during the previous year. The Krampus, on the other hand, are there for the children who might not have been as well-behaved in the last 12 months.

The Krampus often have bells attached to their costume and have heavy carved wooden masks designed to frighten those they approach. They also often carry a bundle to birch branches to whip onlookers and smear ash on the faces of those who get too close.

Krampus ‘runs’ where numerous traditional groups are invited to participate, are now an important part of the Advent celebrations in many parts of Austria.

What are Perchten?

Perchten in the Tyrol

Perchten have become a little confused with the Krampus traditions as both have been increased in popularity in recent times.

Properly speaking, Perchten appear during the ‘Rauhnächte‘ (the Twelve Days of Christmas from Christmas Eve to Three Kings) and are not connected to the tradition of the Heilige Nikolaus. Part of their task, depending on the location, is to drive out the remnants of the old year or to help defeat the spirits of winter and start the natural growth that leads to the spring season.

Different villages and areas have wildly varying costumes, with particular figures playing certain parts in the processions. Frequently there will be characters whose job is to beat the air and drive away the winter spirits, while others create a loud slow eerie beat on drums or with cowbells.

A group of Krampus or Perchten is called a ‘Pass’. Most of the popular processions consist of ‘Schiachperchten’ (‘ugly Perchten‘) as opposed to…

What are Glöckler?

Glöckler in Bad Ischl
© STMG | Photographer: Wolfgang Stadler

Glöckler are a very specific type of ‘Schönperchten’ (‘lovely Perchten‘) who also appear during the Rauhnächte but especially on Glöcklernacht, the night of 05 January before Three Kings. Their task is to finally vanquish the winter spirits and to defeat any evil or ugly creatures who have been active during the Christmas and New Year period.

The Glöckler tradition stems from the Salzkammergut area and the Glöckler procession at Ebensee has been declared part of Austria’s cultural heritage by UNESCO.

The distinctive headdresses can take up to 300 hours to create. They are made of paper covering a light metal framework and were originally lit by candles (nowadays, for safety’s sake, by artificial lights). The lights in the costume also have a symbolic role, in helping to drive the darkness of winter away to be replaced by the light of spring.

A display of the headdresses can be seen in the museum at Ebensee.