We don’t have children. And because we don’t have children I’m in no position to offer advice to our friends and relatives who do. Or so they keep telling me.
One friend once said “never, ever question how people raise their children until you have your own”. The life-changing experience flicks a switch in some people. Hedonists start worrying about the future of the planet. Junk food apologists start reading food labels in supermarkets. Some who couldn’t name the leader of the country start getting interested in politics. Others go nuts from lack of sleep.
But I’m going to offer some advice anyway: If you bring your kids to Austria, don’t go to a Krampus Festival.
Krampus (meaning claw) is the anti-Santa Claus. If children are ‘nice’ they get presents from St Nicholas, if they’re ‘naughty’ they get a visit from the demonic Krampus.
If you’re in Zell am See on the 5th of December, you get a little Santa and a lot of Krampus. And a lot of crying children and adults getting whipped with bunches of birch branches by Jägermeister-fuelled sadists.
“They’re idiots,” said the owner of the bar we snuck into for a glühwein to escape the madness of the procession of ugly, furry ‘monsters’ that had been streaming down the main pedestrian street for a couple of hours. “There’s not enough control over them and they run riot. They’re usually drunk and their sweaty suits stink,” she said.
As we emerge from the bar, a teenage boy slips over in the snow after getting whipped and is knocked out cold.
We’ve been to plenty of traditional festivals around the world, but what’s missing from this tradition is that there is no sense of fun. There was little devilish humour in the way these guys (and it’s mostly guys) acted. Most of the ‘monsters’ demonstrated little in the way of personality and were straight-out malicious. And while I’m not a parent, is scaring the living daylights out of your kids really the best incentive to get them to be nice instead of naughty?
As we were being served our glühweins at an outdoor bar where we had gone to ponder this, a Krampus chased a screaming teenage girl into the bar. Steaming hot wine spilled left, right and centre. Lara wore a mug of it on her face, while my camera and flash were soaked in the sticky liquid.
When we complained to the manager about how stupid it was to these guys to run riot when there’s hot drinks and outdoor gas heaters everywhere, the bar manager turned to us and said, “That’s how it goes, welcome to Austria!” Indeed.