3rd December 2014: Perchtenlauf at KFOR Prizren camp

 

The central and eastern Alps of Europe are rich in folklore traditions dating back to Pagan (pre-Christian) times, with surviving elements amalgamated from Germanic, Gaulish, Slavid (Carantanian) and Ratian culture.

 

Ancient customs survived in the rural  parts of Austria, Switzerland, Bavaria, Slovenia, western Croatia and Italy in the form of dance, art, processions, rituals and games. The high regional diversity results from the mutual isolation of Alpine communities. In the Alps, the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and paganism has been an ambivalent one. While some customs survived only in the remote valleys inaccessible to the church's influence, other customs were actively assimilated over the centuries. In light of the dwindling rural population of the Alps, many customs have evolved into more modern interpretations.

 

The word Krampus originates from the Old High German  word for claw (Krampen). In the Alpine regions, the Krampus is a mythical horned figure represented as accompanying Saint Nicholas.  Krampus acts as an anti–Saint Nicholas, who, instead of giving gifts to good children, gives warnings and punishments to the bad children. Traditionally, young men dress up as the Krampus in the first two weeks of December, particularly in the evening of December 5, and roam the streets frightening children and women with rusty chains and whips and bells. This figure is believed to originate from stories of house spirits such as kobolds and elves. 

 

Originally, the word Perchten (plural of Perchta) referred to the female masks representing the entourage of an ancient goddess, Frau Perchta, or Pehta Baba as it is known in Slovenia. Some claim a connection to the Nordic goddess Freyia, though this is uncertain. Traditionally, the masks were displayed in processions (Perchtenlauf) during the last week of December and first week of January, and particularly on 6 January. The costume consists of a brown wooden mask and brown or white sheep's skin. In recent times Krampus and Perchten have increasingly been displayed in a single event, leading to a loss of distinction of the two. Perchten are associated with midwinter  and the embodiment of fate and souls of the dead. The name originates from the Old High German word peraht ("brilliant" or "bright").

 

 

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