What Is a Krampuslauf? Celebrating the Dark Side of Christmas

Learn More About Krampus, Krampuslauf, and How You Can Take Part This Holiday Season

A Krampuslauf is a cultural event that has gained more and more international recognition, with tourists—often American—flocking to Europe to experience their first “Krampus parade” or “Krampus run.” In Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Bavaria in general, we’re ideally located near many Krampuslauf events, some more crowded and touristic and others deeply traditional.

But what exactly happens at a Krampuslauf, and how can you participate as a traveler looking for a unique Christmas experience? From our local experts at All Things Garmisch, here’s everything you need to know about the mythology of this event—and how to properly attend a parade without earning a lashing.

What Is Krampus?

Christmas is celebrated differently around the world, and it’s the source of many incredible cultural traditions. But one piece of folklore that’s gained more international intrigue over the past few years is Krampus. 

A frightening, demonesque figure typically depicted as part goat, part human, and with a very long tongue, Krampus fills a fairly unique niche in Christmas mythology, being decidedly less warm, fuzzy, and jolly than Santa Claus. He appears throughout history in many forms, representing the dark side of winter, religion, or society. The legend typically goes that he punishes misbehaving children.

Why does Krampus exist? Well, in the Western world, where God is considered all-knowing and all-seeing, many throughout history have wondered: why would suffering exist? And if it does, who is responsible? 

It could be said that Krampus and other old folklore demons of history are ways that parents justify children’s suffering, while also providing a way to keep the bad children in line—but that’s only a theory.

What Is a Krampuslauf?

Also called a Krampus “run,” a Krampuslauf is a parade featuring performers reenacting the tradition of St. Nicholas and/or the Christkind traveling through the streets to the homes of families. Performers wear elaborate, traditional costumes featuring ornate wood masks, animalistic costumes, and bells signaling their arrival. During these parades, performers may punish spectators in various ways ranging from playfully hitting their legs with bundles of twigs to chasing them through the streets. 

In the mythology, St. Nicholas will knock at the door and be invited in by the parents, entering accompanied by his Krampus demon. There, St. Nicholas will read from his book the things the children have been doing throughout the year: the good things, the bad things, the kind things. The good children receive presents in the form of apples, oranges, and cinnamon. Meanwhile the Krampus waits patiently—and for the bad deeds Nicholas will use his Krampus demon to scare the children or to warn them that God is always watching their actions. 

Today’s Krampuslauf tradition is meant to evoke this process. These events are typically held on December 5th, which is known as Krampusnacht, or Krampus night—the night before St. Nicholas Day, on December 6th.

a Krampus performer dressed in white furs at the traditional parade in Berchtesgaden, Germany

How Does One Participate in a Krampuslauf?

A Krampuslauf is clearly delineated between performer and spectator. Spectators are certainly welcome to watch the procession through the town, provided they come with good humor and don’t go out of their way to interfere with events. 

However, tourists cannot participate as a demon or St. Nicholas. When done properly, these are very sacred and traditional events, with the performers being members of local Christian clubs who place a sacred honor in the months and days they spend designing and creating costumes and more.

Where Are the Best Krampus Parades?

If you’re visiting Bavaria and Tyrol, you have many options for attending a Krampus parade. Krampus parades have become very popular of late, and these shows can be found in many towns and cities throughout these regions. Our Krampus festival tour takes guests to multiple events, enabling them to get a full and well-rounded cultural experience. 

For a more “showy” experience, Salzburg is ideal. This is an opportunity to take photos and enjoy the parade of St. Nicholas and the Krampuses with a festive atmosphere.

Meanwhile, Berchtesgaden presents a more traditional experience. This town hosts several parades led by St. Nicholas where his crew of Krampuses and other creatures go from home to home to ensure the children are reminded of God’s all-seeing nature. It is steeped in tradition and religion, and it is a powerful example of the historical strength of Christianity in southern Europe and its interpretation amongst the common people. 

Beyond these sites, Munich also offers an exciting Krampus parade, while smaller villages such as Bad Goisern and Lermoos (in Austria) have amazing parades and fire shows.

Dos and Don’ts of Attending

While it may sound fun to be punished by a Krampus, the last thing you want as a tourist is to be a poor representative of your home country and tourism in general. If you’re looking to attend a Krampuslauf, here are a few general guidelines of dos and don’ts throughout the event:

  • Don’t antagonize the ‘demons’ (performers) and goad them into chasing you. Chances are, they’ll come your way anyway.
  • Don’t try to get a selfie—just enjoy the event and repent!
  • Don’t go overboard drinking. While Krampuslauf events do frequently include alcohol consumption, it’s one of the top ways things get out of hand if taken to excess. 
  • Do maintain good humor, particularly if you’re ‘lucky’ enough to be punished. (Also, remember: if a Krampus takes something from you, they will bring it back!)
  • Do remember that you’re a tourist and respect the local traditions.
  • And of course, Do have fun!


closeup of a red hand-carved wooden Krampus mask

Book Our Krampus Parade Tour

If you’re itching to experience a Krampuslauf (Krampus parade or Krampus run), our team at All Things Garmisch has put together the ideal tour for you, your friends, and your whole family. We make stops at Krampus parades in both Germany and Austria, as well as several cultural sites, Christmas markets, and more.

Come experience Christmas like you never have before! Book the tour today or reach out if you have any questions.


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