The central and eastern Alps of Europe are rich in folklore traditions dating back to pre-Christian (pagan) times, with surviving elements amalgamated from Germanic, Gaulish (Gallo-Roman), Slavic (Carantanian) and Raetian culture.
Survival through the ages
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 is a result of 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.
Main article: Krampus
The word Krampus originates from the Old High German word for claw (Krampen). In the Alpine regions, the Krampus is represented by an incubus demon 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 bells. In some rural areas the tradition also includes birching by the Krampus, especially of young females.
Originally, the word Perchten (plural of Perchta) referred to the female masks representing the entourage of Frau Perchta or Pehta Baba as is known in Slovenia, an ancient goddess (some claim a connection to the Nordic goddess Freyja, 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 the souls of the dead. The name originates from the Old High German word peraht ("brilliant").
Regional variations of the name include Berigl, Berchtlmuada, Berchta, Pehta, Perhta-Baba, Zlobna Pehta, Bechtrababa, Sampa, Stampa, Lutzl, Zamperin, Pudelfrau, Zampermuatta and Rauweib. The Roman Catholic Church attempted to prohibit the sometimes rampant practise in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but later condoned it, resulting in a revival.
In the Pongau region of Austria large processions of Schönperchten ("beautiful Perchten") and Schiachperchten ("ugly Perchten") are held every winter. Other regional variations include the Tresterer in the Austrian Pinzgau region, the stilt dancers in the town of Unken, the Schnabelpercht ("trunked Percht") in the Unterinntal region and the Glöcklerlaufen ("bell-running") in the Salzkammergut. A number of large ski-resorts have turned the tradition into a tourist attraction drawing large crowds every winter.
Sometimes, der Teufel is viewed to be the most schiach ("ugly") Percht (masculine singular of Perchten) and Frau Perchta to be the most schön ("beautiful") Perchtin (female singular of Perchten).
The badalisc (or badalisk) is a "good" mythological animal who lives in the woods of Andrista, in Val Camonica, Italy. During an annual town festival someone dresses up as the creature and is "captured" and brought to the town. The animal is made to tell the people of the town gossip. At the end of the festival the creature is released until the next year's ceremony.