We’ve talked about the Krampus, beastly frightener, punisher and sometimes devourer of naughty children while St. Nicholas rewards the good ones. Today we learned about another piece of holiday folklore involving a different, but similar creature, the Perchta.
Instead of gobbling up the naughtiest kids like the Krampus, the Perchta replaces their insides with straw and pebbles.
“In the folklore of Bavaria and Austria, Perchta was said to roam the countryside at midwinter, and to enter homes between the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany (especially on the Twelfth Night). She would know whether the children and young servants of the household had behaved well and worked hard all year. If they had, they might find a small silver coin next day, in a shoe or pail. If they had not, she would slit their bellies open, remove stomach and guts, and stuff the hole with straw and pebbles. She was particularly concerned to see that girls had spun the whole of their allotted portion of flax or wool during the year.”
Just as people dress up in awesome Krampus costumes and parade around the streets, so do others dress up and roam about as Perchten.
It sounds a lot more exciting than visiting a shopping mall Santa Claus.
The word Perchten is plural for Perchta, and this has become the name of her entourage, as well as the name of animal masks worn in parades and festivals in the mountainous regions of Austria. In the 16th century, the Perchten took two forms: Some are beautiful and bright, known as the Schönperchten (“beautiful Perchten”). These come during the Twelve Nights and festivals to “bring luck and wealth to the people.” The other form is the Schiachperchten (“ugly Perchten”) who have fangs, tusks and horse tails which are used to drive out demons and ghosts. Men dressed as the ugly Perchten during the 16th century and went from house to house driving out bad spirits.
Photo of Krampus, St. Nicholas and Schiachperchten via Thoma Perchten