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Perchten is an ancient pagan festival, meant to drive out the ‘devils of winter’ in early December with a ‘Perchtenlauf’ or parade of these devil like creatures through the centre of villages. Originating in central Europe and carried down across the centuries, it’s a tradition strongly associated with the Alpine regions and the midwinter need to drive out bad souls.
It’s also batshit crazy.
The traditional costumes are no joke – suits are hand woven from corn leaves, collected from Northern Italy in the late summer, then painstakingly sewn together to make the broad, rustling suits that the performers need to be strapped into. These alone weigh up to 25kg. The traditional hand-carved masks and headwear have horns to pierce the souls of devils and faces that will haunt your nightmares – they come in at a hefty 30kg each depending on size.
Strapped on top of the suit and headwear are metal drums and heavy bells, to make the most glorious and wild racket you can imagine. All up the costumes can weigh in at 100kg – to be worn and carried while dancing and drumming in the village streets.
Once the sun sets, fires are lit in the centre of town to the noise of bells, horns and ground shaking stamps of the Perchten devils.
The performances last long into the night – smaller devils roam the crowd, attacking bystanders with coal covered hands, smearing black onto unsuspecting cheeks and stirring up mayhem and occasional shrieks.
I’ve tried many times to explain the wild, crazy energy of the Perchten parades. Of nights spent stomping and cheering devilish monsters in a quaint village in the mountains of Tyrol – but this is one Austrian speciality that needs to be seen to be believed!
We always head to the Wilder Kaiser region, in the villages of Ellmau or Söll to see one of the touring Perchten groups
The weekend of the 4th – 6th of December
Don’t be fooled – Perchten are NOT Krampus (the evil sidekick to St Nikolaus who kidnaps naughty children on the 6th of December) but in recent times the two myths have become intertwined, meaning a cheeky Krampus may turn up at a Perchtenlauf.
Because it’s bloody awesome! Also, these are not the Perchten that will whip or beat you (that’s more likely in Ostirol) in this region the Perchten are relatively harmless, no one gets hurt.
Trains from Vienna to Kufstein depart every 2 hours from Hauptbahnhof. From Kufstein a taxi to the village will cost approximately €40 and take 20 minutes.
If you stay in Ellmau or Söll apartments are cheaper in early December, as the ski season hasn’t begun. We stayed in the Danzerhof apartments which were the perfect location with lovely comfortable beds, right in the heart of the village. Price was just €77 per night for 2 people.
The price of food and drink in Tyrol jumps up compared to Vienna, and if you plan on a bit of partying in the local bars expect to spend about €4 on a beer and a little less on glüwein. Meals are slightly pricier, but I like to think of the higher prices as ‘rent’ on the magnificent views of the mountains you will have everywhere!
Have you heard of Perchten before? Would you go? Tell me about it in the comments!