Clay Risen tells the story of Krampus, an “evil, goat-horned spirit” which was originally part of the Santa Claus story. Krampus “brought switches and bad dreams to the boys and girls of Austria, southern Germany, Switzerland, and far northern Italy”:
Originally, Krampus had just the one day. A few men in each town dress up in furs, heavy boots, and a ghoulish mask topped with horns—with a switch in hand. Then they go to all the houses with small children, and when the parents open the door they run in and act menacing—growling and cracking their switches. The children scream. After everyone’s had a good fright, the parents invite the men to sit down and have a few shots of kirsch or schnapps, which they always accept. Not surprisingly, by the end of the night the Krampuses’ growls are a little slurred, their switch-cracking is a little too close to the children, and parents have to make sure their kids don’t look out the window, lest they catch a glimpse of the Krampus puking in a gutter.
But Krampus Day soon morphed into Krampus Weekend; it’s likely that villagers got jealous of the lucky few who got to run around town in costumes, act like idiots, and get plastered. Thus was born the Krampusfest—or, as it is known in southeast Austria, the Kränchen. Typically held on the Saturday after Krampus Day, the Kränchen is a village-wide party held at a local school, community center, or other facility: anywhere large enough and sturdy enough to hold 300 or so drunken villagers.