Winter Solstice in Bavaria, Krampus et al

About 250km to the south of us lie the Alps, already covered in a good thick layer of snow at this time of year. The mountains have always been fascinating to me, and seeing them awakens that same childish pleasure as when I catch the first glimpse of the sea on the way to the seaside.

Summer near Berchtesgaden

And the traditions find it fascinating too.

Before the age of digital photos I would occasionally drive there, either for some sightseeing of the beautiful lakes and mountain passes, or for a day of skiing.

Life in the villages and remote farms in mountainous regions used to be very hard in winter (and still can be), and many superstitions arose, particularly regarding this time of year. Some of these are rather sinister, with evil spirits and fearsome creatures playing a role. One of these is Krampus, often depicted as a hairy horned man-like figure, who frightened children into being well-behaved. This is one of the least frightening photos I could find. If you search ‘Krampus’ online you will see even scarier images!

Photo from National Geographic

Similarly, in Bavaria ‘Knecht Ruprecht’ was an evil man dressed completely in black, who supposedly ate naughty children. Here he is depicted as part animal, resembling the devil…

While, on December 6th, the good children receive gifts from Saint Nicholas (the original Santa!), naughty children were tortured; I remember a student of mine (an adult at the time) telling us how he was still filled with dread on December 6th when he recalled how he was collected by Krampus/ Knecht Ruprecht every year and put in a sack, convinced he was going to die!!

Another myth involves evil who people make a pact with the devil during these dark days and turn into weirwolves, threatening humans and animals alike. It was common to burn incense in the stables and barns over Christmas, to ban evil spirits. One of the superstitions I have heard is that the animals in the barns are suddenly able to speak, and foretell the future. Should, however, anybody hear them, he or she is destined to immediate death. (Not sure how that one can be explained!) Another story is that on New Year’s Eve the animals can air their complaints to the ‘house spirit’ about the farmer if they have been mistreated, and he will then be punished. (I like that one!)

All of these myths and many more have become tradition and are remembered, re-enacted or celebrated in December, mainly between Thomas Day (today, December 21st) and Epiphany (January 6th) – the so-called ‘Rauhnächte’ – varying greatly from region to region. The appropriate clothing, masks and paraphernalia are passed down through generations or carefully preserved by communities. I love the fact that so many truly ancient traditions are still alive here today, mostly with pagan origins, being then rearranged around Christian holidays and adapted or extended over the centuries. I am sure, though, that children nowadays are not tormented as much as my student was 50-odd years ago. 😉

And now some nicer images… of my garden on a frosty winter solstice day. 😃

(Click on any image to open a slideshow).

Wishing you a happy Solstice day.


43 thoughts on “Winter Solstice in Bavaria, Krampus et al

  1. Wow those myths are frightening ! In eastern France they have the equivalent of Krampus with the Père Fouettard who would threaten to whip naughty children. Your photos are beautiful !

  2. A very enjoyable and interesting post, Cathy, I love the images especially of the mountains and your garden looks so festive too. I can see Anouk running around in it 😁. Knecht Ruprecht reminds me of Söder, don’t know why 😂. Actually I fear children are currently being maltreated and tortured more than ever. Here some take them out of school and organise home schooling with other parents. Enjoy your beautiful and peaceful home, big hug xx

    • Oh yes, there is definitely a resemblance. 😜 Yes, you are right. Children are suffering so much in other ways. I saw Neil Oliver interview Malone the other day on GB News and the other two guests either didn’t listen to what he said about vaccinating children or are idiots. Probably both actually.

  3. Your pictures of Bavaria are stunning, so are your garden pictures. But the others were rather scary. But I know life was different in the old days.

  4. Lovely frosty images, Cathy. The flower heads and sedge (?) are particularly nice. Interesting evil characters you describe, the worst we were told is that naughty children get only coal in their stockings. I was never too worried about that though! 😀

  5. Such a beautiful area. I am descended from Germans that immigrated to America around the 1820’s and the stories of Krampus were never pasted down to us. People here seem to be more interested in him in recent years.

    • The stories have made a comeback in Austria. I suppose it depends what part of Germany your family came from. The traditions vary literally from village to village!

    • We had quite a lot of snow a couple of weeks ago, which was threatening to flatten the grasses so early in the season that I took emergency measures and tied them up. I prefer to see them moving in the breeze, but will leave them tied up a bit longer. Cutting them back late winter is always such a shock, as they usually stay standing all through the winter.

  6. I love the Alp views but Krampus not so much. My Scandinavian ancestors recognized the nominally nicer tomte but he was capable of meanness if not offered appropriate gestures of respect. My first generation American parents didn’t even acknowledge Santa Claus as my mother believed one shouldn’t lie to children but for some reason she did regularly have pictures taken of my brother and I on Santa’s lap when we were little 😉

    • It is always interesting to hear my American friends mention their ancestors… I wonder if you have any distant relatives still in Europe? My grandfather traced our family back to the 1300s, as they were all in the same part of England and all farmers! (He was a farmer too!)

  7. I don’t think that I want to look at any more images of Krampus Cathy or Knecht Ruprech Cathy but it is fascinating to read about them 😱 Your garden images are much more soothing to the soul. A most Happy Winter’s Solstice to you too. We are turning towards the light from now on😂

  8. The Krampus sounds like the Bi-Ba Butzemann who terrorised my ex-husband when he was naughty. But unlike the Krampus, he wasn’t just for Christmas. Lovely frosty images. Happy Solstice Cathy.

  9. Cathy, thank you for sharing those lovely photos of your frosty garden. Amelia and I managed to work a little today in our “french garden”. But I always admire your garden, so organised and tidy!
    Have a safe and wonderful Christmas and keep Covid and Krampus away from your garden.

    • Thank you Kourosh. I am pleased my garden looks tidy…, close-up there is much to do, but it is too cold and wet right now! Happy Christmas to you both!

  10. Your mountain shots look delightful. I can imagine the harsh living conditions and isolation playing havoc on people’s minds though! It’s nice to have Winter solstice behind us now though.
    Frost for Solstice, snow for Christmas???

  11. Really interesting post, Cathy – I am glad I wasn’t brought up with an awareness of the Krampus or his colleagues, although I was always a bit of a goodygoody, so I don’t suppose it would really have mattered much!

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