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virtual advent 2023: perchten im salzburgerland

One more Virtual Advent post for sprite, and this one pertains to a tradition that Austrians celebrate around Christmas: Perchten.

Perchten from Wikimedia Commons

Sure, I’ve written about Krampus before. But Perchten aren’t exactly Krampus. Perchten are unique to the Salzburgerland and Tirol areas of Austria – places I happened to visit this past July and areas of the world that are very important to me.

Perchten are connected to the mythical goddess Perchta (or Bertha in some tongues), a figure in many pagan traditions in the Alps. Perchta’s name roughly translates as “the bright one,” and she is seen as the southern cousin of Holda (another pagan goddess) and one of the guardians of “the beasts.”

In most Austrian lore, Perchta visited homes between Christmas and the Epiphany, typically on the Twefth Night (i.e. January 6th) to see if the children had been good – i.e. if they had done their chores, helped the family, and been obedient. If the kids were good they received a silver coin in a shoe or pail.

The bad ones faced a far more dire fate: they would be disemboweled, their empty stomach cavities stuffed with straw and rocks. And showing bad form was an extremely broad spectrum of bad deeds, from not doing chores, to not spinning the yearly allotment of flax or wool, to eating the wrong food on Perchta’s feast night (the “right food” was a meal of fish and gruel – yum?).

The Perchten are the beasts associated with Perchta – her entourage. Perchta is always in the middle of the throng… somewhere.

So the Perchten are sort of a second coming of the Krampus in parts of Austria, but with a bit of a twist. You see, there are both Sch√∂nperchten, the “pretty Perchten” who bring luck, happiness, and wealth to the people, as well as the Schaichperchten that have horns and fangs and are used to drive away demons and ghosts.

So in the Salzburgerland Рand especially in Sankt Johann im Pongau, where my Mom spent some of her youth Рthere are parades of both Schönperchten and Schaichperchten held between Winter Solstice on December 21 and Epiphany on January 6.

Perchtenlauf in Skt. Johann im Pongau, 2017. From Wikimedia Commons.

In fact, Salzburg’s Perchtenlauf takes place on December 21st. Most people prefer to watch from the sides, but for those who dare interact with the Perchten there could be mischief afoot…

Thanks to Wikipedia, the Austrian Tourism Board, and the Salzburg Tourism Office for background info.