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22 December 2005

December, 1991

Krampuss_pic2I was walking home from the train station in Bad Vöslau, a small town in Lower Austria (Nieder Österreich).  It was early December, and the sun had long since set.  I noticed a noisy group of teenagers on the other side of the street.  It was strange to see kids roaming the streets at this time of night.  Far stranger was hearing them cause a ruckus in this sleepy Austrian village.  Then it happened.  They started to cross the street.  Becoming increasingly nervous, I focused on the leader.  He was dressed in a red robe.  pucker.  This young tuff was also sporting a devil mask.  mommy.  I am neither Austrian nor Catholic, so in addition to being scared, I was completely stupefied as to why a gang of teenagers, decked out in satanic garb, was making a bee-line towards me.  They were shouting something.  At the time, I spoke German fairly well, but at this moment of fear & confusion, my brain seized up.  I had no idea what they were saying.  It sounded like, "sagdasvaterunser!"  I became both mute and immobile.  Finally, the lead demon stood directly in front of me, flanked by his crew of lesser demons.  "Do you understand!?" he laughed as the others hooted and hollered.  Perhaps the laughter dialed down my fear enough to un-seize the translation lobe in my brain.  "Say the Lord's prayer" he heckled.    Slow on my feet, I responded, "excuse me?"  "Aren't you Catholic?" he giggled.  "Um, no."  At this point I could see the demon gang meant no harm.  They were just kids - slightly younger than I, laughing and having a bit of fun with the clueless foreigner.  "I'm sorry" I muttered.  They laughed in unison, turned and ran down the street. 

I had been Krampußed.

Krampus_pic1The following day, I asked a friend just what exactly I had experienced the previous evening.  After an extended fit of laughter, she told me the back story of St. Nik's devilish pals, the Krampusse:

"In parts of Austria, Krampusse, who local tradition says are Nikolaus's helpers (typically children of poor families), roamed the streets and sledding hills during the festival. They wore black rags and masks, dragging chains behind them, and occasionally hurling them towards children in their way. These Krampusläufe (Krampus runs) still exist, although perhaps less violent than in the past."

Thank the good lord, my encounter with that particular Krampuslauf wasn't violent in the least; no chains. I do, however, seem to remember  a lot of Bics being flicked within the ranks of the Krampuss gang.  It created a sort of Krampuss-strobe.  But that was the extent of any menacing behavior.

Other variations of this "scared straight" therapy for children during the holiday season include:

"In parts of the United States in the 19th century, "Pelznickel" traditions were maintained for a time among immigrants at least as far west as the US state of Indiana. In this branch of the tradition, the father or other older male relative was often "busy working outside" or had to see to some matter elsewhere in the house when Pelznickel arrived. Today, remnants of this tradition remain, known as the Belsnickel, especially in Pennsylvania."

"In some regions, the local priest was informed by the parents about their children's behavior and would then personally visit the homes in the traditional Christian garment and threaten them with rod-beatings..

           "Do you have the Sack with you?"
            I spoke: "the Sack, that is here;
            because apples, nut and almond core
            eat pious children gladly."

            "Do you have the rod also with you?"
            I spoke: "the rod, it is here;
            but for the children, only the bad,
            those it meets them right, upon their part."

Why, you ask, did this fourteen-year old memory bubble up?  For one, of course, it's the time of year.  However, the catalyst appears to have been the bottle of Pössnitzberg I sampled a few evenings back:

PossnitzbergThe Skinny
Sabathi Pössnitzberg Sauvignon Blanc 2003 ($30)

  • From Sabathi's premiere vineyard in southern Styria (Austria)
  • Light yellow-gold; nearly transparent
  • Scents of citrus, cream, nutmeg & mixed sweet spices along with hints of pepper and peach
  • Surprising balance and crisp character for the high-ish alcohol content (14%).  This wine feels both crisp and satin-smooth in the mouth.  It finishes at a leisurely pace with peach and pear flavors accented by a little pepper

**** (4 stars out of 5)

This wine is wonderful now, yet feels as if it could wow me even more with a couple additional years of bottle age.  I sampled the P-berg with basic hummus - it accentuated the wine's fruit character.  I also threw in a couple sweet grape tomatoes - this added some richness and sweetness to the wine's finish.  The main event was a spicy veggie stir fry - This style of Sauvignon Blanc made for a great match.  It worked well, whereas a more modern style, a la New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, may have been too heavy on the gooseberry end of the spectrum to compliment the flavors of soy, garlic, Cayenne and rice vinegar.


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Great story thanks!

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