Moving to a foreign land and experiencing a new culture can be trying under the best of circumstances, let alone following harried passage from war-torn regions. The new sights, sounds, and tastes can be overwhelming, the unfamiliar customs can be baffling, the different climate can be uncomfortable. I’m certain the Syrian refugees have confronted all of these things in Austria and elsewhere throughout Europe. But while each element of culture shock can (by definition) be cause for distress, one aspect of life in Austria that is likely to be particularly disturbing for uninitiated newcomers is… Krampus. For those unfamiliar, Krampus is “a horned, anthropomorphic figure who punishes children during the Christmas season who have misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards well-behaved ones with gifts.” In Austria and other Alpine regions of Europe, early December often features “traditional parades in which young men dress as Krampus.”
Mindful of these festivities, “Officials in the village of Virgen worried about how new arrivals from the Middle East would react to the local tradition of meeting so-called ‘Christmas Devils’ who pretend to abduct kids.”
Fearing the spectacle would be misunderstood, community representatives last week visited the 22 migrants — including 12 children — who have been housed in the Alpine village since the end of October.
They were shown the frightening masks and given insight into the event’s history with the help of an Arabic translator. The verdict? The newcomers had “lots of fun,” according to social worker Nicole Kranebitter.
The migrants “will now know what to expect when St. Nicholas and the Krampus creatures knock on their door,” Kranebitter added.
She said the next event planned for the families who fled war-torn homelands will be traditional cookie baking.
What a great and thoughtful approach, and in such marked contrast to the xenophobia that has greeted migrants in so many other parts of the world.