Posted by: Nazausgraben | December 15, 2009

The Quietest Time of the Year

It has started to snow once again; gossamer flakes blowing about in the ever-changing winds that characterize this corner of our valley. There is a gray yet sweet melancholy in these winds, that ensconces everything in sight. The village is very still, as if sleeping.

It does not surprise me that for Austrians and Bavarians, this most wonderful season of Advent is called ‘the quietest time of the year’. Indeed, there is a peaceful yet expectant stillness in the air as we await the birth of Our Lord. Everything here round and about our village reflects this, from the lovely yet restrained Christmas lights hung in windows and on trees to the music coming from homes and churches.

The music played during Advent likewise reflects this transcendent restraint. In many village and town churches as well as city cathedrals, choirs and instrumentalists are performing Adventsingen evenings. The melodies are from Alpine folk tradition, distinct, echoing, melodious…evoking a peace of heart that we sometimes forget we possess.

There is warmth amidst the cold, the gray-white outdoors becomes soothing; troubles set aside, concerns dispelled as one watches the tannen branches droop under their thickening white burden. That this could ever remain so.

 There is one event that breaks this placid repose. On the 6th of December, Austrians and Bavarians celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas. The mitered Bishop wanders through village and town, visiting children, asking as to whether they have been ‘naughty or nice’. The nice are thanked and rewarded with a small sweet.

Yet, there are those who have not always been without the sins of youth; these are relegated to the clutches of the much-feared Krampus…a Grimm brothers nightmare of malignant disorder and hideously distorted countenance. Long scraggled black hair half covers a twisted hunched tortured frame sporting arms and clawed paws that sway with each step as if pendulous grandfather clock weights.

A Krampus Searches for Victims

This Krampus is on a leash, controlled by Nicholas. Yet, approaching those in its path, the Krampus always seems to manage to be released from its bonds; speedily launching itself into the crowds. Villagers scatter, but stay nearby to watch the spectacle that unfolds. Krampus carries a short bound thrush of dried grasses with which he strikes many on the backs of legs.

It is said that Krampus takes those who misbehave, crams them into a coal sack that he carries on his back, and hauls them off for a period of time. Today, however, the Krampus reveals another side. Small children are at first frightened at this under-the-bed-at-night beast, but are then comforted when Krampus in all his growling ugliness, bends low, speaks soothingly with the child and gives him or her a branch from the dried grass thrush. Fear soon disappears and, perhaps reluctantly, the child regards the Krampus less of a threat and more of an odd warning…odd because a glance up at his or her parents reveals they are smiling, laughing and displaying a seeming lack of terror at the spectacle. Then, as suddenly as they appeared, Nicholas and Krampus are gone…having wandered back into the Advent night to appointed rounds in the next village.

Now, the gray darkens to thick purple as evening arrives. Stars twinkle alive on window panes and Christmas trees and the strengthening winds bring with them faint voices cast aloft from across the fields. One no longer sees the falling snow, but feels it as it alights upon ones nose and cheeks. The unmarked trail is hidden, blending in with the snowy expanse of the fields surrounding our home.  Each step upon the frozen Roman Road produces a dull crunch.

The Ulrichskirche, with its glassed windows illuminated by flickering candles within beckon one underway in this beautiful bitter night to come ever nearer…to gaze as the flakes of snow become visible but for a moment, passing on their descent in front of the lovingly lit Christmas tree on the ridge fore the Church.

The tower bell tones the quarter hour as the purple recedes into a comforting blackness. From within the Church, one hears the choir; “O lasset uns anbeten” they sing…O Come All ye’ Faithful. Rehearsing the quiet harmonies to be sung on Heiligeabend…Christmas Eve.

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