"Peace, luck and good health"

This is the Perchten leader’s mantra. On the 6th of January it’s that time of year again - the annual Pongau Perchtenlauf (Devils’ Procession) takes place for the 17th time in Altenmarkt. From an early age I remember my grandmother telling me that the gate to the spirit world is opened during the “Rauhnächte” (Twelfthtide), from 21st December to 6th January. During this period spirits roam around and spread mischief. In order to prevent this from happening we have the custom of the Perchten (Devils) in the mountains. The Perchten chase the evil spirits away, protect us humans and summon kind spirits to bless us and to ensure a fruitful spring in the new year.
For a long time, I believed that Schiachperchten (the ugly Perchten) and Krampusse were the same thing - but that's not true. Whenever I heard the ruckus and the muffled sound of bells, it sent shivers down my spine as I associated these sounds with painful blows from the Krampus! But things are different at the Pongau Perchten Procession. Whereas the Krampus punishes naughty children with blows from his rod, the Percht, on the other hand, is supposed to drive away the evil spirits of winter and thus be a lucky protector. And if a blow does strike your body - don't worry. A blow from a Schiachpercht is said to bring good luck and health for the new year. According to Perchten customs, there are traditionally no Schiachperchten (ugly Perchten without Schönperchten (beautiful Perchten). So if you are not sure whether you are looking at a Schiachpercht or a Krampus, you should look out for Schönperchten and other mystical beings. And if it's not a Schiachpercht - then you have to run like lightning!
Arriving at the Perchtenlauf, the scary Schiachperchten run first. The gruesome appearance and the noise of the Schiachperchten serves to drive away the evil spirits of winter and to sweep out the old year. Following the Schiachperchten the Schönperchten parade solemnly through the streets. The Schönperchten convey their message with their up to four-metre high headdresses, superhuman strength and power. They symbolise spring, light and fertility. I still remember how amazed I was when I saw a Schönpercht for the first time as a little girl. I am always particularly impressed by the way they dance to the sounds of drum music - they are considered to be the highlight of the Perchtenlauf. At the command of the Perchten leader they bow deeply to the residents and visitors to bring them blessings. At the same time, you can admire their unique decorative masks and headdresses. The Schönperchten and Schiachperchten are accompanied by other amazing creatures such as the goat, the bear driver, the witches, the forest and cone man and even the Three Kings.
Every time, I am amazed by the impressive Perchten masks. Every mask is unique. Since the Perchten masks are classically made by hand you can imagine how much time, thought and skill it takes to make one mask. Not even a gruesome grimace of a Schiachpercht, with the accompanying fangs and devil-like horns, is like any other. The handcrafted masks, whether Schön- or Schiachpercht, are worn exclusively by men at the Pongau Perchtenlauf. Only members of the brass band are exempt from this rule.

Here in the province of Salzburg, the Perchten custom has been around for a long time. Really long - according to records, the Perchten custom in the province can be traced back to the 17th century. And the traditional Perchten Procession in Pongau has been going on since 1957. Since then, the municipalities of Altenmarkt, Bischofshofen, Bad Gastein and St. Johann im Pongau have taken turns hosting this spectacular event. I’m definitely not going to miss the impressive Pongau Perchtenlauf on the 6<sup>th</sup> January.Who else is going to be there or who has already seen it? Feel free to post and tag us with #visitaltenmarktzauchensee und @visitaltenmarktzauchensee

photo credits: Air Media_Karl Strauch