In Milan they celebrate Sant’Ambrogio and in Verona Santa Lucia arrives on a donkey to bring gifts to the children, while in Cortina d’Ampezzo everybody is waiting for the arrival of San Nicolò on the night of 5 December.  The Queen of the Dolomites has inherited this tradition from her Habsburg past, where this legend of the Christian tradition, linked to the story of San Nicolò di Myra, is celebrated.

The legend of San Nicolò di Myra

It is said that in an Alpine Village, during a year of famine, the peasant families could not feed their children. So the children set out to plunder the cellars in a nearby village, disguised as devils, wearing the horns and skins of the last goats slaughtered before the famine.

During the raid, no one was allowed to take off their mask for any reason.  Once they returned to the village, they gathered to take off their masks and count their booty. However, one of them was unable to take his mask off. It could only be Beelzebub himself!

Everyone ran frightened to the village with the terrible news, and their parents sent for bishop Nicolò, to exorcise the village. San Nicolò recognized the devil among the masked children, by his goat’s hooves. Once the devil was chased away, the children, still dressed like devils, began to dance while accompanying the bishop through the streets of the village.


A well-preserved tradition

In many parts of Austria, South Tyrol, Friuli and Cortina, picturesque parades take place still today, with ugly and terrifying Krampus dressed in fur cloaks hung with heavy bells. Their faces are disguised by wooden masks with protruding horns. They carry long whips and rattling chains, as they symbolise devils emerged from hell.

In Cortina, in addition to the parade, San Nicolò visits people’s homes in the company of an angel and a devil, to bring gifts to the good children and to punish those who have behaved badly.


Want to know more? Enjoy this film about the Krampus tradition in the town of Brunico.