The weather being drizzly and grey on Saturday afternoon, we climbed into our five-horse sleigh and headed to an indoor Adventmarkt at Schloss Marchegg, just “another” Baroque palace dotting the Marchfeld, that area of Austria generally bordered by Vienna (to the west), Slovakia (to the east), Czech Republic (to the north) and the Danube floodplain (to the south). The Marchfeld supplies Austria’s vegetables and grains, and, as we learned, is another waystation in the spring for Europe’s largest colony of migrating tree-nesting storks.
Like most of the palaces in these parts, Schloss Marchegg has a lengthy history that stretches from its beginning as a fortress in the 13th century, through its transformation into a moated castle by the prominent Hungarian Palffy von Erdöd Family who remained in control of the palace until after WWII. Even with its marks of time, the castle impresses.
At the former moated entrance to the castle, with and without my favorite photo-bomber.
An empty stork nest high above the grounds.
As we were making our way around, these beastly demons could be spotted mixing and mingling with the marketgoers. Perchten is what they’re called, and we had stumbled upon a Perchtenlaufen. Perchten have alpine traditions associated with the days between Christmas and Epiphany, but in recent times have begun bandwagoning with Krampus, another alpine tradition observed generally throughout the Eastern Alps countries on the night of 5 December. The more beasts and demons to celebrate the holidays, the merrier, right?
This is Krampus. He’s like a demonic, anti-Santa who punishes misbehaving children throughout the Christmas season, with his big night being 5 December, the darker side of St. Nicholas Day. Why Perchten want to hang with him I do not know.
Some people were so traumatized by the notion of Krampus in their childhood that anti-anxiety workshops and psychological counseling sessions are offered, at least across Austria, to help some of these adults work through their fears. For others, it seems the cases of beer and spirits I noted being purchased at grocery stores in the lead up to St. Nicholas Day helps, though perhaps in a different way.
But onto the market, which delighted us with its rather local and international character. Fruitbread from Marchfeld farmers, Pannonian spices, and a Hungarian wurst stand whose samples made it wildly popular were among our favorites. Slovak farmers and Czech iron workers rounded out the scene.
Inside one of the outbuildings were dozens of other vendors offering more locally-made crafts and gifts, lovely handmade leather jewelry from Bulgaria, felted wool Nativity pieces to add to our collection from Tirol, and a new piece of handcrafted amber jewelry from Poland for me!
Our tote filled with goodies and gifts, we climbed back into the sleigh, gliding through the Marchfeld toward home. Another great Saturday outing achieved, with plans to return in the spring for a little stork-watching.