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Q: I was in Berchtesgaden, Germany, last year around Christmastime and among the brightly colored lights and holiday decorations in store windows, there were various masks that looked more appropriate for Halloween — scary, devilish-looking faces that were quite frightening. They looked out of place in all the sparkling Christmas decor. What’s up with that?

A: Those scary masks represent Krampus, and they are scary-looking for a reason. The job of the Krampus is to destroy all the evil spirits before Christmas, according to Ursula Conserti, a resident of Berchtesgaden.

People who take on the role of Krampus at Christmastime wear shaggy costumes made out of hay and six bells around their neck that cause a cacophony of noise to help destroy the bad spirits, Conserti said. They can show up at Christmas plays or on town streets to playfully harass residents.

Folklore has it that, once upon a time, the Krampus was out to scare children into being good for the Christmas season. It’s also said that he carried switches and would beat anyone he felt like beating with them.

But the modern-day Krampus, part of the Bavarian and Austrian Christmas tradition, is all in good fun. Conserti described them as “funny fellows running through the city,” usually accompanied by angels and Old St. Nick himself.

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