Any traveler who ventures into the Tirol region during Christmas time shouldn't miss the chance to participate in the pagan festivities held throughout the region; if you're fortuante, you'll come face to face with the beings known as Perchten. Don't be scared though...their traditional role is to actually chase away the demons.
According to legend ("perchten"), demons visit Tirol around Christmas time. The locals dress up as demons so when the real demons pass by the down, they'll be tricked into thinking that the town is already over-run by demons and pass on to the next town. That's how the outsmart the demons and keep their town from harm.
More than a festival, it's a ritual. Young men from the villages (it's a men-only affair, if I remember correctly) dress in demon costumes created from real animal hair and straw. The suits are so bulky that the Perchten move in slow, hulking strides from side to side. They hand thick leather belts adorned with chains and cowbells that make a racket when they move. To top things off, they add incredible hand-made masks featuring real animal horns and bones. As I understand it, these masks can fetch top dollar for the materials used and the high quality of workmanship. I mean it when I say they are truly spine-chilling.
The Perchten go around beating heavy drums made of oil barrels, creating a sort of demonic orchestra. They gather around bonfires which are fed with various materials to give off certain colors and smells. The whole scene is surrounded by the intense smell of smoke and the thump of the rhythm. Visitors can enjoy the spectacle with homemade Glühweina and other Tirol products that are sold in street stalls.
Finally, young ladies should beware since the Perchten have a tradition of painting their faces with ash. No one escapes! It's an incredible experience in Tirol that I'd love to repeat.