The custom of dressing up as wild animals and monsters dates back to pagan rites surrounding the winter solstice in Europe. These traditions continue today, centered around festivals from midwinter to Easter, evoking the hope of spring renewal.
Photographer Charles Fréger set out to capture what he calls “tribal Europe” over two winters of travel through 19 countries. The forms of the costumes that he chronicled vary between regions and even between villages. In Corlata, Romania, men dress as stags reenacting a hunt with dancers. In Sardinia, Italy, goats, deer, boars, or bears may play the sacrificial role. Throughout Austria, Krampus, the beastly counterpart to St. Nicholas, frightens naughty children.
But everywhere there is the wild man. In France, he is l’Homme Sauvage; in Germany, Wilder Mann; in Poland, Macidula is the clownish version. He dresses in animal skins or lichen or straw or tree branches. Half man and half beast, the wild man stands in for the complicated relationship that human communities, especially rural ones, have with nature.