Have you heard of Krampus? Being a Halloween person, myself, I always liked the brighter, lighter holiday season just fine, but it was never as compelling as that darker holiday…until I found out about Krampus. His origin lies in the distant past of several Germanic countries, but he’s still celebrated in full force in Austria. He’s Santa’s enforcer–the demonic being who carries out Santa’s punishments for the bad boys and girls. And, oh, what punishments they are. Stories refer to children being dragged to hell in a basket that the hoofed Krampus carries on his back, or spanked with the bundle of thorned switches that Krampus wields. In the rush to commercialize Christmas, Krampus was left behind, along with much of the rowdiness the holiday used to share with All Hallows Eve (Christmas was actually banned at one time in early America), but now he’s making a comeback.
December 5th is Krampusnacht in Austria–a night when multiple incarnations of the evil Krampus roam the streets in search of bad children. This is usually presented in the form of a parade, complete with fire breathers, homemade motor vehicles and carts adorned with skulls and torches. The Krampus costumes take months to assemble and often look like a cross between the Uruk-hai of the Lord of the Rings films and the beast from Fantasia.
For a costumer, this is awesome stuff, mainly because the costumers are allowed a level of interpretation that’s seldom seen in today’s race to see who can be more screen-accurate. Krampusnacht and Krampuslauf celebrations are making inroads in the US, but not fast enough to suit me.
The Philadelphia Krampuslauf is a success because its founders understand that Krampus is about more than an excuse to dress up, drink schnapps, and frighten kids. It’s an opportunity to build a community at a time of the year when many of us feel disenfranchised. Let’s face it–if you’re not a hardcore Christian there aren’t many meaningful ways to celebrate the winter solstice. Krampus can help to change that.
The folks who are drawn to Krampus are exactly the kind of people I want to get to know better. They’re the DIY folks, like me, who enjoy Halloween but who aren’t quite as thrilled by sugar and spice. They’re the ones with an artistic bent and a slightly skewed perspective on the things our society takes for granted. They’re the artists and visonaries and the sideways thinkers, and I think they deserve a holiday celebration all their own. If the mainstream wants to take part, they’d be welcomed, but I doubt they’d really participate to the level that most of us would. Let’s face it–when most people see how much time, effort, and money goes into one of these costumes, they’d back out and start asking for Krampus gear at Party City.
So what do you say? Wanna bring Krampus to the states with me? I’d like to see a Krampus celebration in LA next holiday season. If you’re also in the LA area, contact me and let’s make this happen.