A pack of Krampus terrorized the streets of Bloomington, Indiana last night for the annual Krampus Night event.
Krampus Night? What is it? According to Austro-Barvarian folklore, Krampus is a huge, sinister, horned beast that has been enslaved by St. Nicholas. As Old Nick journeys across the Alpine countryside bringing gifts to good children, the chained demon stalks behind him, waiting to be unleashed on naughty children. Punishments handed out by Krampus include, but are not limited to, leaving coal instead of gifts, handing out beatings with a birch switch, marking sleeping children’s faces with ash to attract nightmares, and worst of all, carrying the worst of the children off to hell! Intense, huh?
It’s long been tradition in Alpine villages for young men to dress in elaborate Krampus costumes and parade down the street, and afterwards lurk in alleys and dark places waiting to frighten passing children. It’s like someone took the best aspects of Christmas and combined them with Halloween. Those Europeans have the best ideas!
Now the tradition is becoming more and more popular in the United States. Not only is Krampus now a major motion picture, and has appeared in various television shows and graphic novels. But before all that, Bloomington, Indiana has been bringing this unique tradition to life each December for the past four years.
This year Cult Of Weird was on hand to cover the festivities. Krampus Night began just before twilight with a Bazaar situated in a small parking lot. Patrons could purchase tee shirts, bundles of switches, and food and drink. Various family activities were available to keep children entertained–God forbid a sudden bout of boredom leads children to mischief just as a pack of Krampuses are readying to march through town! The kids could occupy themselves with sack races, Krampus balloon headdresses, making homemade Krampus masks, or drawing images of the beast in sidewalk chalk. But most important of all, this is where you get your naughty or nice stickers. Nice patrons get candy. Naughty ones run the risk of meeting Krampus up close.
An hour later, just as night fell, ominous horn and drum music could be heard in the distance and troop of angels appeared from around the corner–lovely women in white, gyrating with light-up neon hula hoops, while a very stoic, Old World Saint Nicholas oversaw the performance. The women would then approach onlookers and hand out treats to children labeled nice. As bright and spectacular as this scene was, a dark cloud hung over the festivities. Dark haired men with ashen faces followed several feet behind with torches blazing high in the air, and behind them the menacing roars of dark beasts could be heard. Soon a dozen or more fierce, fur covered goat men with, enormous, twisted, wild horns appeared carrying long staffs made of bundles of switches. The creatures howled and growled and lunged at the crowd in search of the naughty. The crowd howled and growled back, and older siblings yelled out to the Krampuses, ratting out younger siblings for being bad. Myself, naughty by my own admission, was spanked across the shins with a huge staff of switches, and one particularly large Krampus (who I later learned was named Kindergobbler) grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me sharply as punishment.
One Krampus stopped in front me with a bright torch, sipped some foul smelling liquid, and spat fire high into the dark Bloomington sky. The crowd cheered in approval as more Krampuses dashed at the onlookers. Finally a pickup truck emerged from around the corner, with a particularly vile looking Krampus in back. Sitting around him were several small children, their faces covered in ash. As other little children moved into the street for a closer look at the Krampuses, a small blonde girl shouted from the truck “run you idiots! They’ll take you away! Run for your lives!”
As the parade moved through town the crowd followed, until all the onlookers arrived back at the Bazaar for a chance to have their pictures taken with St. Nick, the Angels, and the demonic Krampuses. A host of the beasts were locked inside a pen made of police caution tape, and for an additional donation, you could walk through the menagerie, as they shook and swatted you with switches. At the end of the night St. Nicholas entered the pen, and all the Krampuses dropped down on one knee to honor the man who’d tamed and mastered them. Nicholas raised his staff, and a horn blared. He then loaded all of the beasts into the back of trucks and they drove off to Downtown Bloomington, screeching and bellowing, where they’d spend the remainder of the night lurking outside of pubs and restaurants, waiting to punish the naughty.
The entire event seemed extremely surreal, as the Krampus tradition is far darker than anything we have in the States. But despite the dreadful notion that the devil is waiting to drag you away, the kids in the audience loved it all, as it was all so over the top it seemed more theater than threat, though the same underlying message we all hear at Christmas was there–“you better be good, for goodness sake!”