Krampus is coming! Krampus is coming! The dark and devilish character of the winter holiday season, the anti-Santa, arrives in Los Angeles for the first time ever with a series of events over the next week.
Krampus owes his American popularity in part to author/collector Monte Beauchamp who compiled images and history for his books, Krampus the Devil of Christmas, the Creepy Krampus Sticker Book and greeting card collections. Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab has long embraced Krampus, spreading the word of Yule’s Dark Lord to the legions who love the cult perfumer and their dark, intellectual yet playful scents. And now switch-wielding demon descends on LA, ready to terrorize the naughty (and really, haven’t we all been bad somehow this year!?)
We emailed organizer Rev. Al Ridenour as he and LA Krampus Troupe were busily preparing for this Saturday’s highly anticipated Krampus Ball at the Highland Park Ebell Club, just part of the fiendish festivities surrounding Los Angeles’ first annual Krampusfest.
Krampus: Scary demon or sex-devil…?
Well, scary demon on the surface, of course. But there’s a more or less undisguised sexual aspect too. If you ever Google “Krampus cards” — those old postcards that Europeans used to send – you’ll see in amongst the old-timey cards, a newer generation that circulated it Europe of the 1960s that look like Playboy cartoons of the era, featuring a half-dressed woman and generally capitalizing on the sexy innuendo of the spanking motif.
And in the Krampus runs I’ve attended, it’s more than clear that young women are almost exclusively the target the switch-swatting by the costumed young men. It’s probably not hard to guess that the Krampus figure set next to St. Nicholas to represent the devil borrows his form from an earlier pre-Christian demon of alpine mythology. And those figures likewise wielded switches that were overtly associated with fertility. In some places they even used something called the “Lebensrute,” which literally means “life rod” or “switch.” Being swatted with this instrument ensured a thriving year to follow. We still embrace this idea ourselves with the practice of birthday spankings.
Krampus has been slowly emerging over the past decade, most certainly in the past 5 years–why the visibility? Is this in part a desire to have our own celebrations and move away from the more traditional Norman Rockwell experience? (TL/DR: Why Krampus? Why NOW!?)
I do believe it’s related to the Santacon phenomenon, the way that has taken off and now takes place in hundreds of cities. The idea of Christmas as a placid and domestic experience is actually rather modern, and I think the pendulum is just swinging back. There really was more than priggishness behind the Puritan’s contempt for Christmas. Before the family-oriented Christmas was basically invented by Clement Clark Moore and a handful of New York bluebloods, Christmas riots, all the annual drunken carousing, nearly brought the cities of early America to their knees. Of course, this all goes back to what the Puritans experienced in Europe, the customs of mumming or wassailing, basically folk theater usually has some anarchic edge to it. Krampus runs are an Austrian version of that. And all of this ultimately relates back also to the medieval Feast of Fools, the Christianized Saturnalia. What I’m saying is that the “Normal Rockwell experience” is really the thing that really calls for explanation. That sort of Christmas was the exception, a flash in the historical pan really.
What are some of the events you have planned?
The first thing people probably think of is a “Krampus run,” and we are indeed doing one of those in conjunction with the Downtown Art Walk. “Run” may be a little misleading as these beasties tend more to shamble with the occasional sudden springy move that catches spectators off-guard. There is also a Krampus-themed art show, “Naughty or Nice” at Copro Gallery where there’s some nice outdoor space for cavorting. Unlike the street run, there we’ll be able to create more of our own Krampus habitat, which should involve some burning smoke-pots, and strange mobile installation art including a cage for naughty children.
And we also have two Krampus themed indoor shows, which will feature the more familiar German bands hybridized with a Krampus theme, resulting in things like the artist Ego Plum assuming a devilish guise as he reworks Kraftwerk into Krampwerk. The setting for the big show is the Krampus Ball on December 7. We have former members of Green Jellÿ donning horns and furs performing rewritten Rammstein songs as Krammpstein, and the perpetually surreal Radioactive Chicken Heads channeling Lux & Ivy’s alpine cousins The Kramps. But we’re mixing this stuff up genuine Bavarian folk dances and music performed by a local cultural preservation group. They’ll be bringing a giant alpenhorn and musical set of cowbells. And of course, our costumed Krampus troupe is bound to make their presence wildly known at all these events.
On the traditional dates of December 6, our core group is also planning some surprise visits I’m not at liberty to divulge. We may conduct a traditional home visit to an interested family with children who would find the prospect exciting (rather than overwhelming scary). We had one family online for that, but there was a logistic issue ruling them out, so we may be looking to find another. We’d like to honor the original European traditions in ways like this as well as goof on them California style.
How can people participate?
The two theme-shows are also costume parties, so we are inviting folks to make a stab at Krampus costuming for those. St. Nicholas will be around to hand out some will small gifts for noteworthy efforts. The traditional costume is no small endeavor, so we’re suggesting other looks too, like dirndls or lederhosen, or perhaps just a tasteful set of antlers woven into a wig. Witches are also associated with Krampus events, so that is another possible costume, though the European witch is a slightly different look than what Americans tend to picture.
People are also welcome to participate in the Krampus run too, but we’re asking that they get in touch in advance (see link below) to go over some performance guidelines. As this is a new and potentially frightening tradition to the uninitiated, we want to tread somewhat gingerly, especially when dealing with the public and when things like switches are involved, even if merely as a visual prop. The elephant in the room here: this is not Santacon. The rowdiness has to be theatrical and under control, not the product of boozing, and the suits are not something you shell out $35 for on the way to the event.
One reason we’re doing the theme shows is to give people a way to get their Krampus on without having to fuss over painstaking costumes. In a club setting people can cut loose more than out on the street. It’s a setting where consensual switches-swatting can actually be okay. We want this to be an annual event, so we’re trying to get things off on the right foot, and also trying to give folks a chance to dip their toes into the experience with easygoing stuff in the clubs.
About participating with Krampus troupe: http://krampuslosangeles.com/appearing-with-the-krampus-troupe/
Any hints for creating a groovy Krampus costume?
You can actually buy the suits, of course. Europeans actually almost always do so, and shell out quite a tidy sum for them. But it’s cheaper and more fun to make them. We’ve tried to stay close the traditional model, but it would be lying to say it’s exactly fast, easy, or cheap. I sculpted several masks from scratch myself, but other members have had luck adapting off-the-shelf masks. As a base for our suits, most of us have used some form of faux fur fabric, but that alone really doesn’t give the look, so we’ve augmented that by sewing in wefts of synthetic braiding hair, or scraps from worn-out fur coats. The Krampus always has a ragged appearance, and there’s almost always long trailing fur looks nothing like simple coveralls sewn from faux fur. Real animal horns are another feature that really sets apart the better costumes. There’s so much texture and detail in those, and being hollow, they’re also lightweight. We mount them on bike or construction helmets, then assemble the masks around those. I’ve put some tips online that go into more detail on all of this.
7:30pm doors, show starts at 8pm, til midnight
Highland Park Ebell Club
131 S. Ave. 57th
Highland Park, CA 90042-4701
Tickets: $15 in advance, $18 at the door.