This past weekend, I had the opportunity to experience the Krampus phenomenon in Los Angeles that included a Krampus Run Thursday night and a Krampus Play Sunday evening. I’ve only become acquainted with Krampus in the last few years, and during that time I felt an obsession beginning to grow within me. I decided that I would educate myself and attend some of the events put on by Al Ridenour of Krampus Los Angeles as I figured it would help get me into the holiday spirit; and boy did it ever.
The Krampus Run is unlike anything I have ever seen before. The run itself is located on a closed off street in Downtown LA and features more than two dozen individuals from Krampus Troupe and Beast Bay Krampus dressed up as different interpretations of Krampus. In a world where everything costs money, this event was free of charge and offered guests a sight of something new and entertaining. Leading the procession was St. Nicholas himself who was chauffeured about in a Krampus-driven steam-car. As St. Nick made his way out into the open, he ushered us all closer, and as we advanced toward him, he proclaimed it time for the Krampus Run! At this point, a gate opened and Krampuses of all shapes and sizes spewed forth with sticks and whips to smack and hit unsuspecting onlookers. I was one of those onlookers and let me tell you, I was not expecting to get whipped like I did. The hordes of Krampuses followed St. Nicholas up and down the closed off street while spectators looked on and cheered. You could hear screams, growls, laughter, and terror throughout the packed street and there was even a slight smell of Christmas in the air. It was amazing to see how large the crowd was that came out to support this age-old Austrian tradition. And it wasn’t just adults; there were children, of all ages, screaming and laughing as the Krampuses rushed by them.
What I loved so much about this event was how happy everyone around me was. Though the folktales of Krampus evoke a fear in the hearts of those that have been naughty, it was clear that the people around me were having the time of their life. As St. Nick and his demonic friends headed back to the gate, those surrounding him were given chocolate pieces of coal for having been such naughty children. I found myself yelling out to St. Nicholas about my transgressions in hopes to snag a chocolate coal for myself and you bet your Krampus whipping ass I got one. I was impressed by the apparent time and effort it takes to put together these costumes. It was clear that those who participated in this tradition were passionate about what they did.
As the run came to a close, there was a free after party at the 1914-era Regent Theater. I unfortunately was not able to attend this portion of the event but there was live music from the Nordic lesbian Viking Metal group Sapphic Musk and entertainment by Rosemary’s Billygoat, complete with a fire-breathing stage show that included monster props, costumes, an electric chair and more! Though I had to head back home, friends later explained that it was unlike anything they had ever seen before. As I walked back to my car and away from all the festivities, I reflected back on the Krampus Run with a smile on my face and a new found respect for those who take this tradition to heart.
The next event that I attended came a few days later and was to be held at the Church of Angels in Pasadena, CA. All I knew was I was going to be seeing a Krampus Play, though I wasn’t even sure what that meant. What I ended up experiencing was so much more than that. Upon arrival to the Church of Angels, I was once again greeted by St. Nicholas on his Krampus-driven steam-car, who ushered us all inside the church. As I took a seat on one of the pews, I patiently awaited for whatever was to unfold and looked around at the sold out crowd. Scattered throughout the pews I could see guests dressed in headpieces with horns that resembled those of Krampus and I could tell there was an air of excitement all around. The Church itself was absolutely breathtaking with a nod to the Gothic Revival and was the perfect backdrop for the showpiece we were about to experience.
First up was a snippet from a documentary called Tuifl (“Devil”) by Hannah Jakubowska which gave viewers a glimpse into the history of Krampus. I absolutely adored this preview, and I now have a much better understanding of what Krampus is, how he came about, and what his place is in Christmas folklore. The documentary was shot in Austria and shows the traditions that are held dear to those who live there as well as interviews that were conducted with troupe members, mask-carvers, suit makers and proprietors of the Kartner Krampus Shop, one of the few stores that specializes in costumes, masks and assorted gear (such as bells, chains, and whips) for Krampus and Perchten (a midwinter creature) events.
After Michael & Monika’s performance we got to the main event, The Nicholas Plays. For those not familiar with the Nicholas Plays or “Nikolausspiel”, they are “a folk theater genre dating back to the 18th century and resemble England’s mummer’s plays. The Nicholas Play is a primary origin of the Krampus tradition” (Krampus Los Angeles). The play was translated from German for this show by producer and director Al Ridenour, who also is the creator of Krampus Los Angeles. The show was divided up into three acts: Death and the Youth, St. Nicholas and the Devils, and A Miracle of St. Nicholas. I absolutely LOVED the performances. For someone like me, who is a huge fan of horror, the Nicholas Plays had everything one could ever imagine such as Lucifer Krampus, butchered children, a bad-ass representation of Death, St. Nicholas kicking ass and taking names, murder, deceit and forgiveness. Though a lot of the subject matter was incredibly dark, it was put together with an air of humor and light heartedness which resulted in quite a juxtaposition of feelings towards what was happening. Overall, this play was truly the icing and cherry atop a delicious cake. It brought everything full circle while also educating those who were not familiar with the stories and mythology behind this Christmas demon.
Overall, having attended both the Krampus Run and the Krampus Play, I would have to say my love and obsession has only grown for this tradition. I loved seeing the excitement and playfulness that came from those who have been fans for years and years and also the awe and amazement from those who were just learning about Krampus for the first time. Al Ridenour has created something incredibly special with his Krampus Los Angeles events and has made the tradition come alive for so many people and I’m grateful to have been able to experience all of this for my first time and I look forward to celebrating the Krampus tradition for years to come.