Sunday, December 14, 2014

Photo Essay: Willkommen Krampus, the Christmas Devil

Sometimes it feels like there's too jarring of a switch in the season from Halloween to Christmas. Thank God for the rare hybrids out there, like The Nightmare Before Christmas, which ease the transition between the two.

And then there's Krampus.

I grew up with some Germanic traditions - admiring the tannenbaum, snacking on lebkuchen – but I was more familiar with the bowl-full-of-jelly variety of Santa Claus than the robed, wizardly Saint Nikolaus, and until a couple of years ago I'd never heard of Santa having companions.

Apparently he does. At least in pre-Christian, German-speaking Europe, Deutscher Sprachraum. But by the time I came around, we were pretty Catholic, and "fröhliche weihnachten" was about the only German we spoke around the house.

In order to get in touch with my roots, I had to visit the hipster neighborhood of Echo Park for their annual holiday parade, which this year was overtaken by a Krampuslauf, replete with a steamcar Krampuswagon...



...driven by Krampus himself and featuring the kind of Kris Kringle we fear the most: Santa the punisher.



New York City has its Santa-Con – with its vomiting, drunken participants half-heartedly sporting their red suits – but this year, LA had a (relatively?) sober daytime run of the Krampus...



...and some of the oddball characters that surround him.



Krampus is a furry creature, recognizable with ram-like horns...



...and a characteristic red tongue that rivals that of the most lingual rockstars.



Sometimes he himself appears red, as Krampus is also known as the Christmas devil.



During a Krampuslauf, the elaborately costumed devils (and their friends) are known to run amok...



...sometimes chasing down little children in order to stuff them into their baskets...



...and strike adult onlookers (gently) with a mild switch.



This was the time in the parade to run into the street and mingle with the performers...



...let them give you a little spook and a spank...



...and take as many pictures up close as you can...



...even if, since you're new to the tradition, you don't always know exactly who or what you're encountering.



It was mayhem that was all-too-brief, and a welcome break in between the more traditional parade fare...



...of local community cheerleaders...



...dance squads...



...drill teams...



...and marching bands.



Even so, all of those were pretty entertaining, too...



...reminding us that we live in a giant network of small towns...



...with their own folksy traditions...



...cultural expressions...



...and costumes that don't always exactly make sense.



Sure, Krampus feels a bit more Halloween to me than Christmas, but I loved meeting them. And I'm spending this holiday season in the sunshine surrounded by palm trees anyway. I won't have a White Christmas. Nobody needs a sleigh in LA. Rudolph's nose isn't bright enough to shine through the smog.

So this naughty kid is going to be open to creating and embracing some new traditions. At least this one, this Krampus, is part of my ancestry. It's in my blood. I just didn't know it til now.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Pasadena Doo Dah Parade 2014
Photo Essay: Getting Ready for Halloween (and the Hereafter) Early at the Spook Show