Every year, Santa makes a list of who’s been naughty or nice and rewards them accordingly with the appropriate gifts. But Krampus goes ballistic with darker methods in mind.
To those unfamiliar with German Yuletide folklore, Krampus (derived from the German word krampen, meaning “claw”) is the antithesis to his St. Nick counterpart. Resembling a demonic goat, he’s reportedly been scaring misbehaving youngsters since the 16th century by arming himself with sticks to whip them into shape or dragging them to his underworld lair. He’s also the central figure of Krampusnacht, an annual celebration that takes place Dec. 5 all over Europe, most prominently in Austria and Bavaria, and in scattered parts of the world including Edmonton, where festivities have been going on since 2012.
“The whole point of it is to sort of scare the kids into being good for when St. Nicholas came,” says Rebecca Reid, social-media coordinator for Krampusnacht’s local festivities. “Krampus comes for the bad kids and then you have St. Nicholas come later on for the good kids. If they turn around and improve their behaviour, they get the good stuff from St. Nicholas.”
Every year on Dec. 5 around 9 p.m., roughly 20 revelers assemble in the Old Strathcona area dressed up like Krampus, as well as St. Nick, angels and elves. They then march on Whyte Avenue to Gateway Boulevard and then back again, with some 150 followers. To curious onlookers during the trek, the group distributes handbills explaining the background of Krampusnacht.
“I don’t want to say it’s similar to the zombie walk, but it kind of is,” says Reid. “We’re just bringing attention to Krampusnacht, bringing the tradition back to Canada, and hoping it will get bigger and stronger each year.”
Reid would like to see Edmonton Krampusnacht grow to a point where it would rival the more elaborate celebrations in Europe, where thousands flock to parades to catch folks in Krampus getup and lots of blazing attractions.
“The tradition that they have involves a lot of pyrotechnics; it’s more of an adult thing,” she says. “It’s kind of a huge party. We would love to have our fire-spinners and be able to do a bonfire and that kind of thing.” This year, Krampusnacht has a permit for one fire-eater, who will be at the festivities.
In the meantime, Reid and her horned colleagues will have to make do with their way of issuing a Merry Christmas to all – and to all a good fright.