Welcome to What the FAQ, where we ask the hard-hitting questions about an upcoming event.
Today, we’re getting down and dirty with the seventh annual Krampusnacht DC.
(Note: Originally scheduled for December 1, the event has been moved to Saturday, December 21.)
Krampusnacht DC is an “inclusive community event” that allows “creative types to celebrate the holiday season” while raising funds to support DC foster youth. Like other Krampusnachts held throughout the world, the night centers around the folkloric tradition of Krampus. This year’s event partners with-
Wait, who is Krampus?
OK, let’s take a step back.
In Central European folklore (as memorialized by Wikipedia), Krampus is a “horned, anthropomorphic figure” often described as half-goat and half-demon. I repeat: HALF-GOAT, HALF-DEMON. During the Christmas season, this freak was said to punish children who misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas (aka Santa), who rewarded well-behaved kids with gifts. Notably, though, Krampus was said to be part of Saint Nicholas’s crew. It’s sort of the pre-Christian good cop / bad cop routine of the Alpine region.
“It’s German folklore – like, Hansel and Gretel dark,” says Jennifer Horan, one of Krampusnacht DC’s organizers. “It’s easy to imagine how the idea caught on. Think about being a kid in these Alpine villages where it gets dark so very early and there’s this huge forest . Back then, of course, people would move to other villages and tweak the tradition, and we’ve done the same thing – we’ve kind of made it our own.”
A central part of the Krampus tradition is Krampusnacht (or “Krampus night”). Krampusnacht falls on December 5 – the evening before Nikolastaug (or the Feast of Saint Nicholas). On Krampusnacht, our favorite goat demon would visit the homes and businesses of bad children. There were often Krampus balls to mark the occasion. More commonly, towns would hold a Krampuslauf (translation: “Krampus run”), wherein locals donned “carved wooden masks, cowbells, chains, and elaborate costumes” to run through town or the Christmas market, “frightening and sometimes beating bystanders.”
“It’s a big ordeal,” says Horan, a self-identified “military brat” who spent time in Benelux and Munich growing up. “Saint Nicholas leads the way, maybe with some woodsmen and angels and witches. Some towns in the Alps have some crazy characters – like, these big haystack guys with giant bells. They deliberately try to scare people. Over there, Krampus is supposed to be scary. Krampus is Santa’s elf that comes for you if you’re a bad kid. You don’t just get a lump of coal in your stocking – you get beaten by a switch or carried off in a sack. Maybe he’ll eat you; I don’t know. Over here, we kind of tone that down.”
Wasn’t there a Krampus horror movie?
Yes, but it’s safe to say that it wasn’t exactly true to the legend.
“A lot of people don’t get it,” Horan says of Krampus. “They think it’s like Satan or the devil or some crap. It’s not.”
I will note, however, that “Krampus” has a 49 on Metacritic, which is 30 points higher than I’d expect.
So, I may be watching “Krampus” this holiday season.
Sure. This year’s Krampusnacht DC is on Saturday, December 21. This slightly deviates from the December 5 tradition, but deal with it – no one wants to Krampus on a Wednesday night.
“For a while, we were doing Krampus on the 5th of December, as is tradition, but then it was really too much to pull off on a weeknight,” Horan says. “We also discovered that when December 5 fell on a weekend, we had a really massive turn out.”
The event starts at 5:00 p.m. with a family friendly reception at Gallery O on H Street. (Note: This is outside, so dress appropriately.) Children of all ages can visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus. There will be a coloring and craft station. There will be a face painting station. There will be the opportunity to take photos with Krampus and/or Santa Clause.
Adults, meanwhile, will have access to a cash bar with beer and cider.
This bounty of entertainment and folkloric richness can be yours for the suggested donation of $15, all of which goes to the National Center for Children and Families, a 501(c)(3) that aims to “create total, healthy living environments for vulnerable children, youth, and families.”
Also, you’re encouraged to bring at least one unwrapped gift for a child (ages youth to 21), and to entice your generosity, each gift earns you a door prize raffle ticket.
At 7:00, things get real: Santa will announce that he’s releasing the Krampus. This kicks off the Krampuslauf Charity Walk, which pretty much entails a relatively short jaunt down the street to Cusbah. Walkers will be joined by the Batala Drummers to “amplify their rhythms.” Based on the video, this looks wild. (Horan says that while they’d love to do a bigger parade, they’d have to close down the streets and hire the security and rent bathrooms, and they’d have no money for the charity.) (She is also is quick to distinguish this costumed promenade from the cultural blight that is the Santa Crawl.)
After a spell at Cusbah, walkers will head back to Gallery O. From 9:00 on, Krampusnacht DC turns into an adults-only event. Sorry, kiddos.
This party will feature more performances, sponsor giveaways, an adult costume contest, and the music of DJ Scruggz.
What should I wear to Krampusnacht?
If you’re really getting into it, you go as a Krampus or some kind of woodland creatures with horns. If you’re not ready to go full Krampus, angels and elves are popular costumes.
Or you can just show up in jeans and a holiday sweater. There isn’t a strict fashion code. You can message Krampus DC on Facebook with any questions.
Can I dress as a clown?
No dice. Clowns were banned after a series of disturbing clown events in 2016.
Are children terrified of Krampus?
“Yes, some are!” Horan tells me. “But some are fascinated.”
Having volunteered for years as the panda mascot at the National Zoo, Horan considers herself somewhat of an expert on potentially terrifying costumes.
“You see a lot of kids who are a little scared at first, but they keep coming back, and they keep coming back, and they keep coming back, and all of a sudden they’re standing there, holding onto your leg,” she shares. “Some kids run away from Krampus immediately. Others are fascinated immediately. That’s the case with any mascot: They’re big and different. But we make sure that we don’t intentionally scare anyone because we want this to be a welcoming event.”
Can I unsee these pictures of Krampus?
No, the images are burned into your brain and will haunt you forever.
Sorry, dude, you clicked on the link.
Krampusnacht DC is organized by a 10-member planning committee that includes teachers, social workers, federal employees, and graphic designers. Led by Melina “Mel” Afzal (who also runs the burlesque troupe Palace Productions), this group meets once a month to keep Krampusnacht DC rolling.
“We have quite a cornucopia of backgrounds,” says Horan, who falls into the “federal employee” bucket..
2018 marks the sixth year that Krampusnacht DC will benefit a charity related to DC foster kids.
“It’s the season for giving,” explains Horan, who has been involved in planning the event since 2013. “Why would we do this big event if it doesn’t benefit somebody in our neighborhood?”
While most other Krampusnacht events around the country don’t have a charitable angle, Horan sees it as congruous with the spirit of the tradition.
“Traditionally, from the Netherlands down through Germany and Austria, Saint Nicholas Day is often supported by the village volunteer fire department or other volunteer groups,” she explains. “Krampus DC is a group of volunteers as well, and all who work to pull off Krampusnacht DC volunteer thier time and talents.”
Horan also notes that the First District police department has embraced Krampusnacht DC and helps to make it a family friendly, safe event.
In recent years, fundraising for Krampusnacht DC had been spearheaded by Santa’s Cause DC, and while Santa’s Cause administrators Piers Lamb and Jules Kendrick remain involved in Krampusnacht DC, 2018 is the first year that the Krampus DC group itself has taken the reins.
Are there for real other Krampusnacht events around the U.S.?
For real for real.
Baltimore hosts its carol-heavy Krampuslauf next weekend. There’s a big Krampus Ball in L.A. Elsewhere, you can find Krampus fetes in Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Philadelphia, Richmond, and Orlando. It’s Krapmusmania.
“There are lots of other communities throughout the United States that have been doing something Krampus-y on Saint Nicholas day because they have very large European populations,” says Horan. “Even in Tampa they have Krampus now.”
What is the the appeal of Krampusnacht?
According to Horan, it’s a holiday event that anyone can take part in regardless of age, religion, or any other kind of background.
“Everybody can come,” she says. “You can dress up or not. Bring your kids. It’s all in good fun. It’s an excuse to dress up and run around the neighborhood for a good cause and get into some holiday spirit.”
Horan sees Krampusnacht DC as part of a larger revival of the tradition.
“There’s a big resurgence,” she shares. “The youth in Germany are really embracing the idea of Krampus as well, but they’re making it their own. We’ve got this younger generation that’s like, ‘Why don’t we do this anymore? This looks like fun.’ It’s really neat to see.”
Nothing brings people together like a demon goat.