Do They Know It’s Krampus?

Have you grown tired of partridges in pear trees, Christmas stockings, Hallmark specials, and the other ho, ho, hum traditions of the holiday season? If so, why not consider an alternative celebration? Perhaps one with horns and cloven hooves (Krampusnacht, which happens every December 5th) or one that twists the holiday paradigm in fun and interesting ways (Santarchy, which takes place tomorrow on the Mall).

Krampusnacht is the night when Krampus, a demonic sidekick of St. Nicholas, rules the roost. Krampusnacht has long been celebrated in the German-speaking Alpine region, and more recently has become popular on the other side of the pond. The event is now an annual tradition on H Street NE in the District.

In its traditional incarnation, Krampusnacht is not a holiday for the faint of heart. As the costumed horned demons parade around town, some get a bit carried away. As this account from an Austrian Krampusnacht noted, Krampus often brandishes bundles of sticks, which it uses literally to whip onlookers: “We witnessed some fairly savage floggings of legs that left the victims in visible pain. Whenever a Krampus would approach, we’d recoil in terror, but luckily we managed to escape unscathed.”

Fortunately, DC’s celebration of Krampusnacht is a gentler, more whimsical affair. This year, while the attendant Krampuses wore traditional horned masks, no revelers were harmed over the course of the evening.

In fact, some of the Krampuses were downright friendly.

Some Krampus facts (courtesy of Mental Floss):

  • Traditional portrayals of Krampus featured demons with one cloven hoof and one human foot.
  • Some Austrian families used to decorate their houses with miniature versions of Krampus’ stick bundles, in part to discourage children from misbehaving. Krampus, you see, knows when you’ve been bad or good.
  • When Austria was under fascist rule in the 1930s, the government banned Krampus, considering him to be a creation of Social Democrats.

If you’d like a new twist on the holidays, but are in the mood for something less demonic, Santarchy might be for you.

According the DC’s Santarchy site, the idea of the celebration is to twist “the holiday paradigm until it screams for mercy.” During Santarchy (which is now celebrated throughout the U.S., as well as in such far-flung places as Adelaide, Australia and Beijing, China), all participants are required to wear Santa suits or other costumes expressing holiday cheer, but innovation is encouraged. This results in some interesting variations, including Elvis Santas…

…singing Santas…

…Santas without pants…

…and even Steampunk Santas…

In addition, there are a bunch of revelers in non-Santa but otherwise quite festive costumes.

This year, Santarchy will take place on December 21st at 1:30pm by the carousel in front of the Smithsonian castle.

All photos copyright to Rob Klug and Miki Jourdan

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