It can get a lot worse than a lump of coal in your stocking.
According to Germanic folklore, old St. Nick has a demonic sidekick named Krampus whose job is to punish all the children who were naughty this year. When he's not spanking children, he's kidnapping them, drowning them or just eating the kids for dinner.
Krampus is a popular figure in the holiday celebrations of Germany, Austria and other Alpine countries, as adults don elaborate and beastly Krampus costumes, then roam the streets menacing children. It's a centuries-old tradition, but it never really caught on in the U.S. At least until now.
PHOTOS: Krampus Rampus at the Complex in Glendale
This season, a group of performers and artists brought “Krampusfest” to Los Angeles as a series of Krampus-themed events held throughout December. The festivities culminated this past Saturday with “Krampus Rumpus,” a high-octane music and variety show held at the Complex in Glendale.
Attendees were encouraged to join in the spirit of the event, and many donned horns, pelts and other beastly get-ups. The event was emceed by an old-school Saint Nicholas in flowing robes of white and gold, who chastised the audience for being naughty in between musical acts.
Opening bands included the Krampus Choir, who sang Christmas carols with lyrics modified for the devilish theme, and the Free Range Orkestar, whose renditions of traditional Austrian folk melodies had the crowd bobbing at the knees. Things took a contemporary turn when the Soft Serve, billed as “Leipzig's biggest Minimal Synth Band,” took the stage. The duo of keyboardist and vocalist served up spare, industrial-tinged synth-pop with a campy German accent.
Outside, the venue's beer garden was transformed into “Mistress Krampus' Salon & Spankery,” complete with wooden stocks, chains and corseted she-devils swatting the self-confessed naughty with giant candy canes, whips and ruten — a bundle of twigs Krampus traditionally keeps on hand for unruly children. All night, stage acts had to compete with the sexy theatrics going on in the rear of the club.
But even the ladies dropped their switches when it was time for the headlining act, Krammpstein, a cover band that mixed the in-your-face dystopian metal of Rammstein with the spirit of Christmas. What resulted were some pretty dark songs about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The seven-piece band of costumed demons, fronted by Green Jellÿ alum Greg Reynard, gave a fiery performance to the packed room that must have satisfied even the hard-core Rammstein fans in the crowd. That the band passed out Christmas cookies probably didn't hurt.
Rammstein is already a band so over the top that it can seem something of a parody itself of both hardcore music and German culture, but Rammstein’s music provided an ideal framework for the cover band's comical take on such topics as the commercialization of Christmas, misbehaving children and the odd tradition of hauling highly flammable trees into our living rooms every year.
The true highlight of the night was the Krampus procession, when over a dozen costumed performers spilled out into the outdoor patio area. They wore shaggy fur suits and incredibly detailed, handcrafted masks that I'd later learn were months in the making, just as they are in Europe. The Krampuses danced, made jaggedy music by banging on cow bells, and playfully menaced the crowd, who squealed in delight.
It was then that the appeal of the holiday devil finally became clear. Krampus was theater, a performance meant to delight more than terrify. You could see why the parents of Alpine nations had been bringing their children to Krampusfests for centuries, because they were scary in the most fun way possible, the kind of scary that makes you scream and giggle at the same time.
Now fully in the thrall of Krampus, I was happy to learn from the group's co-founder, Glendale resident Al Ridenour, that the festivities would become an annual Los Angeles tradition. Ridenour assured me that they were already making plans for bigger events next year. While the details are still under wraps, he said the group would need more volunteers for cast and crew in 2014. And of course everyone will be encouraged to attend in Krampus costume. You've got 11 months to put something together, so get to work.
For tips and inspiration, see krampuslosangeles.com.
PANDORA YOUNG is a writer based in Glendale.