This weekend we attended the 8th annual Krampuslauf/Parade of Spirits in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia. According to their website , their inaugural parade in 2011 was picked up by NPR and heralded Krampus culture in the U.S..
Krampus has been enjoying some recent notoriety in the U.S.. There are Krampus sweaters, Krampus art aplenty on Pinterest, and a Krampus movie in 2015. Other Christmas monsters and spirits, like Iceland’s Grýla and her Yule Lads, who made an appearing on the Winter Special episode of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, are entering North American consciousness, and marched in the Parade with their magic lanterns and noise makers.
The parade started with a concert by the Philadelphia Slavic Women’s Ensemble. They set the mood with some hauntingly beautiful folk songs from Bulgaria, Serbia, and Croatia. The singers had flower crowns, but some added horns, antlers, and, my favorite, a shark mask, to represent the monstrous winter.
There was a huge bonfire, hot cider, wine, holiday cookies, and pretzels to enjoy before we started to parade noisily through the streets. My daughter said her favorite part was the people who came out of their houses and businesses and hung out of windows, asking “What is this??” They seemed to be into it, though, and many cheered as the parading spirits in wonderfully inventive costumes passed.
My favorite moment was near the end of the parade. It had gotten dark and I could see the lights on the Christmas trees shining out of the houses we passed. I thought about how long people have been kindling lights against the darkness of the winter in this way. People have been bringing evergreen trees into their homes and decorating them with lit candles since at least the 16th century. But the symbolic protection provided by evergreens, yule logs, and winter fires stretches back to pre-Christian times and pre-history. As we marched through the night, surrounded by monsters, spirits, and beasties (including a Bigfoot in an ugly Christmas pentagram sweater), we were enacting the other side of that ritual. We played at being the darkness, the darkness that may make the light of peoples’ faith glow brighter.