How the Krampuslauf Came To Portland

by Arun Once Was ZyGoat

It was a full moon, and thus I was mania-prone when I saw an image of someone’s “Gruss vom Krampus” shirt. A switch was flipped in my head and I was immediately in love with this bestial creature with its lashing tongue.This resulted in a flurry of research, jokes, fantasies, and soon, the idea for KrampusCon 2010. The title of this event was chosen tongue-in-cheek as a response to SantaCon. It was a series of happy accidents that collided at the right instant.

Leading up to this moment was a childhood spent enthusiastically pursuing caprine mythic characters of all sorts and the buried trauma of being chased around on Christmas nights by my brother wielding a plush snowman (while making the horrific growlings of the Zuni Fetish Doll from “Trilogy of Terror”). “Ah”, I mused, “now is a chance to bring the horror back to the Holidays while courting a cruel yet sexy incubus!”.  Once I set about this plan, my winter turned from one of imposed holiday resentment into an ever-unfolding gift of crafty mischief and heathen camaraderie. All of my attempts to impose “meaning” on this sudden surge of zeal fell beneath it as the childlike enthusiasm that it unleashed proved to be its own reward, its own motive.

At the time, I was involved with an art and event space that allowed me the opportunity to come up with and present events on a reasonably small but just enough scale. All sorts of ideas, desires and schemes projected themselves into this space and the KrampusCon event that it was to hold. Everything from DIY costuming and art to BDSM and erotic theriomorphic ritual theater figured in the hydra-headed concept for the event to be held on Krampus Nacht, December 5th of 2011. Then came the collision with the flow of human circumstance. The venue stopped being a venue, our idea would have to find a new home. This allowed me to shed many of the grandiose and twisted plans with which I entangled the Krampus celebration.

Fortunately, during this time, the obsession with this theme lead to daily research of articles, images and footage of this far away tradition. I began to see it a little less in terms of my preconceptions and more in terms of the older customs and evolving contemporary expressions. Krampus is largely encountered through processions (Lauf) that interact with adults and children in different ways, scaring some, including others, amusing all. The simplest way to make a Krampus event happen would be to meet in a park and conduct a semi-traditional KrampusLauf. Once this notion fell into place, all else started organizing around it and just the right people were attracted to make it happen.

Through the KrampusCon 2010 page, I met the most delightful fellow crafters who shared my enthusiasm for Krampus. Indeed, the folks with whom I celebrated the Solstice holiday feasts and exchanged gifts were all met in this way. Likewise, those from whom I learned new mask making techniques and such crossed paths in this way. Happy accidents and unexpected revelations abounded. For example, there was a sudden surge in people from the Oaxaca region of Mexico checking the page out. When I looked into traditions in that region, I found that there is a Devil Dance that is celebrated during the Day of the Dead that involves men dancing in goat-chaps with horned masks which derived originally from Afro-Mexican rituals. This fed the feeling that this sort of tradition emerges from more than just local interests.

When the day came for our first annual Portland Krampus Lauf, I arrived at the park to join various friends already assembling there. Then came a series of “Big Reveals” as co-conspirators with whom I had only been in contact online appeared in person and in their Krampus regalia. Delight after delight arrived in a variety of media from traditional to exotic to cleverly modern. It was good to see people with children also, the kids holding their very own “Gruss vom Krampus” signs. Bundles of birch switches tied in red ribbon were handed out to all. People brought drums and horns and bells so that we became an actual noisy procession. All of this would be impossible in a bar.

Once we decided to take it to the sidewalks, we continued our march down Hawthorne Blvd. delighting or confusing those whom we met. Quite a few cheered. Experiencing this outside, in public, making our own beats and sounds caused it to sink into a different,deeper realm of the memory than it would had it been a contained, consumed performance. The creativity that it motivated and the friendships that it formed were gifts of Krampus that continue to present themselves this winter as we prepare for the upcoming Portland Krampus Lauf.

As more is learned of the traditional context and modern expression of Alpine winter traditions, our way of adapting them to our region and time likewise develop. This coming year, after Winter Solstice, there will be a Perchten Lauf also. This is a distinct tradition that is often merged or confused with the Krampus Lauf. Perchten are elemental spirits/monsters that pound on metal percussion instruments to frighten away the remaining winter. Just as Krampus presides over the darkening month of December, before the solstice, Perchten preside over the soon to be brightening early year after solstice. Those who get turned on to this complex of traditions through seeing our Krampus Lauf can get involved, make their costumes/instruments and join us for the January Perchten Lauf.


Scroll to Top