photo courtesy of Amber Dorko Stopper

Very  recently, someone drew my attention to a story that had been covered by National Public Radio earlier that same day regarding two subjects very dear to my heart: DIY festal culture, and Krampus. If you’re reading this blog then we’ll assume you already know what I mean by DIY festal culture, but for those of you who are unfamiliar with Krampus, this is a figure associated with the Yuletide traditions of Trans-Alpine European folklore….though of a decidedly different character than that of Old Saint Nick. More on this shortly.

Specifically, the focus of the NPR article and radio-spot was an event that had been held in Philadelphia, PA that day which took the figure of Krampus as its orientation and inspiration, bringing together folks from the neighborhood, around the city, and even out of state to publicly celebrate together the approaching winter season in perhaps its more shadowy aspects, all in the name of fun: the Philadelphia Krampuslauf!

Aside from the fact that people were actually investing their energies in bringing Krampus to the fore (a timeless tradition in Europa yet virtually unknown in the States), what interested me most here was to learn the stories behind the manifestation of this event as an instance of local, homegrown public celebration; how it had come about, and what in the end was the outcome of it all.

What follows is a rich conversation via email with the driving force behind the Philly Krampuslauf, Amber Dorko Stopper and her co-inspirator Janet Finegar; a primer on grassroots festal culture in-the-making. Read on and learn about it!


jhon: Would you like to start by telling us what the figure of Krampus is about traditionally?  

Amber: Krampus is the dark counterpoint to Santa Claus. Recognized in the Alpine countries of Europe, he is a horned, fur-covered demon, often portrayed with a single cloven foot, and always with a long, protruding tongue. He comes to warn children to cease their bad behavior, or he will put them in a pack basket on his back, and take them away….to Hell, to be thrown into an icy river, or wherever. While the Victorian-era Krampus tends to be all-black, perfectly upright and streamlined, the Krampus myth began in pre-Christian times, where these creatures would appear in the evenings of the first half of December, rattling chains and large bells.

photo courtesy of Jeffrey P. Magut

jhon: And what was it that drew you into exploring the lore of Krampus?

Amber: 2009 was the holiday season in which Krampus came into my radar, simultaneously through seeing rather “cute” versions of him in Victorian postcards at a friend’s home, and through another friend, a local father, a wonderful artist (James Mundie) who had designed a label for a Krampus-inspired homebrew. I have always liked the idea of having “scary” things at Christmastime. I like “scary” things in general –not just that spook-house thrill, but aesthetically– big teeth, big claws, big tongues….I find that all very nice to look at, moreso than sparkly wings and whatnot. And, I had these two babies –my son had only arrived about ninety days prior, at that point– so I looked more into the Krampus-lore thinking, well, we could just add this into our family fun every December. We celebrate in a secular way, although we do it all –Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah– if you light lights for it, we do it.

We were committed to sharing the Santa Claus myth with the kids –I had loved having it as a child and it was a mere bump in the path when I discovered he did not really exist– and I also liked this idea of a “punisher” figure. Kids have it way too soft these days, and I see what it does to them. It really saps their imaginations. It seems too obvious to say, but in any responsible household, no child ever comes to harm by a Krampus, really, so why not take the time to think about one? Add a little excitement? My kids already showed signs of being the types who enjoyed “scary” folklore and at the time the only figure of Christmas menace we had in the house was an animatronic Dean Martin doll that sang “Let It Snow”. So we went with the idea of Krampus. We hadn’t read too much about the actual folklore or historical practices, so all we had to say was that he would “come”, and that was enough.

The more I looked into the way these Tirolean villages handled their Krampus festivities, those practices sort of surpassed the folklore itself for me. A hairy devil guy who comes and puts you in a basket at Christmastime if you are bad is interesting, but it has limitations. The idea of towns where people go out into the dark, snowy night to watch these things come down the street was fascinating. Who makes the costumes? Are there any women under there? What does it look like when the parade ends? It’s obviously not like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, there’s no big end payoff, no confetti. The more I saw on YouTube of various Laufs, the more amazed I was. The giant “rump bells” that the Krampusse wear — who was fabricating such things? All the percussion that some of the groups use –I am thinking particularly of Dompfpass Thiersee’s Perchtenlaufs– the fact that communities were putting stuff like this together was phenomenal to me.

jhon: What inspired you to want to create a Krampuslauf yourself in Philadelphia?

Amber: Last year –winter of 2010– I ran across a group on Facebook for a Krampuslauf and art show in Portland, Oregon. I had only known about Krampus folklore for a year or so, and I stayed abreast of this west coast activity via FB and decided to contribute something to the art exhibit. I began knitting two 24″ or so “Teddy Krampusse”, one for my son and daughter, who were two at the time, and one for the exhibit in Portland.

As it turned out, the art exhibit part did not happen, as the space they had planned to use became unavailable. But I kept making the “extra” knitted Krampus and sent it to the organizer, Arun. I had really enjoyed watching him –through Facebook– plan this event, and it got me thinking about how prescribed our social events can be. I saw him asking people to join in for mask-making evenings, etc., and sometimes it looked like he was the sole person keeping the idea afloat. Then, they had their event –and it seemed to have unfolded in a very local, organic way– and he was happy with it. By then I had sent him the Teddy Krampus, so it was part of the first Portland Lauf. And I began planning for a Philly Lauf right there and then, and kept Arun as a sounding board and friend.

I’m not a very social person and never considered myself as having even the remotest clout when it came to, you know, organizing a “party”. But I didn’t think we were getting to the Alps anytime soon, and this was something I really wanted my children to see. Both of my kids are adopted –my daughter is African-American, and my son is South Korean– and just in having them my husband and I had learned to question so much culturally, about what is “strange” or “ugly” or “beautiful” or “frightening”. And so even though Krampus was not African or Korean, I felt this was just an offshoot of the new way we had begun to embrace and view the world, and I knew my kids would love it.

photo courtesy of Amber Dorko Stopper

I’d had two very formative experiences when it came to parades or procession at nighttime. One is the longstanding Dracula Parade sponsored by Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Library and Museum; the other was the nighttime lantern parade created by artist George Ferrandi when she was an artist in residence at the Fleisher Art Memorial in 2010. Having taken part in both, I had begun asking myself questions about pageantry and procession and its place in socializing. I really felt that in America we were coming up short. I started thinking harder about what creates “success” at such events. What does it mean when something is “underattended”? Or “overattended”? Where does the law of diminishing returns come into play? And as I prepared to make Krampuslauf happen here, I was very stubborn about seeing how far I could let it come on its own without trying to make it into a hip “event”. Who really felt the value was in making it happen, and who would just hang around the sidelines doubtfully, until they could identify X number of “cool people” who were also going to attend? 

I had some early stumbling blocks with regard to people who would help me take this on. If you put out a public call saying “who wants to help me make a Christmas devil parade?” you have to expect some off the grid people, but if i learned anything, it was to be more wary of the “professional” people –theater people, people who had a resumé on which they could put an activity like Krampuslauf Philadelphia– because their motives were different. When “we should get some publicity photos taken!” rated higher than “we should be cutting out a lot of cardboard for puppets”, I knew I had the wrong people on board, and in a couple cases, I told people that I thought they were gunning for a very different event than I myself was, and that they needed to go work on theirs and leave me to mine. I really had no idea if I’d have any support at all, by August.

Then, on September 1, as my husband and I drove to dinner for our tenth anniversary, I saw Liberty Lands park. I said to him, “It HAS to be there.” I came home and Googled around and found that Janet Finegar was the park leader and organizer, so I thought, “Eh, what can she do but say no? Let’s just get it out of the way now and ask.” She responded almost instantly, and she wanted it –and she was a puppeteer and a folklorist. And –and I think this was significant– a mother. From that minute on I knew the thing was happening, no matter what.

For every one person I could talk to here in Philly who thought it sounded great, I could talk to a hundred who just didn’t get it. “Why would anyone want to do that?”, people would ask me. And that is when I saw how far away from communal roots we had gone, and I didn’t want my children growing up in a community where it was looked upon with suspicion, to have a new kind of parade.

“Why would you want to do that?” became such a sad question for me, as did its partner “and then what?”. Because a lot of people honestly didn’t understand that if you put on costumes, banged on noisemakers, and walked together in the evening, seeing people see you, that this was not the means to some greater end, like a reality show or a book deal or whatever our culture has taught us is our entitlement for doing anything at all. And that’s what I wanted to experience: the preparation, and the act, with no “reward” at the end other than having done it, together. I didn’t want a song-and-dance show to go with it, or a costume “contest”, or any number of other things that we had originally considered and which would have forced “purpose” on it. I just wanted to do it, with people, and see how that changed how I felt in that moment. I wanted to see what it was like for people to look each other in the eyes when they had been able to bond over one, small, non-competitive thing, where there was no line drawn between audience and performers.

It occurs to me that, last year, when Arun was nothing but a name on Facebook, and I was watching him make all his announcements about holding mask-making, or costuming evenings at his place, it wasn’t Arun who was interesting to me. It was of course Krampus that was interesting, but that wasn’t what was really holding my attention. The big drama for me was that, from day to day, it was very hard for me to tell if Arun wasn’t the only person in Portland who planned to have this happen. From what I could see on Facebook, it sometimes looked like he was in it alone, and he kept going. And as he will tell you, he’s gotten a good response both years, but I know now what any manager or organizer will tell you about any project: everybody wants to “participate”, but when you hold up the utility knife and say, “Great! Let’s cut cardboard for two hours,” frequently everyone has something else to do.

photo courtesy of Steve Schultz

I don’t think people are always at fault here, nobody’s intentionally trying to get out of work and then just reap the (unforeseen, unguaranteed) benefits. It can be hard though to find the magic language that reminds people, “It’s September, guys, and in Krampuslauf time, that means it’s basically December tomorrow.” Then there are the people who feel their “contribution” is their “great ideas”, which they want someone else (in Philly, the only someone else was me) to carry out. I had instances where someone would say “Well, I think that we should also have a cabaret performance, so we’ll need this, this and this, and Amber, you should clear that all with Janet as soon as possible.” If I then said “here’s Janet’s email address, why don’t you present that to her?”, it didn’t happen at all. Which is of course for the better. In the end, there were no “activities” or “performances” that measured up to the actual Lauf, which was so fear-provoking in that none of us knew what would “happen” or where we were “going”, and therefore, was more of a bonding experience, and more fun, than playing some dumb Krampus-themed game.

jhon: What kind of preparations were involved with creating the Lauf as a community? Were there discussions, workshops, etc., and how did those play out?

Amber: I wanted to make sure that kids were drawn in early and felt some sense of control with what was happening. So at Liberty Lands’ Fall Festival, we had a Krampus Consciousness-Raising table, with photos and explanations and two craft projects. Then a few weeks later we had a three-ring workshop in the Northern Liberties Community Center: screenprinting Krampus t-shirts that kids could wear over their coats that night, making noisemakers with sticks and bottlecaps, and making articulated puppets. It was good to be able to talk with kids about what they would see that evening and see that they felt a sense of anticipation, in a good way –that they were conjuring this event. I’d written up some information about what European Krampuslaufs are like, and brought along a lot of photos of actual children, reacting in various ways, to the sight of Krampus, and I think it was empowering. I met a child who got very excited at the thought that she had the power to mock and dance around the Krampus….that this was, historically, fair play.

As for workshopping with non-parent adults, on numerous occasions I put the call out on Facebook for doing mask-making evenings, or to have people come help me work on the Alpine backdrop we used for photos. No one really bit, although I think just with the experience of this, people will next year. I just worked together with friends on these things, and they were great; help with the banners, making the one-inch buttons we had done, running screenprinting sessions. We got lots of original Krampus art.

I set out a personal limit early on that I was not going to do a lot of conversion or preaching; to me, either you had the capacity to be turned on to the idea, or not. And I felt like people saying to me, in June, “So what is this Krampus thing? I just don’t get it” was disingenuous in some cases. A cue for me to make my “plea”. But I didn’t have a plea. I really felt that the right people would get it.

photo courtesy of Steve Schultz

By August, when people said “What is this Krampus thing anyway”, I just told them to go look it up and get back to me if they had any specific questions. So, the barrier to entry for participation was just the natural curiosity and interest it took to get there.

Still, when it came down to the actual event, there were definitely days when I thought it was going to be just me, Janet and our kids. Following the NPR piece on the day of the Lauf, the “worst case scenario” changed entirely, to being one of perhaps too many people. But I think all told we had seventy five or so, and that felt really perfect. And I tried to make it very clear to people beforehand that we had no big surprises up our sleeve, no floats, no pyrotechnics, that we were taking a Stone Soup approach, and that anyone who was part of it had as much to do with how well it went as anyone else. Not only did that work out very well, it created a bond between people immediately: “Oh, you brought the giant gingerbread Krampusse? Well look, I brought the cool glow-necklaces!” And I saw that people’s pleasure in the event seemed in direct ratio to how much fun they had “provided”. Not even in dressing up or bringing something physical to share; just in their ability to enjoy, rather than question, what was happening. When a couple with an infant came running at my Krampus-dressed husband to put their baby into his pack-basket and start snapping pictures, I knew we’d gotten it. Also, I never attended a more public event where I was less concerned with where my kids were when out of my sight. And this is after dark, in a park with a bonfire pit! We had really brought together people in a way I had never seen done at any playgroup, performance…. anything.

Liberty Lands and its attendant community had a lot to do with that. Janet can speak more directly to what makes Liberty Lands special, but the fact that it is a community-owned park –not city owned– gave us a whole lot of freedom.

jhon: I don’t think i’ve ever heard of a community-owned park. Janet, can you tell us about how Liberty Lands got involved in hosting the Krampuslauf?

Janet: There’s a lot to say about community-owned parks, but it boils down to we’re just about the only ones who do it and that’s why you aren’t aware. But in terms of this festival, the fact that the park was built and is run on a very DIY basis –if the main volunteers feel like doing something, it gets done– was essential to Krampus happening there. Amber emailed me about it, I happened to be on line and tickled by the notion, and I literally fired off a message to the five or so other core volunteers that said “is it okay if I have a Christmas devil party at the park”. Who could say no? 

Liberty Lands wouldn’t exist at all if we weren’t a neighborhood with a fair number of kooky people who are good at building things and unafraid to do strange things. So I knew there would be others who were excited by the Krampus idea. Although I was surprised to discover that several of my friends already knew all about it and were excited in a “we’re going to have a Krampuslauf here? Great!” way as opposed to a “what is that?” way. As a result, when Amber would say “do you think some people will do this”, I was always confident that there would be 10-15 others there, because those people are always there for me. And there they were.


photo courtesy of James G. Mundie

And I am thrilled to hear Amber’s thoughts on making it so kid-centric. I think there’s really two ways that a Krampus-like thing can go, and one is the “Running of the Santas” model –adults dressing up in a thing that is associated with children so that they can act childishly, but in mature (i.e. sex and alcohol-related) ways, with no kids around. While I can appreciate that some people love that stuff, it isn’t my idea of a good time. Whereas I pretty much always love an event that is ageless; children and adults doing something together, which ensures that the adults will need to be somewhat childish and the children will do some things that are more mature than would be expected and that some people will find inappropriate! I think it’s enormously important for kids to get to see adults being playful and even better for them to get to play with adults. By that I mean really play, where the adults are genuinely having a good time and would be doing this even if the kids weren’t around, which almost always means that the kids are going to need to do some adult-type things, like be scary. As long as the kids know that the situation isn’t going to actually hurt them –and I think we did a great job of letting our kids know that they were safe– playing with fear is very, very healthy.

jhon: Can you give us a picture of how the event played out from beginning to end? What happened?

Amber: To be completely honest, when my husband told me that the NPR story had been shared 8,000 times on Facebook, and we still had a few hours until the actual event….I got a little fretful. I texted Janet, and she seemed a tad fretful. But I truly felt that there was no way for it to go wrong. When I got there with my family – after being worried we’d get no parking– I saw Janet hanging the Alpine backdrop I’d sewn, and there were maybe four or five little clusters of people, all with masks with them, just milling about. I tried to touch base with everyone and tell them that there was still time to hang out, so stay near the fire and introduce themselves.

We made a big pile near the fire of articulated cardboard puppets, GRUß VOM KRAMPUS tee shirts, horn headbands, chinese handdrums, noisemakers –all things to be shared by anyone who showed up. A father-and-son Krampus team who had come from Connecticut –I could not believe it!– added glow necklaces and light-up tridents to the pile of things to share. Janet had scored some very interesting, large masks at another table sale. I tried to help my husband get into his costume, and as soon as we did that, he drew a lot of attention –he and the Connecticut Krampus were central, visually– and I gave him the big gingerbread Krampus cookies he had made the night before, so that he could try to hand them out to kids….he could barely see well enough to do this.

photo courtesy of Amber Dorko Stopper

I remember talking to Janet about making an announcement about when we should get moving. I had this whole costume going on and while I had tried it out at home it was very hard to make it work outdoors in the wind. I was Frau Perchta, with a mask I made decorated with edelweiss and mirror chips, and I had a golden drop spindle and was completely prepared –in mind– to spin as we walked, but I could barely see. I put my foot right in a box of gingerbread Krampusse and my hat, which was eighteen or twenty inches tall with a stiffened frame, was impossible to wear with my mask. So I chose the mask, and kept a handler with me, and we were off.

The actual procession is a bit of a blur; it’s the part I want to work on most for next year. As we got back to the park, there was a sense of relief in taking off masks or headgear, and there was a fire and warm things to drink, and everyone I looked at was just so damn happy; friends had brought these meticulously cut paper Krampus lanterns, and kids were eating cookies, and people were drinking, and there were more photo-ops, and lots of people were asking me how I made the masks I had made, and the backdrop. And it felt very much like, I’d say, a party. A good party. It almost felt like my wedding, because I was getting congratulated so much. And then my daughter came shrieking at me in her angel costume and she was totally having a sugar crash and it was time to get the kids to a restaurant.

jhon: What is your vision for the future of the Philly Krampuslauf, and also what kind of feedback have you received from the folks who were in attendance? Were people all fired up and inspired for more?

Amber: Gosh, yes. The only response I got from anyone I spoke to was “this was so great, and now that I get it, I want to be a bigger part of it next year.” Literally, without exception.

photo courtesy of Amber Dorko Stopper

Outside of that response, there was one person on Facebook who asked if we would add a pub crawl to next year’s festivities, “for those who prefer that type of thing”. I had a hard time answering that without seeming like I was being dismissive, but what did we, as organizers of an event that did not take place in any pubs, need to “add” to make it possible for people who wanted to do that, to just do it? I said I figured that if people went to one pub, and then another, they’d have achieved their pub crawl without any help from us, who did not plan on sponsoring one. I still don’t quite get it, but I think it ties in somehow with the few people who kept asking if I had sent a listing into the local papers, advertising the Lauf, so that they could then invite people. This need for validation from –I’m not even sure what, a media source? Printed matter?– to allow one to get excited or invite other people… I didn’t understand that.

As far as changes for next year: could we support more people? I think that if we changed our route a very small bit, with support from the businesses in the area, we would have more people watching. I suppose we could sustain more active Laufers, but it’s not that important to me that there are more. I would like to see more active Maker events beforehand; more mask-making, costume-making, banner-making. It’s nice that we now have a trunk full of items to get started with, but more of those items will be even better. I’d like to have a more supported auditory experience; more drums and bells, more chanting, to keep the procession more cohesive. I am not opposed to a little more fire and a little automated prop usage. We had a very sweet guy join the Lauf who does a lot of mechanized Halloween prop stuff and he had some ideas that appealed to me, that I did not feel took away from the homey, villagey-ness of Krampus. Pie in the sky, maybe custom fabricated metal percussion, since there are more foundries in Philadelphia than I realized.

photo courtesy of Steve Schultz

jhon: I’m curious to know how you think you might respond if over time the Lauf does in fact attract greater numbers of people. Do you think that in and of itself would change the nature of the event, and how?

Amber: I guess it’s two different issues: has it hypothetically attracted more watchers, or more participants? There’s definitely a limit to capacity in the retail and dining district surrounding Liberty Lands, but we would have room to grow into it, if there were more watchers. More participants….luckily, with running Maker Groups and meet-ups prior to the event, we have a pretty good way of gauging growth. I think that we will get more participants, but as I said, I want to see more involvement –showing interdependence and building community– before the actual event. And I think if we ask for that, the only people who will be frightened off by it are the people who ought to be elsewhere anyway. And I’m perfectly happy with the idea of a Krampus bar crawl, Krampus fancy dress ball, whatever….anyone can attach the word “Krampus” and go do whatever they want with it every December, but it’s not Krampuslauf Philadelphia, and it doesn’t have to be.

I also expect to see more Laufs cropping up in American cities. The attention this got this year was really surprising but I saw the upswing between 2009 and now. It’s hard for Krampus to “jump the shark”, or hit his moment of saturation, because he only shows up once a year, so I’m hard-pressed to say if in December of 2012 the movement will have been up or down. It’s so weird, the things that become briefly iconic and then just dissipate to the bargain bins. But wherever Krampus peaks and falls is going to affect our numbers and we will ride it out happily.

I am so proud and grateful that Janet and I, almost effortlessly, presented a completely united front and vision for Krampuslauf Philadelphia. Again, anyone else can go do whatever they want to feel Krampusey, but our thing is this thing, and I think the direction we’ve given it is a good thing, and a welcoming one, not a stifling thing. I think this event will stay pretty homespun and all-ages. Because of Liberty Lands being the kind of place it is, community owned, it’s a lot harder for it to get out of control. And, because we are so clear with the events leading up to the actual Lauf, that this is an event for families, it’s harder for anyone to “crash” and pretend they didn’t understand what we were trying to do. We sent out very clear parameters on our blog, on our Facebook pages, multiple times before the Lauf, in the days leading up to it: you are responsible for your own fun, and some of someone else’s, and if you do anything that frightens a kid and you don’t stop immediately, you are really going to wish you had done. Krampus is one thing, but even my kids know, mommy power beats Krampus power every time, and you do not mess with my babies.

photo courtesy of Steve Schultz

jhon: I know you have this major festival event in Philadelphia that takes place on New Year’s –the Mummer’s Parade– that has a long history in the city and ties in with all the old Carnavalesque traditions. What do you think about it?

Amber: I used to try really hard to avoid the Mummers’ Parade at all costs, even leaving town for New Year’s if possible. That mostly came from my discomfort with drunk people. Now, our house is two blocks from the parade route, and we have been attending regularly ever since we had kids. Kids see parades for the best of what they are, and that’s exciting, so we see it differently than we used to for that reason. But, because our children are not Caucasian –and because the Mummers’ Parade is so noticeably, predominantly Caucasian, in a city that just isn’t– we recognized that we would eventually have talking points with the kids related to this.

Janet: I am also not a Mummer’s fan, mostly because it’s become very much about being watched rather than about parading. My idea of a great parade is one in which the ratio of watcher to paraders isn’t much beyond 2:1, and every watcher feels personally connected to at least one parader. Preferably all.

jhon: Do you think the Mummer’s Parade helps to fulfill any of the functions you’re aiming for with the Krampuslauf, or is it just on a totally different order of things? What do you think the advantages are of a smaller, more intimate fete like yours over something like the Mummer’s Parade?

Amber: The Mummers serve a very different purpose, and Janet is right; they are there to be looked at. It doesn’t set an example for Krampuslauf Philadelphia that I can see, not the way that Sinterklaas Rhinebeck did. But, like a lot of performance-related things, the closer you get to it, even by accident, the less irritating and invasive it seems.

Now that you mention it i should ask you to just tell us a little about the Sinterklaas Rhinebeck, and how that may have informed or inspired what you’re doing.

Amber: I didn’t even find out about Sinterklaas Rhinebeck until we were well underway with Krampuslauf planning. I had been to Rhinebeck, NY before for their autumn Sheep and Wool Festival and I knew it was a lovely town, and then I saw that they did a big, very secular-looking, old Dutch “Christmas” festival, with an emphasis on a night parade, lanterns, and specifically the honoring of children. Without much more information than that, we booked a hotel and drove up. The parade itself was at six in the evening and we parked our car in town at 10 am, and we were doing festival-related activities that entire time: in the Fire House, making crowns and decorated branches for children to carry in the procession, going to musical performances and puppet shows and oh, even bayonet swallowing! Everywhere we went, people were friendly, and so surprised to hear we had come all the way from Philadelphia. But we just never hit a slump of energy in that whole day, or the slumps we did have were taken up by interesting offerings in warm places. And the actual procession, once evening came, was beyond anything we could have imagined visually. Our daughter had been whining that she was cold and tired of waiting, and once the procession appeared at the top of a hill –just six glowing stars– everything changed. I have video of the parade where she is out of frame, shrieking at me, “MOM! I’M HAPPY NOW!”

The whole day was just as magical as the parade, though. There were a lot of what looked like free agents on the streets of the town, jugglers and costumed characters (giant crows!) and a woman called the Pocket Lady who had a huge ,multicolored cape that, when she opened it, was lined with little pockets, some empty, some with small gifts in them. She was just walking the streets, opening her cape to children. It was amazing! There were Morris Dancers, and an entire brass band on stilts….there was just no end to it, and again, people were friendly and mellow and happy. Rhinebeck clearly has a Mexican community and we loved how well that community was integrated into both the larger parade and the business community, part of the unspoken narrative of the whole day. It felt genuinely Earth-based and welcoming, but was in no way pandering.

jhon: You mentioned earlier on that you are not necessarily a super-sociable type. What was it do you think that prompted you to create a community-driven event like this? You said you wanted to bring the Krampus tradition into your family life for the sake of your children, but you could have done that just within the home in some way. What do you think it was that turned that desire into one that involved the participation of others, many of them strangers to you before any of this?

Amber: Even if I’m not a super party person, I’ve had an increased interest in the idea of community ever since we had kids. The whole “it takes a village” thing. My kids have benefitted quite a bit from café culture in Philly, in that we have the coffee shops that we go to, and they are known there, and it’s where many “firsts” accidentally happen, and they meet people and learn to recognize them, and next thing you know they are ordering their own biscotti and sitting down at a table with someone they think of as a friend, someone from the neighborhood. And situations like that are not forced, they just come about incrementally, and then there is this sort of nest. But at the same time, nobody in the nest needs to make a point of “bonding” or doing anything intentionally. They are doing what they want to be doing and they got there of their own volition. So, sociability, not socializing.

And I guess we could have just had my husband dress as a Krampus in our home, but I really wanted the outdoor element. Once you are outdoors, there needs to be a little more structure around what’s happening, so it looks like consensual fun, not just marauding. I guess I just really believed it would happen, and counted heavily on not being relied upon more than was comfortable for me to fill any Master-of-Ceremonies role; I just waited for other people to float to the surface.

I don’t think that whole plan has come to fruition yet, because I know there is someone out there who really wants to make costumes, but isn’t comfortable coming to the actual event at all, and I want that person to know that they have a place with us. Or someone who wants to come give a historical talk about pre-Christian winter rites in Europe, while other people make masks. I like the community element implied when everyone does their own part but does not feel beholden to equal time or quid pro quo. It’s not square-dancing, it’s Krampusse. Krampusse aren’t necessarily interdependent or social beings. If there’s any community event where someone wouldn’t be out of place just stalking around on their own, it’s a Krampuslauf.


To follow Amber’s ongoing adventures in the world of creativity, festivity, community –and Krampus!– check out Krampuslauf Philadelphia’s blog at or “like” their Facebook page at And to read the article and listen to the story that brought Amber and the Philly Krampuslauf to our attention, go to 

To read a great article of Amber’s on InCultureParent about how Krampus and kids go together, click here

To read an essay written by Arun Once Was ZyGoat of the Portland Krampuslauf effort that inspired Amber, click here.   


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