You’d better watch out. Krampus is coming to town — and he’s not as forgiving as Old Saint Nick.
Krampusnacht starts at 6 p.m., Dec. 3, when people dressed as Krampus — the shadow of Saint Nicholas — will gather at Fingers Duke Design Studio in downtown Bremerton for a Krampus art show before taking to the city streets on the prowl for misbehaving children. The event, which takes place at the same time as the First Friday Art Walk, is being organized by Bremerton resident Eric Morley.
Krampus is coming to Bremerton a tad early, as Krampus traditionally arrives on Dec. 5, on the eve of Saint Nicholas’s arrival, Morley said. Krampus, a figure from Germanic folklore, serves as a counterpart to Saint Nicholas. Whereas Saint Nick rewards good children, the ghoulish Krampus punishes those who misbehave.
Popular culture has helped Krampus gain notoriety in the U.S. in recent years. Most prominently, a horror comedy feature film called Krampus was released in 2015.
Krampus is relatively new to Kitsap. Morley said this will be the second annual Krampus event in Bremerton. He first conceived of the idea in 2019 after brainstorming with a friend about something creative to do during the First Friday Art Walk.
Morley is obsessed with horror-related things, he said — every year his family hosts a Halloween event at their house featuring the character Pennywise from Stephen King’s It, for example — so he and his friend talked about hosting a Krampus show at Fingers Duke. That was, of course, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“I still bought the costume, and some friends of mine and I dressed up and we just kind of wandered around downtown on a Sunday night," he said. "Nobody was out there, but we got some great photos.”
After publishing the photos online, Morley connected with other people interested in Krampus. After deciding to hold another event this year, he's excited by the response the event listing has garnered online, he said.
Morley was born in October, which he credits with his longtime love of Halloween. “I always felt like Halloween was in celebration of my birthday, so I’ve always loved Halloween,” he said.
Christmas, on the other hand, was not on his short list of favorite holidays. “I don’t love a lot of the hoopla and tradition and stress of the holiday,” he said. “It felt very commercial and very overblown and I just have never really loved it.”
When he discovered Krampus a few years ago, it allowed him to transfer some of his enthusiasm for Halloween to Christmas. And although Krampus carries a dark connotation among many Americans, Morley said the Krampus tradition actually carries a positive message.
“It’s rooted in deep Germanic European tradition,” he said. “The message is kind of cool in that it’s inspiring kids to behave. It brings communities together. Over the years and centuries, it’s evolved and morphed and blended into some elements of Christianity. I love that it can play in and out of belief systems, but always has this strong sense of community in bringing people together. It’s beloved by thousands and thousands of people.”
Although Krampus specifically comes from Germanic culture, Morley said there are similar folktales spanning many different cultures, such as the witch known as Frau Perchta, a piece of Christmastime folklore well known in the Alpine regions of Germany and Austria that might be the genesis of the Krampus folklore, Morley said.
“She was kind of this witch who would lure and find people in the forest and capture them and then fill their guts with garbage," he said. There are many other folktales smattered across different regions of the world — but particularly in Eastern Europe — that bear similarities to Krampus, Morley said.
Today, countries like Austria hold large-scale, sophisticated Krampus runs which often featuring Saint Nicholas as well, Morley said. “They kind of go hand in hand,” he said. “I think that adds to the spirit of the holiday.”
Traditionally, Krampus masks are carved by hand, although these days one can find masks made of modern materials like latex. Morley went old-school for his mask, however, and ordered a custom wood mask from a mask maker in Germany. “The traditional way of making them is to carve them out of a wood block, so they’re solid wood,” he said. “That’s the way it’s been done for about 100 years. So it’s kind of an art form."
Morley isn’t opposed to modern twists on the old tradition, however. He’s enthused by the effect the 2015 Krampus film has had in bringing the tradition into the public consciousness in the United States.
“It’s kind of morphed into a more modern Krampus as you might see in the film, but also you’re seeing people use newer technologies to build masks,” he said. He pointed to someone using a 3D printer to make a Krampus mask as an example. “Some traditionalists … are going to pooh-pooh the idea, but I think it’s cool, because more and more people are getting involved, getting excited about it, and hopefully learning about the tradition and the history as well.”
Morley has connected with Krampus Seattle, a group of people across the sound who also appreciate the history of Krampus and take part in local events. They’ve shared knowledge with him about the history of the Krampus tradition and offered tips on acquiring pieces of the Krampus costume.
Earlier this month, Morley joined members of Krampus Seattle at an event at the Thurston County Fairgrounds, donning his mask and appearing in character as Krampus. He said he was amazed by how light some of the other participants’ masks were, as his wooden mask is about 25 pounds. The wooden mask is actually more comfortable to wear, however, because it breathes better than latex, he said. “Mine just happens to be really heavy, which means I’m not going to go running around and dancing a lot," he said.
Although Morley said he’s open to holding more structured events in the future, for this year’s event, the Krampuses will depart Fingers Duke and wander around downtown Bremerton spreading holiday fear … err, cheer. “It’s always fun when you turn a corner and you just shock somebody,” he said. “Part of the costume is wearing bells, so you hear these bells and they turn around and see this giant thing with huge horns. It’s fun.”
Based on past experiences, Morley said some people will walk past with a side-eye, but the vast majority of people are enthusiastic. “They want photos, they’re super excited, they’re bringing their kid,” he said. “It’s kind of cute to kneel down on the kids’ level and give them a fist bump so they feel comfortable and then they’ll pose for photos and give you high-fives.”
Morley said he thinks these kinds of Krampus-themed events are perfect fit for Bremerton. “One awesome thing about Bremerton is we have this great culture here,” he said. “Everything from the arts, to visual arts, to performance arts, and our creative businesses, whatever they may be, from gardening to breweries — I think we’ve got this really close-knit, gritty community that lends itself really well to a thing like Krampus.”
Another goal of the event is to draw people downtown to support local businesses, Morley said. “I hope our local businesses will be supportive of it and recognize that we’re trying to bring people in to support their businesses and at the same time just do something cool that people are going to love and have fun with and give them an annual tradition where they can come downtown and get a photo with Krampus, or many Krampuses.”
Morley encourages people to follow his Facebook and Instagram pages throughout the year, not just around Christmas. There is potential to come together and create a community in which people can get help making costumes if they want to participate in future Krampus events.
"The costumes are pretty sophisticated,” he said. “They’re really difficult to buy commercially or even on Etsy … in the United States."
Being part of a Krampus troupe makes it easy to collaborate and work together to build costumes, Morley said. And he's already thinking about planning next year's event.
"We’re wanting to get things moving in mid winter to early spring, so by next year hopefully we’ve got a whole bunch more Krampuses joining us and maybe we’ll get to a point eventually where we’re doing a formal Krampus run, Krampus crawls, and all sorts of Krampus events," he said. "The more Krampuses we have, the better it gets.”
Begins at 6 p.m., Dec. 3, at Fingers Duke, 523 Fourth St., then around downtown Bremerton.