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Claws come out on Krampus night

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Towering seven feet tall, wielding claws like knives, boasting two indestructible horns, shielded by thick hide from head to toe, producing the stench of death itself, an unforgiving beast is about to be released on downtown Bloomington.

As if one beast wasn’t enough to worry about, a parade of more than a dozen monsters, each one more ferocious than the last, will be hunting down naughty kids and adults to make an example out of.

The beasts are known as Krampus, and they only come out once a year. Their job: hired by Saint Nicholas himself to prove there is more to fear than just a lump of coal for bad behavior.

For the many willing participants, though, this frightful night has become a winter tradition.

“We love the screams of joy — and terror — at Krampus Night,” Kel McBride, Director of Bloomington Krampus, said.

Also accepting the title of “Head Krampus Wrangler,” McBride has been organizing Bloomington’s annual Krampus Night, beasts and all, since its first year in 2011. What began as a creepy stroll down the B-Line Trail has quickly transformed into the largest Krampus-themed event in North America.

Originating in Alpine folklore in central Europe, the legend of the Krampus stretches back to pre-Christianity times. As a contrast to the well-known Saint Nicholas who rewards nice children with gifts, the Krampus punishes misbehavers, often with growls, swats, and in extreme cases, kidnapping.

Bringing this legend into the 21st century, McBride’s parade offers the power to choose your fate. Prior to the main event, parade volunteers pass out pairs of “naughty” and “nice” stickers, which audience members choose the one they deserve to wear. If you wear a nice sticker, angels will reward you with candy. If you wear a naughty sticker, McBride said the Krampus are given “full reign” to torture, frighten, and even whack those along the parade route.

“It’s an accountability tale,” she said. “It’s making people understand that no matter what you do, if you do good things, good things happen, if you do bad things, bad things happen. So Krampus is just a reminder that bad things happen when you do bad things.”

An ensemble of angels heads the parade, some pass out candy and some show off their hula-hoop skills. Following them is Saint Nicholas, though this time he doesn’t have presents. According to McBride, the Krampus are his beasts, so they follow him down the parade route. Then, more than a dozen Krampus will stomp their way down the four-block stretch, lurking to find the naughty stickers.

McBride said she urges parents to know for sure if their child can handle a massive beast growling in their face before slapping a naughty sticker on them.

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“We don’t really consider Krampus Night a kid-friendly event,” she said. “We consider it a community-friendly event. We don’t cater to kids. It’s for everybody. I would challenge anyone to go hang out at the mall and watch the Easter Bunny booth and expect no frightened children. Some children — and adults — get freaked out by large furry creatures.”

At the end of the parade, making their grand return from two years ago, will be the popular fire performers. The reality, McBride said, is that fire insurance is expensive, and as a non-profit event, they were able to receive enough donations and grants this year to bring it back.

Prior to the parade, the pop-up bazaar in Showers Common will offer a variety of activities: sack races, mask-making, drawings, food trucks, a photo booth, and more.

Following the parade will be the infamous Rampage: a free-for-all of downtown Bloomington, where the Krampus are let loose to wreak havoc on the late-night bar scene along the Kirkwood area.

With last year’s attendance surpassing 3,000 parade-goers, McBride said she hopes to continue their rising popularity this Saturday.
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 Along with popularity comes inspiration. This year marks the inaugural KrampusNacht Indianapolis, which will take place at New Day Craft in Fountain Square the night before Bloomington’s parade. Michael Packer, the co-founder of Krampus of Indianapolis, said the event wouldn’t be possible without McBride’s love for the Krampus.

“Kel is our mentor, for lack of a better term, and we wouldn't be here without her encouragement and advice,” he said. “Bloomington's event is so much larger than we're even ready for, that I take my notes from her and file them away for when I really need to think about things like the Fire Marshall and liability insurance.”

Still early in their development, Packer said the first Indy event is being treated as more of an art walk instead of a parade. Doubling as a fundraiser for Toys for Tots, the event’s purpose is to build support from the community in hopes to host parades in future years.

“More people understand what Krampus is, even if it's just from watching a bad horror movie or two,” he said. “Several years ago, no one had any idea. Now, as soon as you say ‘Krampus,’ the eyes light up and they begin to tell you a story about a grandmother who used to warn them about Krampus as children. I feel like Indianapolis is ready for something new and different for its holidays.”

If you go:

Bloomington Krampus Night
Saturday, Dec 3
Bazaar – 5-7pm – Showers Common
Parade – 6pm – Along Madison St between 3rd St and Showers Common

KrampusNacht Indianapolis
Friday, Dec 2
7-9:30pm – New Day Craft 1102 Prospect St

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