A haunting celebration of old European folklore filled the streets of Old Town on Dec. 9 with the city’s first-ever Krampusnacht Parade. Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night, is a central and Eastern European holiday, traditionally celebrated on Dec. 5 or the following Saturday. The streets of Old Town were filled with many colorful depictions of Krampus, a horned, half-goat, half-man version of Saint Nicholas, who punishes naughty children, while Saint Nicholas rewards the good children.
“A few of us have been obsessed with Krampus for years and years, and we went to Austria last year to track down the Krampus festivals there and chase them around the country. We loved it so much, when we came home we decided we had to bring it back to Old Town,” said Summer Schriner, owner of Bad Annies and a founding member of the Old Town Commercial Association that brought KrampusNacht to Lansing.
A full schedule of activities and a bizarre holiday market kept guests from near and far busy while waiting for the official parade. While the events were set up, you could still shop on the main drag as many local businesses kept their doors open later for the crowd.
“I think there are more people in Old Town than I have seen at any other event, and I go to quite a few events like Brrs Beards and Brews,” attendee Hailea Fraidenburg said, referring to the yearly Lumberjack Festival that occurs in April. “Krampus is a really fun niche alternative to the Christmas spirit and I think it’s really cool to see this many people out celebrating it.”
Fire dancers and performers are a traditional part of Krampusnacht in Europe. There, the tradition is very much still alive and a very sought-after event to attend in the winter months. A fire performer for the events surrounded a large group of parade-goers in Turner Park at the beginning of the evening and the start of the festivities.
Although small, Turner Park also had activities for kids, such as Bad Kid Ball, a game where you throw the bad kids into a burlap sack, the same way Krampus does in the stories. This game was set up next to a throne photo-op created by the owner of Old Soul Arbor Care.
Along with Bad Kid Ball, the event had a child-friendly Krampus storytime, and across the road at the former Grid Bar, was a Krampus folklore reading for adults. “My friend Jenae is on the [Old Town neighborhood] council, and she knows how I have my Baba Lisa persona and asked if I would read the children’s story,” said Lisa Vancuren, who read the children’s Krampus story. Later that night, Vancuren was in costume, walking in the Krampus parade and trying to sell a jar of teeth to the crowd.
The Sir Pizza’s parking lot was full of colorful pop-up tents hosting an assortment of arts, crafts, snacks and more. The Holiday Market was among the first things to start the night opening at 6 p.m.
“Most of the items in our shop that are handmade are inspired by our travels,” said Indiana-based artist, Jessie Howe. “A huge source of inspiration for us was when we went to Krampuslauf in 2017 and 2019. I was so inspired by the sense of community and tradition, and I am always so inspired by the folklore of places.” Howe was ecstatic to make the 3-hour drive up to the KrampusNacht parade excited to be able to experience the tradition she knows from her travels so close to home.
Whitney Sorrow, owner of Odd Nodd Art Supply walked around the festival disguised as Krampus in a hand-made costume designed by her friend Jared Fromson, an art and theater teacher at St. Johns High School. When asked about the event, she said, “I think it’s really fantastic. It’s really characteristic of Old Town.”
At 8:30 p.m., a Krampus costume contest took place in Turner Park. The “Kid Krampuses” were judged first. The winner of the kid Krampus costume contest was 9-year-old Nora of Lansing, who received a toy Krampus head from Bad Annie’s as her prize.
The winner of best mask and headpiece in the costume contest led this year’s parade through the crowd of people gathered on the sidewalks. “This costume started three years ago for the Nain Rouge parade in Detroit, but COVID happened, and it got canceled,” said Tod Parkhill, an East Lansing local and artist. “I heard about the Krampus parade. I repainted it, threw a new body on it and made some hands, and now it’s here.”
Shawn Dire took home two titles in this year’s costume contest for best dance and best overall. In addition to the prizes he had received, he also has the honor of leading the parade next year. He graciously shared second place in the overall category with Parkhill.
“We even saw the details on the sidewalk. We immediately saw little Krampuses and we parked blocks away. We went, ‘Look, we’re on the right path!’ Literally,” Micheall Oday said, commenting on the small details such as the spray-painted markers on the sidewalks around town and the lit up paper bags that lined the edges of the streets with hand-drawn Krampus faces.
“This is full of happiness and old-world traditions,” said attendee Michael Oday. Next year he hopes to return and help with the event, and hopes the festival will continue to get bigger and better with “larger parades, with floats like in Europe, and more [fire] performers.”