Winter Festivals and Traditions at Oxford University — Parade of Spirits, Liberty Lands is there

•May 1, 2017 • Comments Off on Winter Festivals and Traditions at Oxford University — Parade of Spirits, Liberty Lands is there

Well, we were. We are back now. As usual, it took a while to get the post up.

It was exciting to take such a spur-of-the-moment trip (all things considered), and it was a little muddled in that I had a very ill friend I wanted to spend some time with right before we left and as soon as we returned, and he was much on my mind. But it was England, and it was exciting!

We liked Oxford a lot.

And a video of the presentation is up. (If you look at the whole playlist for the conference, I’m the only person without “Dr.” or “Prof” in front of my name.)

Here I am getting ready to talk:

and this is Claudia’s view of how I looked (I did eventually sit down and Tucker worked the PowerPoint.)

Remember how Matt and Jana from Tucson made Parade of Spirits 2016 extra special with the giant “Leon Russell as Frost King” headpiece? For my birthday in February, I took it one remembrance (and a lot of ouches) further. I was very surprised, in the moment I took this photo, to find myself at forty-seven, in the shortest skirt I’d worn in decades (and the only leatherette one), with a big-ass tattoo of Leon Russell on my calf, speaking at a conference at Oxford, about parades and autism.

People at the conference were really warm and excited, and this has all led to, well, rather a larger plan for our family and one that will probably help take Parade of Spirits in more of the direction that my topic at this conference addressed. All that will be revealed within the next few months.

Our time there was so short that other than getting to the conference and doing my fifteen minutes of talking, the kids’ goal of sending postcards to friends — and getting David Bowie stamps! — were really our only other big goals. (Béla had wanted to ride the London Eye but it was sold out, and about to stop running, by the time we got there.)

Still and all, a really significant step for me personally, in figuring out What’s Next. More to come. Here is Tuck looking (I’m told, and I see it too) like a young Ewan Mc Gregor on Westminster Bridge.






•March 6, 2017 • Comments Off on PARADE OF SPIRITS, LIBERTY LANDS, VOICES: WILHEMINA HALL (talking to béla levin-dorko)

Willa and Béla met in kindergarten. They have always been good friends (Béla actually came home with a ring from Willa, possibly as long as two years ago) and have even done some modelling together (with their sisters, as well).

As we know, Es Meedli debuted in 2014 with Claudia, and was taken on in 2015 by Béla. But both of them had other ideas for 2016, and Claudia had far outgrown the costume. So, in the same way we had begun a search for the “new” Das Mädchen, we began to search for the “new” Es Meedli.

She’s not a waffler, that Willa. Once she was in, we knew she was in. A lot of chutzpah. (I have been on class trips with Willa, and she has walked alone with me through a haunted house when everyone else was scared to go, so I felt pretty confident in her.)


She was a fit, in every way.

Since we knew we were going to have new people taking on the roles of Das Mädchen and Es Meedli this year, wonderful maker Chris Carson designed medals featuring each character, which will now be given every year to whomever takes on the role. Of course he had to fill the backlog, so here are the first three Es Meedli kids wearing their Es Meedli medals.


(You will hear in Willa’s interview her claim that she did not know she had a choice between a brooch and necklace option for her medal… I’m PRETTY sure I was present to hear otherwise, but, she was pretty distracted at the time, being fitted for the costume. I do believe she is still pleased with it.)



Listen to the conversation as it is embedded below, or on Soundcloud.

(transcription below)

BLD: Hi my name is Béla, and I am interviewing my friend Willa, on how it felt to be Es Meedli this year.


How… how did it feel inside that costume?


WH: Hard. Very hard.


BLD: Was it heavy?


WH: Kind of… like, in-between/medium.


BLD: If it hurt, where did it hurt?


WH: Right on my waist where the belt-buckle-thingy was.


BLD: Oooooh, ‘cause it’s like, it’s tight?


WH: Mhm.


BLD: Um… after the walk and you took Es Meedli off, did it feel different than before you had it on?


WH: It felt cold, like… the thing, when I put it on, it was warm, so I enjoyed it. But when I took it off, I felt cold.


BLD: How did you feel to get a medal? … Before you got the medal?


WH: Lucky?


BLD: Were you excited, mad, sad?


WH: Not really mad, why would I really be mad? I don’t know what I felt. I felt like, normal. Like, how you would feel when you were just… I don’t know, something (unintelligible). (Exasperated sigh, whispering) Ugh. I can’t…


BLD: Cooooool. So… do you have any questions for me?


WH: Nope.


BLD: Why did you pick the necklace and not the pin? (Ed. – Those receiving the Das Mädchen or Es Meedli medals were, and will continue to be, able to choose between a brooch backing, or have the medal on a chain.)


WH: I didn’t know there was a pin? (Ed. – Yeeeeeeah she did. She asked for the necklace.)


BLD: Ooooohhhhhhh. Um… cool!










•January 16, 2017 • Comments Off on PARADE OF SPIRITS, LIBERTY LANDS, 2016

The sixth time.

The latest in December we ever scheduled it! (Since we don’t have to try to get it as close to Krampusnacht as we can anymore.)

(Here’s the entire thing, on time-lapse, from pre-Parade to post, although from where the camera was you couldn’t see the fire show. But this was the best place to have this particular camera and I love Linda for thinking of this and seeing it through!)

Oh, still plenty of Krampusse, but so much else as well.

photo by tom coombe

photo by tom coombe

“It felt sacred. And relaxed,” said a someone who had traveled from Arizona just to be there.

I wish I had had more time to spend with her, and all of our Tucson friends who came. The week before this event never feels sacred or relaxed and usually involves antibiotics for me. This year was challenging in that I was in the process of settling the estate of my recently deceased father, and started homeschooling my kids seventeen days before Parade of Spirits.

2016 was a long hard journey for many of us, and not necessarily an easy time to think about preparing a Parade, but then at about one AM, almost a full week before the 17th I got this image — of a Sonoran Shark Perchta who had just settled into her hotel . She and her husband were up for anything. So I was going to be, too.


Jana and Matt came packed not only with a Sonoran Shark headpiece, but the beginnings of Leon Russell as the Frost King — a comfort in the time of his recent passing. Our family even got to work on his creation, at our own house, while listening to Leon’s music.

We introduced Matt and Jana to scrapple at brunch — they don’t have that in Tucson — and we got to contribute to Leon’s hair, hat, and mirrored glasses. Leon lives here now. Jana and Matt dropped him on our doorstep after the Parade, as they passed through our neighborhood heading down to see the Miracle on 13th Street. They did everything there was to do. They were amazing.

tuscon's sonoran shark perchta and leon russel the frost king. my miracles. photo by neil kohl.

tuscon’s sonoran shark perchta and leon russel the frost king. my miracles. photo by neil kohl.

Also, before Parade even happened, I received a twice-gifted item. The frame drum Tucker had given me for Mother’s Day had been sent to Arun, and he decorated it for processional use. It is gorgeous.


There was a bit of a wet forecast for the 17th, but the chances of it being a problem diminished by the hour.

Even though last year was the year Tucker and I designed and knitted the Golem for Janet, this was the year that a worthy photo was taken. Guess who took it?

thanks, neil!

thanks, neil!

This year Claudia and Béla were more active in the design of their costumes than ever before (and Béla very active in the execution of his — he got some glue gun burns). We learned this year: when you need fake fur, buy “scrap” boxes from Furry supply websites. They have the best stuff. Tucker got us way more than we could have even used, for seventy dollars!

Claudia was very regal (Tuck did the math on her fur hoop skirt, which I handsewed), and the crown Tuck made her was amazing. (That crow skull is actually chocolate. And Béla was very badass in his Bender/GWAR/Samurai Krampus outfit, with skull pauldrons.

photo by tom coombe.

photo by tom coombe.

And honestly — although 90% of it got made in the 48 hours before Parade, and it was almost immediately determined (as I think Chris Carson said) that the mask was “as far as tape and foil could be taken” — far enough, in fact, that we knew it would never be worn again, was too large to keep, and was put on the curb before Christmas — the fact is, this was Ben’s best costume ever.

not surprisingly, another one by neil kohl.

not surprisingly, another one by neil kohl.

A major highlight of this year’s Parade was seeing Claude and Béla perform onstage with Lux Arati. There wasn’t interest in the kids’ pre-show this year as there had been in the previous two years, but my kids had assumed it was going to happen, and, well, they were ready. Béla had been practicing with fire all year. This was a banner performance for Lux Arati in many ways — they brought to life my DREAM of dancing plague doctors — and the costuming was incredible.

And Claude was great with her fiber-optic whip, but seeing your eight-year-old son dancing with live torches… is a proud moment.

Not only were our friends from Tucson there, but my friend Juls drove through the night from Athens, Georgia, for the second year in a row. This year we actually got to have brunch with her and her son the next day. I can’t believe how infrequently this is though, and our family needs to get to Athens… or the rest of Athens needs to start getting in Juls’ car…

But Juls and her son Matti were very helpful in handing out the homemade gifts my kids had ready to give to onlookers. Tiny bath bombs (thanks to Marian) and thaumatropes designed by Béla (which went very quickly — sure to be a collector’s item!) We had everything stashed in my big grapevine cornucopia, which looked lovely full of treats.

Since this was a year of many changes, we had let people know early on in 2016 that Chris Carson — creator of Das Mädchen and Es Meedli — was just fine with the idea of someone else “being” The Big Girl this year. Confluence — Natalie Zaman appears on FB early in 2016 to ask for pictures to accompany her piece about Krampuslauf/Parade of Spirits in her book Magical Destinations of the Northeast.

Not only does she get pictures, but even before June, she has committed to being Das Mädchen. Parade of Spirits was the day before Natalie’s 47th birthday and it was her time to shine.

yes. it's a photo by neil kohl. what can be said? he's very good at this. did you see his exhibition?

yes. it’s a photo by neil kohl. what can be said? he’s very good at this. did you see his exhibition?

With VERY little time to spare, though, we needed to find an Es Meedli. Willa — whom we have jokingly referred to as “Béla’s wife” for some years (well, she gave him a ring) seemed game. C. and B. had done some modelling for Willa’s mom’s work this past summer, and from that photo shoot we knew Willa could handle a little discomfort. (Which Es Meedli does provide. Make no mistake.)


Five days before the Parade, she gave it her first try-on. And she did an amazing job. As evidenced in this photo by… Neil Kohl.

“But I remember you telling me something about getting a MEDAL for this?”

YES. Chris got out of wearing Das Mädchen at work, and he still hasn’t given Claudia’s favorite doll that hip replacement she needs, but we had him working! He is INDEED making the molds for a Das Mädchen medal and an Es Meedli medal. Whoever takes these characters on in 2017, and every subsequent year, will also receive a medal (we suppose Chris gets a Das Mädchen medal. Béla and Claudia are certainly sure they are getting Es Meedli medals).

the mold -- or the cast, i don't quite get this process -- for the das mädchen medal.

the mold — or the cast, i don’t quite get this process — for the das mädchen medal.

It is funny — days BEFORE last year’s Krampuslauf Philadelphia/Parade of Spirits, Tuck and I had gotten bees in our bonnet about making lucha masks. After Lauf, we tried it on our own, and it went … eh. A friend put us in touch with his friend Kate, who runs Closet Champion, and who gave a few of us a workshop in late January last year.

Well, we are known for our follow through. As seen in this lovely portrait by… um… Neil Kohl… Tuck and I both utilized our lucha mask making skills. He is a badass femme Lucha Cailleach — a whole new interpretation. And yes, I have a lucha-style mask in there — it has the uvula between my eyes. This double-mask combo is my favorite look yet! People speaking directly to me were asking where they should “look”. It was great! And with my “eviscerated child” sidekick, Fenstad, this was definitely my favorite Frau Perchta incarnation to date.

(thanks for everything, neil.) <3

(thanks for everything, neil.) ❤

One of the most interesting things about this Krampus season was something we had no part in, but a couple of friends had contacted me about before Parade of Spirits. It was something they had seen out in West Philadelphia… and neither of them was having an easy time really describing it. So, the day after Parade — after having brunch with the friends who had driven from Georgia to be there, and after the kids’ holiday dance recital — we went. To the West Philly Krampus Lair.


The adventure seems to have inspired something in Claudia, who has already met with Janet to discuss her vision for 2017. Meanwhile, our family is also going to have a super-secret five-person concept costume. (I’m not really good at keeping secrets about costumes, but maybe…)

We are, as ever, grateful to the Penn Treaty Special Services District, for their support of Parade of Spirits, Liberty Lands. Having safeties and crossing guards is a very big deal.

We are grateful to Mom-Mom’s Polish Food Cart for coming out this year although we really have to tell our food trucks (now that our beloved Guerilla Ultima is no more) that they need fairy lights to be seen, even if they are in plan sight! With all those monsters and fire… but the pierogies were delicious.

This year in particular Parade of Spirits was a year-long venture and even though I don’t have all the photos from December 17th up on Flickr yet, the set is coming along. Natalie wrote an article on, though, and that’s pretty great.

It was all pretty great. Many new faces and many new ideas coming out of those faces. This means a lot to us.

Thanks to each and every one of you! Thank you Lux Arati for keeping my son in his natural uncooked state! We are looking forward to our seventh go at it!!

Parade of Spirits: Portraits by Neil Kohl at Gravy Studio

•December 7, 2016 • Comments Off on Parade of Spirits: Portraits by Neil Kohl at Gravy Studio

Without a doubt, last year’s most magical artifact of Krampuslauf Philadelphia/Parade of Spirits was the collection of Polaroid portraits that Neil made.

mystery woman, will we ever find out who you are?

mystery woman, will we ever find out who you are?


Last Friday night was the opening of Neil’s exhibit of these portraits at Gravy Studios, right along the Parade route on Second St., across from Standard Tap. Gravy will be holding an OPEN HOUSE between 6 and 8 PM on the night of the Parade (December 17th! Quite soon!) so that out-of-town folks can get a chance to see these images up close.

Security was very heavy at the opening.


Everything looked great!

it's them.

We have our family’s images (Tuck missed out, sadly) wheatpasted onto the walls of one of our staircases at home. I would love to cover all of Northern Liberties with them!

And I really wish these were in a book, too. Wheatpasted everywhere, and in a book!

Neil is planning to give a workshop in this particular Polaroid film from 1-3 at the gallery, before the parade; and then, again, the gallery will be open until 8 for viewing. So exciting!



oh my. did i really neglect to give this momentous occasion its own post?


what’s in here?



oh my!



it would be wonderful enough to just say that we are featured in the book Magical Destinations of the Northeast, by Natalie Zaman, but it’s actually better than JUST that. i’ve gotten to know natalie some, and when we announced that chris would like to take a break from “being” das mädchen this year, and we were looking for a special volunteer, Natalie Zaman stepped up.

and she also learned to step down. curbs aren’t that easy for das mädchen.


chris has never really SEEN it from THIS angle.

chris has never really SEEN it from THIS angle.


the book is great, and FULL of road trips for this family. and having natalie join our family of spirits has been even better! if you want your book autographed on the 17th, it will be pretty easy to FIND her… but her hands MIGHT be kind of full.

2016 parade of spirits COLORING poster — download for YOU!!

•November 28, 2016 • Comments Off on 2016 parade of spirits COLORING poster — download for YOU!!

here’s this year’s poster — rendered by béla and claudia with the use of béla’s birthday light box (a thing we learned about from the mundie family). we took photos of previous years’ spirits, and the kids traced them. tucker resized everything so it looked like an actual “parade” coming through. and claudia did some AMAZING lettering.


note, that there are two bélas. i think my favorite figure is ruby the deer. although i do also like rob and his boomba, and i like the way that “chris”, such as he is, is peeking out of das mädchen.

as always, we are grateful to the Penn Treaty Special Services District for helping to make our event possible.


and here’s miss claudia, coloring a poster (and giving a foretelling of the earache that would plague the rest of the evening. luckily, we had spent the afternoon making bath bombs with marian and zoe — to give out at parade of spirits, in fact — and she had a nice hot rose-scented bath that helped her feel better.)

after posting on FB that we would be ready to bring posters to northern liberties later this week (we had even bought four-packs of crayola crayons — just like you get in a diner with a coloring placemat!) a preschool teacher asked where she could get some of the posters for her class. i’m sure ben would have driven them up himself, but shortly, parade of spirits friend toni suggested that we make the poster available as a printable PDF for anyone who wanted to color it!

and so we have. there it is, at the link below. use “tabloid” sized paper (11 X 17″) and you’ve got yourself a poster to color.

we depend on you to bring color to this event every year. each and every one of you brings something we couldn’t ourselves. this poster is yours as much as parade of spirits is — so enjoy, and feel free to share.


a month away from our sixth procession… heralded by the god of death and scrapple

•November 18, 2016 • Leave a Comment

It is November 17, 2016. A month from tonight we will embark on our SIXTH procession from Liberty Lands… but our first without the word “Krampus” in our name. (It’s being used in enough event names elsewhere, we think.) And yet, the largest number ever from our household — three out of five — are coming to the procession as a version of Krampus. Claudia’s costume is a picture of feminine regency; Béla has based his on “Bender” from Futurama but also managed to get some samurai in there; Ben and I both somehow, without telling each other, imagined his (far from complete) new look to be something like “Fruit Brute”, of the lesser Monster Cereals.

Tucker and I are still Cailleach and Perchta, but cronier, angrier, older this year. We earned it.

I was extremely touched this weekend when someone who attends our event described it to a person who had never been as “The closest thing you can have to a religious experience without having a religious experience.” We were, in fact, at their religious rite when this was said. We were there in our secular, we-don’t-get-out-much way, in friendship and respect, and with a gift. I am happy to say that Phase One of Boomba Preservation has been accomplished, and Urglaawe has been presented with their handmade boomba (the one with the fox head sculpted by Béla) — an appropriate gift for the holiday, which was for Ewicher Yeeger, the Great Hunter, and the deity most likely to be conflated with or related to Krampus on such a folklore family tree. See photos of our fun, chilly time with our Urglaawe family — and a fire full of scrapple — here.


So — what will this year at the former Krampuslauf Philadelphia be like? It is a big question. We have changed our name and essentially took out the word with the most commercial appeal (that happened fast), so that may leave some folks less interested, and looking for another nearby Krampus event. On the other hand, we have literally been named a “magical destination” in the book Magical Destinations of the Northeast, so we may well meet people we’ve never seen before.

Our beloved Guerilla Ultima BBQ truck is no longer a truck, but a brick-and-mortar restaurant near the Delaware shore, and so this year we will if all goes as planned have pierogies, and more, (and then more pierogies) from Mom-Mom’s Polish Food Truck (we are excited — Mercedes from Ultima recommended them).

It has been a stressful season, with the death of my father in September (and Ben and I the administrators of his estate), Tucker attending his final year of his undergraduate career and finishing graduate school applications over the next few weeks, the growth of our two family businesses, and the very recent decision to homeschool the kids. Being my usual Border Collie self, and pulling other people together — for planning, for workshops — hasn’t been possible, not in time or energy.

There has been no “maker workshop” for Parade of Spirits this year. Oh, something may pop up — add one person to our household and you’ve basically got a workshop — but nothing formal like we usually do. I just couldn’t manage. Although Natalie Zaman (author of Magical Destinations) and I had planned a small event at Laurel Hill Cemetery, it was more of a ceremonial one.  It is Natalie who will don the Das Mädchen costume this year, fulfilling my hopes of making that glowing monster an attainable, not just an “attraction”. Our event was to be a welcoming, complete with cinnamon and crypt-glass talismans (we will still see them given out!) but bad weather and a SEPTA strike had us cancelling at the last minute.

And yet… across the country… a woman held her own crowdfunding campaign to come to Parade of Spirits this year (with an enormous puppet). She was funded in a little more than 24 hours.


Kari — who has crowdfunded her way here and has only explained to me that she will get that beautiful puppet here “in pieces” —  is one of our Tucson family from All Souls’ Processional Weekend. She is coming with Jhon, and some other friends, and I am happy, because I need to see friends. During recent weeks when I have thought “Boy, I ought to be getting people excited about Parade of Spirits,” and feeling guilty that I couldn’t make myself do something — seriously considered what my “doing” had to “do” with anything.

Even if I wanted to, what position was I in to stop it?

We laid good groundwork early this year. We harvested our first withies (although it may not be until next year that we use them — Chris has a plan). We had a week of project-making in August that we feel could lead to an official summer camp in the future, and Tucker and I worked with literally the American heroes of processional arts (if you ask me) in Manhattan in early September. We laid good groundwork early this year, because we knew Tucker would be applying to graduate programs and we knew there was a good chance of my father dying.

Other, good, but energy-using things (businesses thriving, writing being published, plans coming to fruition), we did not expect.

Political events, and Death absolutely pillaging the world of music, we did not expect. And we are kind of shaken up. And tired. Avoiding social media. Eating a lot of ramen. Lotta comfort foods. (There was a day that I cut a piece of cream cheese and covered it in rainbow jimmies.) Looking for comfort, but scared to open the next door on the Advent calendar, because things have gotten that unpredictable.

Maybe this is exactly why we need to get out there and walk together.

Whatever my hand does to shape this event, its tendencies are Dionysian. When it was time to get our poster ready, I deconstructed it as much as possible, letting the children trace images from previous years using Béla’s light box, basically creating a diner coloring placemat of a poster. We bought many four-packs of crayons to give out at the places Janet usually puts posters.


Maybe it was a way of saying the input of others was more important and welcome than ever — and that maybe everyone should be picking up their metaphorical crayons.

Parade of Spirits has no political party but does have a platform of tolerance, love, acceptance, and expression. Expression of what is dark, in dark times, is important to bring to the community — in ritual — together. You can express what is terrifying in a community in which you are safe. We have done it five times in a row (no crying child yet, in a park full of monsters).

Two wonderful quotes I learned from Linda:

“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” — Carl Jung

“The person we choose to be, … automatically creates a dark double — the person we choose not to be.” — Thomas Moore, The Care of the Soul

Maybe this is how we take care of ourselves and each other.

As I said on Facebook earlier this week, I never thought that I would repost a video of myself so willingly, but once it’s out there, gods it’s convenient. Because this still says the things I need to have people hear (even though it was recorded in April 2015), I give you, again: my Ignite Philly talk about the event formerly known as Krampuslauf Philadelphia. Our message remains.

But as with our poster this year, our expectations are intentionally unfinished. We are relying on both our history, and on you — your creativity, your fear, your triumph, your can’t-get-out-of-bed days your need to gather and celebrate and surprise a stranger with a gift — to continue to evolve into what there is no other of in any city or town in America — Parade of Spirits, Liberty Lands.

Also, our rules remain:


I can honestly say my mask this year is my favorite ever. I am proud of the new surprises that exist to make the park even more magical. I have Tucker to thank for both. I am grateful for our friends from the desert, who come not as bystanders but to leave their mark. And I am grateful for everyone who recognizes there has never been a better time to come together and bring light.

And I am grateful for that guy we haven’t even met who wants to wear the Rook costume. Seriously.

(The Es Meedli costume, though, is still uninhabited — looking for a kid between seven and ten for that one!)