Our gathering and Parade — and the world around it — have changed so much since our inaugural year (2011), we can’t blame anyone for wanting some history and background information about what we do, and what you can expect if you come!
Our true love story began on September 1, 2011, as Ben and Amber were driving into Northern Liberties for an anniversary dinner.
Amber had been working for a couple of months to get people in Philly interested in the idea of a Krampus-type of parade for the holiday season. Something safe, secular, collaborative and noncompetitive. A kid-friendly event, but with monsters, and noisemakers. But not only were most friends she talked to dubious (this was 2011 — 99% of Americans had never heard of “Krampus”) — she hadn’t anywhere to hold such an event.
And then she and Ben drove past Liberty Lands. Which, while still green from summer, looked full of potential — frankly, perfect.
That night at home, Amber Googled “Liberty Lands”, and found contact information for the park’s coordinator, Janet Finegar. And she typed out her spiel: “Devil parade at Christmastime, I have literally no experience creating events like this, blah blah blah. ”
Janet responded almost immediately. Not only did Janet already know who and what Krampus was (she has a degree in folklore), but she had been a member of Vermont’s Bread and Puppet Theatre for many years. She wasn’t just giving permission for a Krampuslauf — she WANTED a Krampuslauf!
She was the type of woman who would hold a rib cook-off in her park, and then boil the rib bones down to fashion a dress out of them. (And she did exactly that.)
And so — with Ben in a gorilla suit and the knitted Krampus mask Amber had made for him, handing out gingerbread Krampusse to every child that approached — the inaugural KRAMPUSLAUF PHILADELPHIA was held on December 10, 2011, at Liberty Lands park in Philadelphia. It was heralded as a wake-up call to Krampus culture in the US, in a story on National Public Radio, which was shared over ten thousand times that day.
(For an even more detailed account of our origin story, here’s a PDF of a piece about the history of the Philly Lauf as published in HEX magazine.)
With about 75 attendees and no crying children, 2011 felt like a comfortable and encouraging start.
In 2012, the word had gotten around even more. We continued to see folklore buffs, cosplay-lovers, and lots of kids. And we had a better idea of what we “were”, even though our name would evolve.
Amber, had, in 2012, stumbled upon (online) an instrument called a “devil’s fiddle”, and had thought about what a perfect instrument it would be for Krampuslauf — big and clangy, with a fun character head atop it. But making one was pretty far out of our skill range at the time. Imagine Amber’s surprise, though, when a guy showed up with one that December.
This “guy” was Robert Schreiwer, who would, along with his brothers and sisters in the Pennsylvania Dutch Heathen community of Urglaawe, would become our trusted friends and some of the people upon whom we could depend on most for not only the most mundane tasks of organizing our event. By the following year, Rob would be integral to the Parade by providing it with an Invocation before we began Procession. This is now a dearly held ritual to us.
Skip forward a bit in time and hear Rob’s wonderful interview about his involvement with Krampuslauf/Parade of Spirits, and about his own work as a spiritual leader, and teacher, recorded in 2015.
2012 also marked the first year that Lux Arati performed after we returned to the park from Procession. At that time, one of the Luxie Ladies was a preschool teacher of Claudia and Béla’s… oh my that seems like a long time ago! Lux Arati have performed every year since then for us and have ONLY stepped it up over the years — by providing hands-on choreography to kids for a “Kids Mini Flow Showcase” in 2015, using faux-fire props)…
… and in 2016 completely outdoing themselves (and my heart) by having provided private instruction for Béla to learn to fire dance!!
Yes, that’s really Béla and that’s really fire. In a year’s time he went from a faux firepot made with a computer fan and silk strips, to actual flames. (Kids learning about fire is as important as kids learning to swim… and can be just as much fun.) Lux Arati’s costumes and concepts get better every year, and yes, they are mostly naked in the cold — once LITERALLY performing in sleet — they are AMAZING women. They are there for us, we are there for them (I loved the year that they held a fundraiser in Liberty Lands and some “Krampuslauf Kids” walked around passing the hat on stilts!) And we love them dearly.
2012 was the first of the only two years (so far!) where we made a “clip video”. (I really hope we get back to doing this again.) With music from Pittsburgh’s amazing Phat Man Dee, this is SO nostalgic to watch now.
2013 was another extremely important growth year for us, marked by some bright, new presences, in both our home and at our Parade.
While it was fun to see Krampusse every December, we wanted to see some other interpretations of winter folklore, and had gotten interested in the hat-grabbing, bird-goat-hybrid harbinger of Death, the Habergeiß. Artist and all around good guy Chris Carson more or less took up residence in our house after Thanksgiving of 2013 — he’s one of those people who feeds on “eleventh hour” energy — and he build, well, a wonder.
A big, BIG wonder, that literally wasn’t finished until the moment Ben, Chris and Tucker yanked her out of the house and put her into the U-Haul on the way to Lauf.
She had looked wonderful IN our house, and she certainly attracted a lot of attention when she got to the park. Did we mention that 2013 was the year that there was an actual BLIZZARD during Krampuslauf?
Whatever a Habergeiß means to those in various Alpine enclaves, our Das Mädchen is a big, silly, clumsy, anxious-to-be-liked girl. Her favorite song is Kenny Loggins’ “This Is It”, which has become the unofficial theme song of our event. And luckily, we had weatherproofed her, so Chris was the dryest, warmest guy at the Parade.
Rob Schreiwer give an invocation before we left Liberty Lands for our procession. In this first invocation in 2013, he referred to us as a “Parade of Spirits”, and it felt so right that we decided to add it to the end of our then-name, Krampuslauf Philadelphia. (The “Parade of Spirits” is a term used in Deitsch (Pennsylvania Dutch) folklore for the Wild Hunt.)
We did our second (and so far, last) official clip video in 2013, featuring footage from both the 2013 Lauf and the early 2014 gallery exhibition at iMPeRFeCT gallery. (Rather than just posting a picture of Das Mädchen at her first event, I think the video is a better way to meet her.)
(And check out this wonderful video of the iMPeRFeCT gallery exhibition: the artwork has left the building by Gary Reed).
By 2014, not only did we have Das Mädchen, but she’d had a child — Es Meedli. (Which means pretty much the same thing as Das Mädchen, but in Pennsylvania Dutch.)
We also had a visiting artist — internationally known cardboard artist Mykl Wells, from Tucson, Arizona. He came and stayed with Linda’s family, gave a fantastic workshop in making cardboard masks, and everyone loved him. (You could take a thousand pictures and never get one better than this one of Mykl teaching Tucker how to make a “Voltron Wolf” mask for Béla.)
Another guest in 2014 was Arun Once-Was-Zygoat, who — when Janet and Amber were interviewed for the NPR piece in 2011 — was the only other Krampuslauf organizer known in the US! It is Arun who taught us the masking-tape-and-tin-foil method we use to make most of our masks, and we’ve taught it many places since! We’ve stayed friends, traded masks, banners, bones, and other gifts for each other’s “Sister-Laufs”.
2014 our most heavily-attended year (possibly 450 or so people). The number of Krampus events in the US had swelled, and we knew that we would have to change more about our event than just the name if it was going to continue to attract that much attention. Privately, we decided to just give it another year to see if the fad died down, and so far, it seems we got lucky. (Two hundred and fifty, maybe three hundred, seems like a nice number for Liberty Lands, and provides a Parade that is still contained enough that some of it is not entering back into the park, having finished the route, while some of the front end is still waiting to get out.) We are not “bigger is better” revelers.
In 2015, Amber had the pleasure of speaking at Ignite Philly on the subject of our Parade.
It was also the year that photographer and friend Neil Kohl brought his large-format Polaroid camera to the park and took portraits of parade-goers.
(These portraits are one of the most magical things to ever come out of Parade of Spirits and made a beautiful gallery show at Gravy — right on our processional route! — in 2016.)
In 2016, we were featured in the book Magical Destinations of the Northeast by Natalie Zaman. We only knew about it because she contacted us, looking for some photos to go along with our listing, and we are glad she did.
As it turned out, Chris Carson was hoping to take a break from “being” Das Mädchen (it’s not easy) in the upcoming year, and both of the Levin-Dorko children — the youngest of the core “Krampus Kids” who had been coming since 2011 — had outgrown the Es Meedli costume. So we had a new challenge, and a new way to further smudge the line between spectator and participant (a line Parade of Spirits likes to keep pretty smudgy.) We needed a Das Mädchen and an Es Meedli.
Author Natalie Zaman volunteered for the “big” job, taking her first test drive in June, working with a trainer at the gym, and debuting on the night before her birthday at the 2016 Parade of Spirits.
Claudia and Béla’s no-nonsense and fearless friend Willa was Es Meedli. Since Chris had “free time” (ha ha), he made casts for “medals” for these new wearers — and our plan is that every year, whoever volunteers to be Das Mädchen or Es Meedli, receives their medal (as a brooch or necklace, their choice. As you see, Natalie chose a brooch, while all three of the children who have been Es Meedli chose the necklace.)
Although we have yet to figure out a way to post camera’s along the Parade route, and a second still camera down by the stage where the fire show is would have been interesting too, this time lapse video, taken from the vantage point of a tree — thank you, Linda Soffer — gives some idea of what even just the park gathering (without the Parade and fire show!) is like — beautiful in and of itself.
Amber spoke in 2017 at the “Winter Festivals and Traditions” conference at Oxford University, focusing at that time on our (continued) hopes for moving forward with ways to accommodate a neurodivergent Parade community.
Amber and Tucker, are grateful to our friends in the UK, for their insight into the potential challenges of attending workshops and festal/processional events for people on the autism spectrum. IF YOU LOVE FOLKLORE/PUPPETS/GLOWING THINGS, AND IDENTIFY AS BEING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM, HAVE SENSORY PROCESSING ISSUES, OR HAVE ANY REASON TO WISH YOU COULD HELP, BUT AREN’T SURE YOU CAN, PLEASE CONTACT US at email@example.com. We are committed to having autistic-led workshops for people on the spectrum, in a sensory-friendly environment (to the best of our ability), and to discussing ways that would enable folks to experience, and help create, the event.
Rather than an “entertainment” event, Parade of Spirits, Liberty Lands is an example of the power of community ritual — a tableau or meditation — a voluntary village coming together briefly to acknowledge the significance, the necessity, of “darkness”, in a season that promotes (however forced) cheer and light. It is brought together every year by the loving, creative residents of Northern Liberties — parents, artists, children, garden- and fire-tenders — and with the generosity of the Penn Treaty Special Services District.
Meet up to make a mask, puppet or noisemaker, at one of our workshops (we have held them in gyms, art galleries, and cemeteries!) Or, work on your winter alter-ego at home. We welcome your interpretations of winter folklore and of what this event can look and sound like.
Dress in full costume, or just a pair of horns. (We have a special box of stuff to borrow if you want to get in the spirit at the last minute, or you can carry a lantern or a banner, we always have extra. But please — put back what you borrow. We’ve only had a SINGLE theft since 2011, and to The Guy Who Took Janet’s Bearskin — we’d really like to see it come back.)
YOU CAN PARTICIPATE IN PARADE OF SPIRITS, LIBERTY LANDS, ANY MONTH OF THE YEAR. We are ALWAYS planning. Get in touch of you are:
- sewing enthusiasts
- puppet enthusiasts
- banner-makers and signmakers
- interested in fabricating illumination (LED lanterns or components)
- drummers or musicians who can play and walk at the same time (we’ve had a bagpiper, we’ve always got frame drums and noisemakers, and once a euphonium!)
Here’s one Bonus Frequently Asked Question that seems to pop up every year no matter what…
Why don’t you add a Krampus-themed bar crawl/pet costume contest/market stalls for selling stuff/etc. to Parade of Spirits, Liberty Lands?
The answer is:
We are happy to hear about any other Krampus- or winter folklore-related events, in Philly or otherwise. But our greatest ambitions for the “growth” of Parade of Spirits are not to see more people attending, or more people watching… but to see the skill, experience and enjoyment levels of its participants rise.
Here’s a hint.
See you in the park, a little before sundown!
(Parade of Spirits, Liberty Lands, will be held in Liberty Lands Park on December 9, 2017. Most people begin to arrive around 4pm. Procession begins between 4:45 and 5pm, usually.)