These days everybody thinks they know Krampus: the Germanic Christmas devil, the shadow to the light of St Nicholas. But no one in America knows Krampus like Al Ridenour, who has written a staggeringly informative and delightful book — The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas — on the history, culture, sociology, and meaning of the Krampus movement in the homelands and in America. Tonight on After Hours AM/America’s Most Haunted Radio — paranormal talk Thursdays 9-11pE with hosts Joel Sturgis and Eric Olsen — we dig deeply into all things Krampus with Al at 10pE; at 9pE Joel and Eric review the week’s most titillating paranormal news from the America’s Most Haunted Twitter feed.
The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas
Not too long ago, the naughty list of Santa Claus actually meant something: if kids misbehaved they were punished for their misdeeds by being given the dreaded lump of coal, or at least denied longed-for presents from Santa. Kids had something to think about, something at stake, Christmas bounty wasn’t automatic. But over the last century or so the stick has disappeared from the carrot-and-stick approach to Christmas. The Old World from which Krampus comes knew a very different holiday, one haunted by ghosts, witches, devilish horsemen, murderous incarnations of Catholic saints, the demonic Perchten, and witch-like Frau Perchta, known for disemboweling naughty children. Even the church once celebrated this holiday with plays depicting the Devil, Antichrist, and Herod’s gory Massacre of the Innocents. Together, these strange winter traditions gave birth to a monster now more popular than ever, the Krampus.
Though the Krampus figure is now familiar, not much can be found about its history and meaning, thus calling for a fantastically comprehensive and readable book like Al Ridenour’s new The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas: Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil. With Krampus’s wild, graphic history, publisher Feral House hired the awarded designer Sean Tejaratchi to take on Ridenour’s book about this ever-so-curious figure and the results are ravishing.
In 2013, as co-founder of Krampus Los Angeles, Al Ridenour helped gather a troupe of Krampus performers, crafted suits and went on to organize an ongoing series of parades and themed shows known as LA Krampusfest. In 2014, Ridenour’s group hosted the first European visitors to appear stateside in traditional costumes, and in 2015 they hosted an entire 15-person troupe from the state of Salzburg. Al also directs an annual production of a 19th-century Austrian Krampus play from a script of his own translation, lectures on the Krampus at the international Goethe-Institut, has exhibited his handcrafted suits at the University of Southern California’s Doheny Museum, and provides Krampus suit rental for film and television and events. Of the Krampus-related organizations in the US, Krampus Los Angeles is the most dedicated to the traditions, artistry, and serious exploration of Krampus themes.
From 1991-1999, he served as “Grand Instigator” of the Los Angeles lodge of the Cacophony Society, a national network of art-provocateurs and urban explorers responsible for founding the Burning Man festival and serving as prototype for “Project Mayhem” in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. Ridenour was lead designer for a 2012 retrospective on the Cacophony Society at Grand Central Art Center, in Santa Ana, California, and contributed materials to the 2014 exhibition “Böse Clowns – Evil Clowns” at Dortmunder U – Zentrum für Kunst und Kreativität, in Dortmund, Germany. He is also featured in the 2012 documentary Into the Zone, the Story of the Cacophony Society.
From 2004-2008, Ridenour directed The Art of Bleeding Los Angeles-based multi-media performance troupe providing darkly comic faux-educational programs in first-aid and safety. Often staging shows from the group’s ambulance, The Art of Bleeding’s “paramedical funhouse” combined short original films and animation, repurposed vintage health and safety films, puppets, costumed kiddy show characters, and nurses in fetishistic uniform. The Art of Bleeding was also created various walk-through installations including “Pre-natal Emergency” with adult-sized fetuses, a “Ghost Clinic” installed in LA’s abandoned Loma Vista hospital, and a parking-lot display of smoldering freshly-wrecked cars peopled with bloodied actors at LA’s Steve Allen Theater.
Al has written for Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Fortean Times, Maxim, Stuff, Saveur, and other periodicals as well as the websites Boing Boing, Laughing Squid, Atlas Obscura, and Morbid Anatomy. Besides his Krampus book, he is author of Offbeat Food, Adventures in an Omnivorous World (Santa Monica Press, 2000) an exhaustive survey of culinary oddities and culture.