Updated Dec. 3, 2019: Dates have been updated for 2019; this q-and-a was first published in 2017.
So many events this time of year are festive and filled with bright colors, merriment and good will.
But that’s not the case for Krampusnacht in Market Square on Thursday. This is less family joy and more a terrifying twist on a holiday bar crawl. It’s the day that Krampus — a half goat, half demon — visits Pittsburgh and spends his evening drinking and revealing who wasn’t so good this year.
At The Incline, we had a lot of questions about this event, so we did some research and talked with Mark Menold, who organizes this event and Pittsburgh Zombie Fest. Here’s what you need to know if you’ll be anywhere near Market Square on Thursday.
What, or who, is Krampus?
He’s sorta the opposite of Santa Claus, and he comes from European traditions, largely Austrian. But his popularity is growing in other places, too. The history of Krampus dates back to “pre-Germanic paganism,” according to Smithsonian Magazine, which added that he traditionally visits on the night before St. Nicholas Day. Per the magazine:
Krampus himself historically comes around the night of December 5, tagging along with St. Nicholas. He visits houses all night with his saintly pal. While St. Nick is on hand to put candy in the shoes of good kids and birch twigs in the shoes of the bad, Krampus’ particular specialty is punishing naughty children. Legend has it that throughout the Christmas season, misbehaved kids are beaten with birch branches or can disappear, stuffed into Krampus’ sack and hauled off to his lair to be tortured or eaten.
So, naturally, people celebrate by dressing up as Krampus — covered head-to-toe in fur with a mask, horns, hoof shoes and claws. Then, they go out to chase people and poke them with sticks. (Naturally.) As you can imagine, there’s a lot of drinking that goes on, as well.
So how did Krampus come to Pittsburgh?
Menold said he’s not really sure how he first heard of Krampus, but the beast caught his eye, and in 2014 he started a Krampus bar crawl in South Side.
The bar crawl there went on for two years, before it moved to Market Square last year. And this year, Krampusnacht (pronounced krompus-knocked) will be even bigger.
Market Square is a perfect location, too, Menold said. The Peoples Gas Holiday Market looks like a quaint European Village, which fits into the tradition, plus it’s a busy area where the dozens of Krampus (Menold said he uses Krampi as the plural) are bound to take some people by surprise.
But will it stick?
“It’s catching on now,” Menold said.
Last year and this year, he promoted the event by dressing up as Krampus and handing out flyers during Light Up Night. Last year, only a handful of people knew about Krampus, he said. This year, there were at least 50 people who knew and shouted out to him.
It’s being at the beginning of a new tradition that’s especially exciting for Menold. In the more than decade since he started Zombie Fest, he said, he’s seen the number of zombie events multiply.
“No one is startled to see a zombie anymore,” Menold said. “But a guy dressed up like a goat [running around and snorting] — that has shock factor.”
So while Krampus is centuries old in Europe, the tradition is starting to take hold in the U.S., he said.
“It might be one of those things that Pittsburgh is known for,” he said.
So happens Thursday?
Krampus will arrive at exactly 7 p.m., so be sure to get to Market Square early.
First, he’ll perform with his all-Krampus band, “Sleigher” at 7:30 p.m. Their songs are Christmas lyrics set to hard rock songs. For example: “Joy to the World” is set to “Highway to Hell,” and you’ll hear “Silent Night” as Radiohead’s “Creep.”
And yes, you can even get a photo on Krampus’ lap. The event is for all ages, and there will be bar specials for the 21+ crowd.