Krampus stomping through Bloomington for the last time with rampage and bazaar

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A hoard of horned, hairy beasts will rampage in downtown Bloomington one final time on Saturday, Dec. 4, as Krampus' reign of unholy terror comes to a close.

The Krampus Rampage & Bazaar has been a local staple since its inception in 2011 by head Krampus wrangler Kel McBride. McBride said she was inspired by the Krampus festivals held in Austria and wanted to bring that magical mischief to her city.

What McBride produced was one legendary night of ghouls and gags as attendees from across the country now flock to this area every winter to witness performances with live fire, halo-hooping angels and — of course — large, ravenous creatures collectively known as Krampus.

A Krampus named Pook blows flames for the crowd during the 2014 Krampus parade in downtown Bloomington.
A Krampus named Pook blows flames for the crowd during the 2014 Krampus parade in downtown Bloomington.

Krampus is a centuries-old folkloric fiend who would work in tandem with St. Nicholas to administer rewards or punishments to children. While St. Nicholas rewards well-behaved pupils, Krampus would punish the naughty ones by haunting their dreams or whisking them away in sacks.

When St. Nicholas' influence spread beyond his European roots to include the United States, where he evolved into Santa Claus, he began neglecting the duties of punishment for those on the naughty list, McBride said. Krampus subsequently faded away into obscurity. But by allowing these Alpine creatures to wreak havoc in Bloomington every year, the Krampus Bazaar has rebalanced the scales.

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The spirit of the Krampus festival is based on consequences, according to McBride. If one is on their best behavior and wears a "Nice" sticker at the festival, they will receive praises and treats from vibrant angels. If someone is known to misbehave and proudly brandish a "Naughty" sticker, Krampus may pay them some unwanted attention.

"We, both adults and children, need to be aware that if we behave badly, bad things can happen to us," McBride said.

The mischievous night in Bloomington elicits both screams of terror and delight amongst attendees as the parade of striking creatures take siege in downtown.

"I have never been to an event where people smile so much ever, ever, ever," she said.

The festival's success was immediate and has grown in notoriety. That first year, even with little promotion, 800 people attended, McBride said. Attendance has only increased over the years, peaking at 5,000 at the last in-person, non-raining event.

It is now widely considered to be one of the largest gatherings for Krampus festivities in North America.

McBride attributes some of that success to the Bloomington residents who participate and contribute every year.

"Bloomington likes 'quirky' and that's been the case for the 30 years I've been in this town; that has been a constant," she said.

According to McBride, Bloomington residents are also very engaged and interactive. Rather than passive observers to the festivities, they play an active role in the celebration.

The Krampus Rampage & Bazaar is considered a tradition amongst many families in Bloomington.
The Krampus Rampage & Bazaar is considered a tradition amongst many families in Bloomington.

The festival has become a holiday tradition for many local families with some children never experiencing a winter season without it. However, this year's Krampus Bazaar will be the last held by the Krampus Legend and Arts Workshop.

According to McBride, even in those initial talks a decade ago, the event was always known as a 10-year commitment for organizers and volunteers.

"I am absolutely thrilled that we made it 10 years," McBride said, noting some pandemic-related bumps along the journey. "I am thankful for all of the volunteers that put energy and time into it and overjoyed with the community support that we have received. It is a celebration in my eyes."

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McBride said the group assigned an expiration date to the festival to avoid the volunteer burnout, stress over fundraising and community indifference that can accompany long-term community projects.

A typical Krampus festival takes 100 volunteers and months of strategic planning. According to McBride, 80% of those initial volunteers from that first event have remained to see this year's venerable conclusion.

By leaving Bloomington on a high note, the Krampus Rampage & Bazaar will remain forever crystallized in the hearts of attendees as a rowdy, trail-blazing celebration.

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The annual Krampus Rampage & Bazaar takes 100 volunteers to run, according to organizer Kel McBride. The performers include halo-hooping angels, hairy Krampus and St. Nicholas himself.
The annual Krampus Rampage & Bazaar takes 100 volunteers to run, according to organizer Kel McBride. The performers include halo-hooping angels, hairy Krampus and St. Nicholas himself.

Krampus legacy lives on

The final local festival will feature more Krampus than ever before, with one traveling over 500 miles. After this night, the Krampus will migrate away from Bloomington.

But residents will have an opportunity to keep the festive tradition alive in their own households.

In addition to the nice or naughty stickers, Krampus experience packages will also be available to purchase at the event. Some items in a package include recipes for specialty cookies and cocktails as well as arts and crafts projects and activity books.

"There's a story that people can read to their kids explaining the traditions," McBride said.

The Krampus Legend and Arts Workshop offered similar experience packages for last year's Krampus Night at Home celebration.

McBride said the festival organizers will also continue to maintain the "Krampus tree," located at the southeast corner of West Seventh and North Madison streets. According to McBride, the tree was planted accidentally one snowy night when a cart that Krampus volunteers were pushing toppled over and spewed saplings onto the ground. Every year, the tree is decorated with festively ghoulish ornaments.

But for those who want to join in on the last night of mischief, McBride released some details for the Krampus Bazaar. It will kick off the evening at 5 p.m. at Showers Common, next to City Hall at 401 N. Morton St.

The Rampage, which is led by Saint Nicholas himself and accompanied by spirited angels and live fire performances, will wind through downtown Bloomington at 6 p.m.

Before the Krampus arrive, attendees can donate a few dollars to receive a “Naughty” or “Nice” sticker, which can either earn candy from the angels or attention of the Krampus.

The Rampage will end at the Bazaar where attendees have the opportunity to run “Harm’s Way” through the Krampus pack. There will also be a photo area to take a picture with Krampus.

Contact Rachel Smith at rksmith@heraldt.com or @RachelSmithNews on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Krampus festival to end after 10 years, creator looks back on legacy

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