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Friendly Meets Freaky in First-Ever Ithaca Krampusnacht Festival


A normal Saturday night on the Ithaca Commons is suddenly disrupted by the distant sound of bells, rattles, and other noisemakers coming from the alleyway by Cinemopolis. Bystanders turn to see a parade of people stream onto the street, some of whom are dressed in elaborate, paper-mache demon heads and other costumes.

This was the scene on Dec. 5, when Ithaca residents celebrated the first-ever Krampusnacht festival in the city. The event, hosted by Liquid State Brewing, began with a costume parade through the Commons and then down to the Liquid State Brewery, where a Krampus themed party took place.

Krampus Parade
The Krampusnacht parade marched through downtown Ithaca, with many of its participants dressed in elaborate costume. Photo by Noah Barnes/Ithaca Week

Ithaca resident Jay Olsa, a local musician and home brewer, began organizing the event about a year ago, after he saw a National Geographic documentary about the European tradition. 

“It was about Krampus in Austria in a little town called Graz. They had a Krampusfest and it looked so cool,” said Olsa. “So I thought ‘Ithaca’s a little different, maybe we can have one in the Finger Lakes.’”

Olsa then reached out to some of his Facebook friends to see who might be interested in such an event based in Ithaca.  A friend who works at Liquid State showed interest . Eventually, the idea made it all the way up to the owners of Liquid State, Ben Brotman and Jamey Tielens, who were just as excited as Olsa to get the event off the ground.

Liquid state outside
The Krampusnacht parade ended at Liquid State Brewing Company,  where the evening transitioned into a party. Photo by Noah Barnes/Ithaca Week


“I honestly had never heard about it before,” said Brotman. “So when I looked it up and saw all crazy old photos of parades in Central Europe I thought ‘Wow, that looks like a lot of fun.’”

“It seemed like a good reason to have a get together or a party and celebration,” added Tielens. 

Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night, is thought to have originated in the Germanic regions of Europe, and its celebration has increased in the regions of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland in recent decades. Typically held on Dec. 5 each year, Krampusnacht recognizes the demonic counterpart to Saint Nicholas, called Krampus.

Whereas Saint Nicholas traditionally rewards children who have been good the past year with coins and candy, Krampus is in charge of dealing punishment to the bad children. This usually takes the form of whipping children with sticks, or in darker lore, Krampus steals children away and eats them. The combination of reward and punishment is thought to encourage children to behave better during the year.

Jay as Krampus

Jay Olsa, who helped organize the event,  led the parade from the Commons dressed as Krampus. Photo by Noah Barnes/Ithaca Week

Olsa said that although he celebrated Saint Nicholas Day as a child, he had never heard of the Krampus lore until last year.

“My family celebrated [Saint Nicholas Day] when we were kids because of our Slovak heritage,” he said. “I didn’t know about Krampus until two years ago and I thought ‘this is really freaky.’”

Ithaca resident Suzanne Jablonski, who participated in the parade and afterparty, said that she also had no prior knowledge of Krampus. However she was glad to use this event as a learning opportunity.

“I had to research and learn what Krampus is all about,” she said. “So it was kind of a cool learning experience as well. I think the more traditions we can celebrate, the better.”

Krampus sticks

A large part of Krampus lore involves bundles of sticks which the demon uses to whip children who have been naughty throughout the year. Photo by Noah Barnes/Ithaca Week

While the parade, which involved around 30 people, was meant to stay true to the Krampus tradition, it was also supposed to be fun for all those involved, including passers by in the Commons. The noisemakers and instruments, including an accordion, that accompanied the parade gave the potentially creepy event a lighthearted touch.

This was a goal of Olsa’s when organizing the event, as he said he wanted the parade to be kid-friendly. 

“We aren’t going to be whipping any children or anything like that,” he said. “We might tassel some hair or something…it’s going to be a really friendly Krampus.”

White krampus bar
The after party at Liquid State featured a “Krampus Catwalk” costume contest, which this white Krampus won by applause. Photo by Noah Barnes/Ithaca Week

However the afterparty at Liquid State was geared toward adults. The party featured beer and food, the staples of the brewery, as well as a “Krampus Catwalk” show, in which all the costumed creatures from the parade showed off their Krampus outfits to the crowd.

There was also a photo booth that allowed partygoers to take pictures with both Santa Claus and Krampus for two dollars. The proceeds from the booth were donated to the Ithaca Children’s Garden, a fact that Olsa found ironically amusing.

“It’s kind of funny that we’re giving money back to the community through the Children’s Garden,” he said. “Of course Krampus is not known to be nice to children! So I think this is the friendlier version of Krampus.”

White krampus street
White Krampus , before winning the costume contest, walked along with parade and entertained Ithaca residents. Photo by Noah Barnes

According to Olsa, Brotman, and Tielens, the positive feedback from the event means that Krampusnacht is sure to become an annual staple around the Brewery.

“We already talked about having a meeting and figuring out what went right, what went wrong, and what to do for next year,” Tielens said, before adding, “Its already on the books!”

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