Krampus brings dark winter magic to Northern Liberties

Decked in horns and bells and carrying switches, Philadelphians dressed as the Krampus and other dark spirits gathered at Liberty Lands Park in Northern Liberties Saturday afternoon.

After a few folk songs from the Philadelphia’s Women’s Slavic Ensemble and a sacrificial burning of dried plants from the park, the revelers took to the streets with lanterns and noise makers as a community of kindred spirits.

About 200 attended the eighth annual Parade of Spirits, which was started by Janet Finegar and a friend.

“People love making things, and they love having a reason to make things,” said Finegar, as dancers spun fire hoops on the park’s stage after the parade. “The event has grown every year.”

The parade began as a Krampuslauf, a central European tradition honoring the half-goat, half-demon Krampus, who punishes naughty children. But Finegar says the Parade of Spirits is more than that.

“We’re making it all up,” said Finegar. “Bring your own belief system.”

Her participation is not tied to any religion, but to a belief in the spirits of the world.

Robert L. Schreiwer, a leader and practitioner of heathenism, a modern Germanic pagan religion, has attended the Parade of Spirits for seven years. He dressed as Gedreier Eckhart, a Pennsylvania Dutch folk hero who was said to warn the living ahead of the “wild hunt” of evil spirits coming to take their lives.

Schreiwer said the parade is about fun, costumes and drama, Historically, though, winter celebrations are also about fear of starvation, darkness and the elements. For Schreiwer, winter has a different meaning in modern times. “This attunement to the seasons has you doing introspection and trying to work on self-improvement in this dark time, and some of that is facing fears and dealing with your own shadows,” he said.

“A lot of people think this is dark and spooky at a time when everything is supposed to be festive and jolly, but some of us are more attracted to the darker side of life anyway,” said Finegar. “I think there’s a lot about Santa Claus that can be scary for kids.”

She said she hopes the event — that welcomes all — continues to grow.

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