Creepy Krampus comes to Ypsilanti for the holidays

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

Spankings, scary costumes, glam rock and midnight processions by torchlight — it's all in the holiday spirit for Ypsilanti's Krampus Ball.

Mark Maynard is one of the organizers and founders of the costume dance party, which will celebrate its fifth year Saturday in a new location, the Dreamland Theater. Maynard originally conceived the event in 2011.

"I wanted to do something Christmas-related, and it seemed like everything Christmas was getting boring," he says. "All the holiday parties are the same."

He found inspiration for a very different kind of event in the Krampus, a character from Alpine folklore still regularly represented by costumed performers in many European Christmas celebrations. The Krampus is a demonic doppelganger to Santa Claus, known for beating, eating, drowning or otherwise punishing naughty children.

"I thought, 'That seems like something I could get behind,' " Maynard says. "I don't know why that hasn't taken off here, but our kids are kind of spoiled and it seems like that'd be fun."

Maynard and event co-founder Chris Sandon spun the Krampus concept into a twisted Christmas dance party. The event climaxes each year with a torch-lit march down Michigan Avenue, to be accompanied this year by Balkan marching band Rhyta Musik. Attendees are encouraged to come in a costume of their choosing, and a costumed Krampus has presided over the goings-on each year with a paddle in hand for those willing to submit to a spanking. Maynard says Ypsilanti's Krampus is "less confrontational" than its European brethren, however.

"If you look in the Alps communities where they have these, they're really terrifying," he says. "They beat people and they kind of run around and look intimidating. Ours was always more of a David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust-period kind of Krampus."

In fact, Bowie's work regularly makes its way into the mix of music at the event, alongside danceable classics from Prince and darker tunes from the likes of Joy Division. But the identity of the Krampus creature itself shifts from year to year. The first Krampus Ball featured a traditional male Krampus, the second introduced his female counterpart and last year's event featured a monster to outdo them both.

"We had a mega-Krampus who kind of killed the other two Krampuses," Sandon says. "It's this six-foot monster and last year it was pregnant and gave birth throughout the evening. There's always this continuing, weird saga with our Krampuses."

After three years at the Arbor Brewing Company Microbrewery, the ball will mark its first year at the Dreamland, a puppet theater and music venue in downtown Ypsilanti. Maynard says the move was intended to situate the event somewhere "more cozy, more like a house party." The event will feature a bar (wine and beer), with proceeds benefiting the Dreamland. But the big question on any Krampus Ball regular's mind is what new incarnation will the event's malevolent namesake assume this year?

"You never really know what's going to happen," Sandon says. "But those babies that were birthed last year from the mega-Krampus might make an appearance."

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

Krampus Ball 2014

8 p.m. Saturday

Dreamland Theater

26 N. Washington St., Ypsilanti

No cover; cash bar benefits Dreamland Theater