This episode of It’s Hot Out There brings us to downtown Ypsilanti for the annual Krampus Ball. This was a free event open to the public that included several DJs, a puppet show, and a walk down Michigan Avenue. All around an amazing party, with many working furiously to make it happen: from steadfast Mark Maynard at the tap, to the DJ’s flinging confetti on the dancers while pointing the strobe at the outlandish costumes; from the puppeteer, using both hands to ensure his characters danced on the beat, to his friends, spearing sausage chunks on toothpicks to feed him and keep the wooden creatures dancing on their strings.
A contest midway through the evening recognized the best costume. Artist Mary (of Many Monstrosities) designed elaborate masks, chains, hoofed boots and makeup with chiaroscuro effects drawn on the naked torso of the most terrifying and regal Krampus. Another was a committed dancer in an unbearably hot and sweaty carpet-like goat costume. The winner in the costume contest was a terrible take on the elf pining to be dentist in the television special about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Then, towards the end of the evening came the physically excruciating work of the Krampus on taped together crutches and stilts who loomed over us all on the dancefloor, then lumbered through downtown.
All of this was a labor of love: obvious, messy, collective, boisterous, creative, and self consciously counter-commercial-christmas-culture. It was a night of play but also work, together, to resurrect the spirits of christmas that cannot inhabit the bourgeois mantle or hearth; that are anathema to expensive parcels arranged under glowing trees in grand foyers with the clink of ice cubes that signals the single malt has begun. PBR cans littered the Dreamland Theater space, and were handed out merrily more or less regardless of participants’ ability to pay (thank you, Ypsilanti!). Switches were wielded with delight, as were dry ice, balloons, strobes, curtains (and yes, you can pay attention to the man behind the curtain).
The streets were filled with so much debauchery, that every onlooker desired to have their own place among it. An electric base player with portable amplifier offered a sombre beat for the march, woke sleeping dogs and brought residents to their windows. Lit torches signaled the parade’s arrival and brought bar-goers out from behind the windows and into the streets to watch.
The torches, far from the staid flame of the yule log (“your slippers dear”) were held aloft in defiant pride. At first they seemed scarily reminiscent of those coming to inflict terror and torture on social outcasts who might be magical–or even just different. But as the march moved on they took their place alongside the brightly colored lit wreaths and tinsel on each lamp post of Ypsilanti’s battered but still standing Michigan Avenue. By the end of the night they seemed a new kind of light by which to move, together, through the darkness of winter, and of these uncertain times.