This episode of It’s Hot Out There brings us to downtown Ypsilanti for the annual Krampus Ball. This free holiday event, open to the public, includes several DJs, a puppet show, and a walk down Michigan Avenue. An amazing party, with many working 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; the puppeteer used both hands to make his creatures dance on the beat while his friends speared sausage chunks into his mouth.
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 on the naked torso of the most terrifying and regal Krampus. Another committed dancer wore a carpet-like goat costume that made the dance floor feel like part barnyard, part hell-mouth.
The winner in the costume contest was a terrible take on the elf pining to be a dentist from the iconic children’s television special Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Christmas Cheer?
At the end of the evening came the physically excruciating work of the Krampus on makeshift stilts who loomed over us on the dancefloor, and in the streets. All of this was a labor of love: sweaty and boisterous yet also created with care. It was all anathema to expensive parcels arranged under glowing trees in grand foyers with the clink of ice cubes that signals the single malt has begun. Instead, PBR cans littered the Dreamland Theater space, and were handed out merrily, more or less regardless of participants’ ability to pay (thank you, Ypsilanti!).
The streets were filled with debauchery any onlooker would want to join. 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 into the streets to watch. Far from the staid flame of the yule log (“your slippers dear”), the fire light seemed to burn with defiant pride. At first they were scarily reminiscent of mobs terrorizing social outcasts who might be magical–or even just different. But as the march moved on under the brightly lit wreaths and tinsel on each lamp post of Ypsilanti’s battered-but-still-standing Michigan Avenue, the torches seemed a new kind of light by which to move, together, through the darkness of winter, and of these uncertain times.