Last Updated on December 8, 2021 by Jeremy
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Krampusnacht is part of holiday folklore in many central and eastern European countries where the horned creature known as Krampus punishes bad children on the night of December 5th (the night before the Feast of St. Nicholas). In some stories, he slaps bad children with birch branches, and in other, more extreme iterations, he may abduct them via a sack on his back to eat them (or engage in other torturous activities).
In many cases, Krampus appears along with Saint Nicholas (who is dressed in bishop vestments) who rewards children who behaved well throughout the year.
In modern times, Krampusnacht has become a celebratory festival where Krampus appears in town squares and holiday markets for entertainment purposes, and Pittsburgh gets into the fun with its own Krampusnacht festivities, aptly named Krampus Fest, in Market Square!
Note: The following article is based on my visit to Krampusnacht in 2021 which may have had some variations in setup due to COVID protocols. We cannot guarantee this will be the same format in future years. Keep in mind that while Krampusnacht is officially on December 5th, the city sometimes changes the date if other events are going on at the same time (read: Steelers games).
Krampus Fest Brings Central European Tradition to Pittsburgh
We have to start this article upfront in saying that while Krampusnacht isn't the biggest of holiday events in Market Square, it brings two key features worth heading downtown a cold, dark night for- a Krampus parade as well as a concert by the metal-themed Krampus band, aptly named Sleigher.
The parade was something that I did not expect to happen and amounted to anyone and everyone who dressed up as Krampus taking a short march around half of Market Square. In 2021, a participant dressed up Saint Nicholas was leading the pack and yelling out holiday messages as well while one Krampus beat a drum and others taunted onlookers.
The parade started from behind the stage and worked its way around half of Market Square in a counter-clockwise direction. First, they walked through the Christmas shops in the northeast corner of Market Square (Chipotle side), then went out onto the street looping around the western side (Market Exchange and City Works), and returned to the stage on the southern side (Primanti Brothers).
During this parade, almost everyone who was in the square waiting for the concert ran out to the fringes to catch a view, and it was pretty easy to simply watch the direction they were going and run ahead to get a great spot. At the end of the brief parade, everyone made their way back to the stage where the band was introduced and many of the Krampus participants hung out throughout the Christmas market for photos with guests.
- Prior to COVID, a Krampus was also said to be available for photos on the stage. In 2021, a Krampus stood near the lighted Christmas tree by the stage for distanced photos.
Sleigher was a real treat- so much so that we'd go back down to Market Square simply to watch them perform. This band played metal-inspired holiday classics all while being decked out in Krampus gear. I have to admit I only lasted a few songs as it was a bit too cold out for my liking (even with the crowds), but this band rocked the limited sampling I was able to take in.
For those who wish to see the band (with a good view, that is), it is worth noting that Market Square will be packed for the show. Before the parade, I was at the front of the stage but, like almost everyone else, left in order to catch a view. By the time I finished taking photos, the stage area was packed once again and I couldn't make it anywhere close to the front like I was prior to the parade. Whoops.
As such, you probably will want to be a bit strategic if this format repeats itself in future years. For example, if the Krampus parade happens, you may want to run out to see it as quickly as possible and then return back to the stage before everyone else. Or, if the band returns in future years and that is your priority, simply wait things out at the stage and then make an exit at some point during the set to see the Krampus characters lining the square.
How you approach Krampusnacht is up to you, but if this format repeats itself in the future you will just need to expect some possible tradeoffs on what you can see because this event is popular!
Overall, despite being a somewhat small event in Market Square, Krampus Fest was a great way to celebrate this central and eastern European tradition in Pittsburgh. Between the incredible Krampus costumes and the wonderful performance from Sleigher, I expect to be a regular at this one every year moving forward. Truly a different kind of Christmas event!
Krampus Fest is an annual event that takes place in Market Square on or around December 5th (the historical celebration of Krampusnacht in Europe). The city has been known to change the dates when other events are going on, like Steelers games, so be on the lookout for announcements each year. At this time there does not appear to be an official website for Krampus Fest, but Sleigher posts updates on if they are playing every year, and news stories get published regularly in the days leading up to December 5th too- so be on the lookout for those!