Bikers don demon horns for gift-giving tradition
by Gabby Landsverk, Sun Sailor Newspapers
They are certainly no Santa Claus: that much is clear as more than a dozen cyclists, decked out in helmets, horns and heavy winter wear, speed Dec. 10 through downtown Hopkins. The riders make for a formidable vision as they tromp into Kiddywampus to escape the cold, but despite their fiendish appearance, politely and enthusiastically greet a party of princesses already gathered in the toy shop and set to work packing up gifts.
The group, some of them bearded, tattooed or dreadlocked, but all of them friendly, seems an unlikely holiday presence.
The curious costumes, however, are part of a annual holiday tradition in the Twin Cities that’s been seven years in the making, according to founder Chris LeBlanc.
“It was really sort of born out of necessity,” he said. Living without a car in the metro, LeBlanc spent many hours navigating various routes on his bike in rain, snow or sun. One December, he decided to use his cycling skills to give back by creating a charity bike ride, collecting toys to deliver on bicycle to local shelters.
The initial charity ride was not demon-themed at all, LeBlanc said. It started as a bit of a joke among the riders. A few of the participants began referring to the event as “Krampusing” (as in “A-Krampusing we go!”).
Krampus, often described as half-demon, half-goat, is an ominous figure of Germanic folklore that serves at the counterpart to Saint Nicholas. While Santa Claus rewards well-behaved children, Krampus is said to punish those children who misbehave. Many cultures, including Austria, Northern Italy and the Czech Republic, however, have developed Krampus customs such as drinking schnapps, exchanging cards or parading in costume that have made the devilish character a beloved part of holiday traditions.
“Krampus is sort of the underdog of Christmas,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc said some cyclists began dressing up for the occasion, with theatrical horns affixed to their helmets.
The history of the mythical creature has a special place in the Twin Cities, with all of its Germanic heritage.
In fact, the local Minnesota Krampus organization has put an impressive amount of time and money into creating full-body, lifelike Krampus costumes to wear at public performances and events. Their mission is to preserve the traditional folklore and customs associated with the Krampus legend. LeBlanc said he has reached out to the group for a partnership and, while they’ve been receptive to the idea, they haven’t yet been able to make it work.
“Unfortunately, there’s no way they could ride a bike in those costumes,” LeBlanc said. “We’d love to work with them, though, if we could find a way to do it.”
The “Krampus World Order,” as they affectionately call themselves, has had no shortage of volunteers.
“It’s almost zero degrees out and we have a room full of people willing to ride,” LeBlanc said.
This year, 20 people suited up and braved the single-digit temperatures to ride from downtown Minneapolis to Hopkins, to the Wild Rumpus in south Minneapolis, hauling as many books and toys as they can carry.
LeBlanc said the total ride was 25 miles, with stops at each location to thaw and recover.
Kiddywampus owner Amy Saldanha said the event has come to be a much-loved tradition, not just for the riders, but for the local businesses in downtown Hopkins that welcome the riders.
“They’re amazing. They come every year, even in blizzarding conditions or freezing cold,” Saldanha said. “I think it’s so cool and it does put people in the holiday spirit. It encourages other people to look around and think about what they can do to help in their communities.”
During this year’s ride, a princess party Saldanha hosted was just wrapping up when the Krampus riders arrived; the young participants, however, cheered when Saldanha introduced the cadres of demons and their merry mission.
“Our customers really love it. It’s totally a tradition,” she said. “Anybody in the store, we let them know what’s going on.”
Saldanha added that Kiddywampus has been a participant for the past five years, ever since she was contacted by LeBlanc about getting involved.
With her expertise, Saldanha helps the Krampus riders pick out the perfect toys, ones will be easy to carry via bicycle and for kids in shelters or other difficult circumstances to enjoy.
“When it comes to kids in need, we look for educational toys and things that don’t need batteries and are easy to transport,” she said. “Basically everything you want in a toy.”
Saldanha said she spends about three or four hours prior to the toy pickup making a list (and checking it twice) of items for all age groups for optimal donation.
She also gives the riders a hefty discount.
“I want to give them as much as possible for their money,” Saldanha said.
In total, the ride raised $1,780 worth of gifts for People Serving People, a Minneapolis shelter and resource center for families in need.
“It’s freezing out here, but it’s really awesome to be able to do something good and give back,” said one Krampus rider, Lucas Melchior, who has participated for several years.
This year, however, the Krampus Ride has extended far beyond the reach of LeBlanc and his bicycle. Previous participants in the Twin Cities event have started their own rides in Boston, California and the U.K.
“It’s really just evolved,” LeBlanc said. “It’s been really collaborative. When you have something fun like this that’s also doing good, people really latch onto it.”
He added that he’s happy to see others joining the Krampus cause and said anyone can do it, so long as they follow a few simple rules to stay true to the ride’s original intention.
“This is all a very DIY operation and that’s how we want it to stay. Every cent we raise goes to buying toys and books for kids,” LeBlanc said. “It’s just people coming together to do something nice.”
Contact Gabby Landsverk at [email protected]