The Holiday Season is a mixed red velvet bag for a lot of folks. There’s the stress, dealing with the maddening crowds. There’s the rampant consumerism, despite the supposedly spiritual origins of the various holidays orbiting the Winter Solstice. There’s the stress of traveling, for those who go home for the Holidays, only to deal with familial expectations and close-minded relatives.
Christmas is, in fact, one of the coldest, darkest, loneliest times of the year.
The origins of Christmas tell a much more nuanced story about The Wheel Of The Year. Christmas is actually a hodge-podge of various occult traditions – from the Pagan Yule to the Roman Saturnalia. Christmas is even thought to be connected to psychedelic reindeer shaman and possibly even infant sacrifice to bring back the sun.
In fact, the Winter Solstice was a time of rampant hedonism of all kind, from public drunkenness to wanton sexuality. It’s any wonder that our modern version is just as complicated, sparkling and dark in equal measure – occasionally warm but oh-so-very-cold.
2017 has been one of the most mixed, complicated, and contradictory years in recent memory, especially during the Holiday season. On one hand, the economy in the United States have been thriving. The #MeToo movement was named Time Magazine’s Person Of The Year. A racist sexual predator was denied a seat of power in Alabama’s Senate.
All the while, Holy Lands like Utah’s Big Ears National Monument are being sold out to the lowest bidder. Republicans also approved a tax plan to benefit the rich at the expense of everybody else. Poverty, homelessness, and losing their healthcare is the big lump of coal for 13 million Americans living under Trump’s illegitimate regime.
Never has it seemed so important to look for the light in the darkness. To remember what we have to be thankful for, while simultaneously hoping those on the ‘Naughty List’ will get their comeuppance.
Krampus-related burlesque events are the perfect encapsulation of the madness, sex, damnation, and good cheer, all wrapped up in a tidy black bow.
Krampus has been enjoying a moment these past few years. Nascent heathens respond to the Christmas Devil’s long, suggestive tongue and BDSM paddle. He’s the anti-Santa that drags bad kids to hell.
I had the distinct pleasure of seeing not one but two Krampus burlesque events this year here in Portland, Or. The delightful mixture of wickedness, debauchery, and occultism was a much-needed balm against the mall crowds and incessant landslide of bad news.
Lady Stockholm’s Winter Holiday Show transformed Portland’s Star Theater into a heavy metal mortuary of sinful festivity with a raging six piece metal orchestra raging through original arrangements of holiday favorites.
Lady Stockholm served as a charming Mistress Of Ceremonies, doing triple duty as lead vocalist, keyboardist, and part-time burlesque dancer. Lady Stockholm (real name Mandy Stockholm) is more like a septuple threat, however, as she is also the writer and director for the stage play, as well as being responsible for the metal AF musical arrangements. You have NOT celebrated Saturnalia until you’ve heard a scorching speed metal version of “Carol Of The Bells.”
The musical numbers were interspersed with bits, ranging from darkly humorous to passionately sensual. Krampus’ arrival at the top of the Second Act was a particular highlight. Lady Stockholm has a thing for the Christmas Devil. When he finally arrives, she drags him behind a shadow scrim, doing all manner of suggestive acts in shadowplay. Lady Stockholm emerges with a Baby Krampus in a pram, who proceeds to cavort throughout the second act.
Another highlight is when Lady Stockholm’s dead father returns from a drowning death at sea. He proceeds to chastise Lady Stockholm “for running around in her underwear,” as well as introducing the backing band, who were cast as other dead family members.
If Charles Addams were to illustrate It’s A Wonderful Life, it might have a similar demented cheer to Lady Stockholm’s Winter Holiday Show. Now in its second year, it’s a crime that this lavish production only had one showing. This needs to be an annual Holiday tradition with several sold-out performances a week.
I had the good fortune to take part in the second Krampus burlesque show I attended. I was invited to read tarot in the cozy queer-friendly confines of Portland’s Crush Bar as part of Dark Matter’s Twisted Christmas: Here Comes Satan Claws. The organizers remembered that I was a wordsmith as well as a cartomancer and I was invited to read a Christmas poem in between burlesque acts. I assumed the guise of a militant dark elf and read a poem about Krampus dragging corrupt politicians to hell.
Velvet Booth’s show-stopping Krampus burlesque performance couldn’t have been more perfect. There must have been something in the air as the raven-haired statuesque beauty fed a baby Trump doll to the flames, licking the air like Jimi Hendrix at Monterey. It was a wonderful catharsis that we all needed.
Before, during, and after, the backstage overflowed with performers in seasonal costumes. Belly-dancer Zaspira was a horned nymph goddess, while Serpentina chilled with her boa constrictor. Dark Matter co-founders Felspar and Few were visions of dark holiday cheer, as the former was decked out as a sacrificial deer while the latter rocked a custom sequined bustier and headpiece by Dark Daze.
Sensual seasonal artwork from Pink Gorgon (who also made the event poster) helped steam up the chilled air. Mood music from Johnny Demonic sealed the pact, bringing chilled Twin Peaks vibes and mutant synthpop to rock the dancefloor until they kicked us all out.
It’s hard to put words to how rewarding and refreshing these darkly occultish Xmas events were during troubling times. Rubbing shoulders with a bunch of sinners felt so, so good during a time of year when so many have to face judgement and persecution from traditionalists. This year, the heathenry was well-represented alongside the Christian holiday. Getting to celebrate the Pagan roots of Yule and Saturnalia helped to have warm feelings towards the conventional holiday.
So Happy Holidays to all, no matter where you are or what traditions you follow. Let’s remember the light and focus on the returning sun in these dark, cold times. That’s what holidays are really about, no matter what calendar you follow.
Operating out of Portland, Or., J makes electronic music and DJs as dessicant, hosting a weekly radio show on Freeform Portland, Morningstar: The Light In The Darkness. He also plays in the band Meta Pinnacle with his partner, the visual artist/illustrator Lily H. Valentine, with whom he co-founded Bitstar Productions, a visual arts collective/production company.