On the night before St. Nick’s Day, on Thursday, a 7-foot-tall demonic Santa Claus will appear on the streets near downtown Denton, not to wreak havoc but to give toys to children who appear in his path on the Krampus Walk.
Two days later, he’ll be at Wit’s End in Deep Ellum.
The Dallas Morning News called him “Santa’s ultimate helper.” Krampus, though, is more like Santa’s wicked stepbrother. With cloven hooves and a goat head, he looks like Beelzebub and punishes the wicked, too. He finds them mostly on St. Nick’s naughty list.
On Krampus night, people have been known to celebrate by dressing as Santa and Krampus and going door to door to determine who’s naughty or nice. Shaun Treat, the coordinator of the Denton Krampus Walk, called it “the good cop/bad cop routine.”
“It was like yuletide horror show,” he said.
This year’s yuletide horror show nearly didn’t happen in Denton. Treat discovered that the city of Denton had changed its rules over the summer and now requires the roads to be barricaded if a parade or a walk will be in the roadway. He started a GoFundMe page seeking $1,000 of the $1,500 to pay the barricade company’s four-hour minimum.
“As we scour Denton merchants in search of angel donors, you can also pitch in at The Bearded Monk to take back the streets,” Treat wrote. “But time is short, Krampus fans! Please pitch in! Any excess will be used for FREE toys and parade throws.”
Last year, Treat kicked off the Denton Krampus Walk and coordinated with local police to treat Krampus and his fellow walkers as they would a funeral procession and protect them as they passed through traffic lights just south of the square.
A professor at the University of North Texas, Treat first saw the original Denton Krampus, Dallas Clifton, nearly a decade ago while he was drinking a beer outside of Abbey Underground, a Denton bar. Dressed as Krampus, Clifton appeared without notice or fanfare. He walked on stilts to reach Krampus’ height and lingered on the Town Square, but not to take the naughty kids on Santa’s list to hell. Instead, he gave away toys he’d collected over the year.
“That is always the fun part,” says Treat, who now slips on the Krampus mantle for the Denton walk and calls himself “Dr. Krampus.” “Having these kids see Dallas Clifton on these stilts and having their parents going to get a toy from this big monster ... This is a kinder, simpler Krampus.”
About five years ago, Krampus joined the Denton Holiday Lighting Festival but was run off the Square after he frightened some children and their parents protested. Krampus disappeared from the area and reappeared the following year in Deep Ellum. The move put an end to what had become a Denton tradition.
But Treat wouldn’t let it go quietly into the night.
Last year, along with Ben Esley, the owner of The Bearded Monk, Treat decided to host a Krampus Walk. They received permission from Clifton, who showed up for the new Denton Krampus Walk dressed in his original Krampus outfit. He was also joined by a few others from the Krampus Society, which hosts the Deep Ellum walk.
They kept the walk to the backstreets of downtown Denton and also gave out beads.
“It was basically like a Mardi Gras in monster costumes,” Treat says.
This year, he went to submit the walk route and fill out the required forms and discovered that he would need to barricade roads due to city rules that changed over the summer. Treat thought he was going to have to pay for police officers, but he filed for a First Amendment exemption since Krampus is pagan.
“The event being a First Amendment was clear which excludes you from needing to provide insurance and pay the police for the event,” Jennifer Eusse from Denton Parks & Rec wrote in a Nov. 27 email to Treat. “However, barricades would need to be purchased on your behalf in order for the parade to be in the road way. Any events that impact public safety (first amendment or not) require a proper road closure and barricades. We are unable to provide the barricades ourselves. After getting a quote, if you decide not to go that route then the parade would need to move to the sidewalk throughout the duration of the event.”
Treat priced some barricade companies, discovered the four-hour minimum and the high cost ($1,500) and decided to start a GoFundMe page to raise money.
But Eusse told the Observer that Treat may have misunderstood her. He didn’t necessarily need to hire a barricade company. She said Denton ISD just sets out its own orange traffic cones to block off roads for parades, etc. The city, she said, doesn’t require him to use a barricade company but simply provide barricades to shut down roads on the approved engineer-designed parade-route plan submitted to the city.
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Orange traffic cones cost about $5 or $6 online. Heavy-duty reflective ones can run between $20 and $60.
Treat said he plans to use a barricade company if he’s able to raise enough money. He is meeting with Eusse again Wednesday to determine whether Krampus and his followers can appear in the road or have to stick to the sidewalks to hand out toys. He also has to present her with a list of merchants who approve of his hosting the walk in the area. Treat claims that merchants loved and supported the walk, including Atomic Candy and More Fun Comics & Games on the Square, who were more than happy to sign the list.
“The grander vision is to turn the walk into a toy drive and be able to collect toys for at-need families,” Treat says. “We’d like to be able to turn it into an annual event that grows each year. That is how the (Denton) coffin races started: two drunk people making a bet about something that would (later) have community impact.
“We’re just pretending to be monsters and not actual monsters. Denton should own it.”