The Maskers and the Money

Krampus parades, both from Austrian ski resort towns. To what extent they are underwritten by local tourism authorities I do not know. (Thanks to folk musician and writer Andy Letcher.)

When I was 16-17 years old, I lived part of each year in Mandeville, Jamaica, up in the hills, during breaks from school in the US.

One Christmas break I was getting a haircut at a second-floor establishment in the center of town when one of the staff glanced out a window and shouted, “John Canoe! John Canoe!”

Immediately everyone rushed to the windows and looked down on the street, where no more than half-a-dozen maskers were dancing down the street. Their appearance must not have been announced in advance, for no one seemed to be waiting to see them.

I wondered if I was seeing a dying tradition. Wikipedia says,

The parade and festivities probably arrived with African slaves. Although Jamaica is credited with the longest running tradition of Jonkanoo, today these mysterious bands with their gigantic costumes appear more as entertainment at cultural events than at random along the streets. Not as popular in the cities as it was 30 years ago, Jonkanoo is still a tradition in rural Jamaica.

This was certainly “at random along the streets.” There did not seem to be any organized civic or touristic organization behind it all. In a way, that was more cool.

When things get organized and promoted for touristic purposes, the rough edges are smoothed off. Watching the history of the May Day hobby horse processions in Padstow, Cornwall, you can see how the local antagonisms and occasional violence mixed in with the parade are pushed down as it becomes more of a tourist event.

Since these Krampus parades occur in ski resort towns, I wonder how much of them is controlled by the maskers themselves and  how much by the ski-tourism industry. Re-created or not, at least they speak to archaic understanding of the solstice season not just as fun and feasting but as cold, dark, hunger, and “cabin fever.”  Among other things.

7 thoughts on “The Maskers and the Money

  1. Ivy

    Dionysos is the God of both the civic theater and the revels in the wildwood. The latter may seen more authentic, certainly more dangerous, but both are necessary.

  2. Medeine Ragana

    First of all, there’s an error with the first video. It plays for about 2 seconds then shuts down. Not sure if this is due to the video itself, the link or what.

    Secondly, eastern Slavs also did this type of reveling during Koliadya (slavic) or Kaledos (Lithuanian). The “hitting” with the switches was interesting. In the Ukraine, that is done just before the Spring Equinox with pussy willows as a form of transference of life energy. (from: Festive Ukrainian Cooking by Marta Pisetska Farley, on page 38).

    Of course, once Christianity took over, the different type of reveling got moved around from one holiday to another. The tradition of inviting the ancestors to dinner which would normally have occurred during October (Veles in Lithuanian or Volos in Slavic) was transferred to the night before Christmas.

    Nevertheless, the traditions continue, even if they have a glossing of Christian mythology to make it more acceptable to the Orthodox or Catholic Church.

    Happy New Year!

    1. The videos work for me, so it’s a mystery to me why you are not seeing all of both of them. A browser or buffering issue?

      Your other examples remind that once again, “ritual precedes myth.”

      In other words, people will keep doing the same things but coming up with different explanations for them in different eras and under the influence of different ideologies.

  3. Medeine Ragana

    Oh, and I forgot to say that this type of “reveling” is probably pan-IndoEuropean, and possibly a very, very old custom since it seems to be found all across Northern Europe.

  4. Rombald

    Medeine: I’m intrigued about the pussy willow bit. In England, when I was a child, we used to go into the woods to collect pussy willow to use instead of palm on Palm Sunday. Some people actually called pussy willow “palm”. I’m not sure whether any of this still applies. I wonder whether there’s a link, or it’s just the decoration that was available?

    1. Medeine Ragana

      Probably a link, although probably a subconscious one. I remember when I was a kid back in the 1950s, my Mother would go to great lengths to get pussy willow wands from the store, put them in water in December so that by the Solstice, they would bloom in the house. Remnant of the ritual, I suppose, but without the “hitting” part. 🙂 One of the things on my list of things to do this year in the garden, is to get pussy willow bushes and forsythia.

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