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Christmas skirmish breaks out in Leavenworth over rebranding and Krampus Drink Crawl

UPDATED: Sun., Dec. 19, 2021

By Erik Lacitis Seattle Times

The way it’s been portrayed by two religion-advocacy groups, the war on Christmas has descended on the idyllic town of Leavenworth, Washington, in the Cascade foothills.

You know Leavenworth, the Bavarian-themed destination that puts up over 500,000 Christmas lights during the holidays, appropriately calling itself “Christmastown.” It’s so popular that lodging for Saturday night is mostly sold out, with one room at $371.

Charge No. 1: The Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce took the word “Christmas” out of the name for its famous holiday festival. The “Christmas Lighting Festival” was rebranded as “Village of Lights.”

Charge No. 2: On Dec. 4, on opening weekend of monthlong Christmas festivities, the town welcomed members of Krampus Seattle. They danced and paraded in their hairy, horned costumes inspired by the mythical Bavarian creature that’s half-demon, half-goat and that punishes those who misbehave at Christmas. The local chamber of commerce even promoted a “Krampus Drink Crawl.”

According to the Lynnwood-based Family Policy Institute of Washington, headed by Mark Miloscia, conservative former state senator from Federal Way: “At an event that is supposed (to) honor the birth of Jesus Christ, town officials have chosen to include demonic influences … These attacks on Christianity are becoming the norm throughout the country.”

And, according to a headline at CatholicVote, of Carmel, Indiana, with 213,000 Facebook followers, “Washington town shocked by erasure of Christmas customs.”

P.R. trouble had come to this winter wonderland.

In response, the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday issued a lengthy statement saying the accusations “are seriously lacking in facts” and were “derived from a rant on Facebook.”

Let’s dissect the sequence of events.

The rant that the chamber referred to was written by Ben Herreid, 39, co-owner of two restaurants in the area, including Larch, a “seasonal Northwest pasta” place in downtown Leavenworth. He’s a member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s charitable organization.

For years, the Knights had a booth selling sausages at the Leavenworth Christmas festival. But this year, the chamber did not get access to Front Street’s right of way – this being the main drag through town – as it is now closed to traffic.

All of that boiled down to the Knights not getting a booth because it needed both electric power and water, and such a combination was not available, says the chamber. It’s complicated setting up everything from the winter market to the carolers to the live music.

That didn’t sit well with Herreid. On Dec. 5, he blasted off an email to Troy Campbell, head of the chamber, and posted it on Facebook.

“I’m pretty fired up right now,” Herreid wrote. “… the Knights represent a community and character that unfortunately are becoming all too rare … most of whom are elderly and are a dying breed.”

By then, Herreid had made a spot available on his restaurant’s patio for the sausage booth. Kim Washburn, state deputy for the Knights, who lives on Leavenworth’s outskirts, said the booth didn’t get much business this year because it was off the tourist path.

Herreid didn’t stop there. Something else was upsetting him:

“What is the unbelievable to me is that Christmas Town USA has decided to replace a family friendly ‘Christmas Lighting’ to celebrate the ‘Village of Lights.’ And this week the Chamber had the audacity/naivety/stupidity to kick off this non-holiday by inviting Krampus Seattle, a group of demonic horned half-goat cosplayers to give speeches at our pavilion and pub crawl throughout the downtown terrifying our children.”

The postings caught the attention of the two advocacy groups. Neither returned messages and emails for comment.

But the next battle in the war on Christmas was here.

Said Herreid, “It seems I hit a nerve with a lot of people.”

Krampus Seattle’s Facebook page representative is baffled.

“There is no war on Christmas,” he said. He provided his name but asked it not be printed.

“I’ve been hacked on my personal account. There seems to be some negativity out there,” he said.

He said a group of about 20 members of Krampus Seattle drove to Leavenworth to take part in the opening of the holiday festivities.

Dressing up as the creature was long banned by the Roman Catholic Church as a pagan tradition.

In mythology, during Christmas, according to Smithsonian Magazine, “While St. Nick is on hand to put candy in the shoes of good kids and birch twigs in the shoes of the bad, Krampus’ particular specialty is punishing naughty children. Legend has it that throughout the Christmas season, misbehaved kids are beaten with birch branches or can disappear, stuffed into Krampus’ sack and hauled off to his lair to be tortured or eaten.”

But in recent decades there was a resurgence and the story spread beyond Europe. Admittedly, if you’re of a certain mindset, it looks cool to parade around dressed up like that.

In Leavenworth, the Facebook page for Krampus Seattle shows tourists posing for photos, with comments such as, “All these kids smiling … Santa pics always have kids crying!”

Actually, Krampus has already been around for years in Leavenworth in the form of Krampus Kave, a comic book and game store.

“It was a pretty great event. It was a grand slam,” says store manager J. J. Hernandez, about that Saturday. “It was the busiest day we ever had. From what I could tell, everyone was loving it.”

Regarding the name change for the festivities, the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce said the “Christmas Lighting Festival” title had been used for years on the first three weekends in December. Then, each Saturday and Sunday there was a “flip the switch” to turn on the light displays.

The chamber said 20,000-plus people would visit, all “looking for parking spots that did not exist” and causing “traffic backups for miles.” Now the lights stay on every day to spread out the crowds, and the organization says “a rebranding was necessary.” So, the new name: “Village of Lights.”

The chamber said the Krampus Seattle group had visited on its own in previous years.

This year, it said, “we made the decision to introduce them and explain to our visitors why they were in town and the German origin of Krampus … We also organized a drink crawl where some businesses offered themed drinks for adults to enjoy.”

The chamber statement said that it was “sorry if the Krampus have offended anyone.”

Herreid isn’t satisfied.

On Dec. 9 he posted on Facebook, “Let’s make sure that Krampus is not brought back another season.”

In addition, Kim Washburn, of the Knights of Columbus, said he worries when “demon followers” meet up with Christian types in Leavenworth.

“Then we’ll have a riot,” he said.

Really?

“I don’t know. It just worries me,” said Washburn.

The chamber responded about Krampus Seattle: “We have been asked to ‘not let them in town,’ and of course as we live in a free country, we enjoy the freedom to travel where we wish, Leavenworth is open to anyone at any time, as we welcome all.”

Well, there is that point.

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