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San Francisco Krampus pageant celebrates the Christmas devil of pagan lore

The crowd at El Rio bar for the 5th annual Krampus Costume Pageant in the Mission District on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.
The crowd packs into the back patio at El Rio bar for the fifth annual Krampus Pageant. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

A damp winter evening served as the backdrop for a Krampus Pageant, where contestants took to the stage at a bar in San Francisco to display their costumed interpretations of the mythological half-demon, half-goat.

Krampus—known in Central European lore for terrorizing naughty children during the Christmas season—inspires parades, parties and cautionary parables around the globe, but particularly in the Austrian Alps.

RELATED: The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Host Their Krampus Pageant Again

The fifth annual event at the El Rio bar in the Mission District, hosted by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, featured seven contestants who each took on their own interpretation of the famous pre-Christian, Germanic, pagan-era legend.

Former 2020 Krampus Costume Pageant winner known as 'Menstrual Krampus' reads a Krampus bedtime story for the 5th annual pageant on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.
Former 2020 Krampus Costume Pageant winner known as "Menstrual Krampus" reads a Krampus bedtime story for the fifth annual pageant on Saturday. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

A panel of judges, including former pageant winners, kept score in the three phases of the event, which included a talent show and Q&A session.

Spectators also had a chance to vote on the best Krampus with monetary donations to a stocking dedicated to each performer—with all proceeds going to the Larkin Street Youth Services nonprofit, which aims to help homeless children.

A contestant at the Krampus Costume Pageant performs a song at El Rio bar on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.
A contestant at the Krampus Costume Pageant performs a song. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

According to Sister Tilda, also known by her stage name Alisson Gothz, the event is, in essence, a way for a nontraditional city to celebrate the holidays in an unconventional way.

"We just like to celebrate the naughty side of Christmas in San Francisco," she said. "We have a bunch of naughty kids here, and they need to be punished."

Additionally, the winner of the contest would be crowned as Krampus 2023 and receive a gift of special effect makeup and other goodies.

The string trio, 3 Drink Circus, performs to open the 5th annual Krampus Costume Pageant at the El Rio Bar in the Mission District on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.
The trio 3 Drink Circus takes the stage as the opening act during Saturday's pageant. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Judas Kane, who wasn't a participant in the event but still dressed up as Santa's evil counterpart, said he recently moved to San Francisco and came to support the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

"I'm here because I'm all for a bit of irreverence this time of the year," he said. "Krampus is just outside of that traditional, Western belief of Christmas, which is something I can appreciate."

Judas Kane poses as Krampus at the 5th annual Krampus Costume Pageant at El Rio in the Mission District on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.
Judas Kane poses as Krampus at El Rio. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Joel Umanzor can be reached at jumanzor@sfstandard.com