Top 10 CHRISTMAS MONSTERS and SCARY LEGENDS
Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring… save for these monstrosities. Jolly ‘ole St. Nick isn’t the only Christmas legend out there, yet we seem to ignore the creeps and monsters that make up holiday lore. For this installment, we’re giving them the spotlight… and maybe dishing out a few Christmas Eve nightmares while we’re at it.
There was a time when barely anyone west of the Atlantic knew what a Krampus was, but recent outbreaks of Krampus fever have made him a worldwide sensation. Strange how a devilish being that makes a career out of torturing, eating, and dragging children to hell would become a holiday icon… Krampus is the “anti-Clause,” dishing out punishments to ill-willed and naughty children while jolly ‘ole St. Nick travels with Christmas cheer for all good little Tom, Frank, and Sallys. To accompany his malicious nature, Krampus often appears in the form of the Devil, complete with horns, tail, and snaking tongue. With a washtub or sack on his back and a bundle of birch sticks in hand for whipping, the Christmas Devil is no jovial holiday legend.
Jolakotturinn, the Yule Cat
If there’s any reason to fear or resent a cat, the Yule Cat is probably a pretty good place to start. Pet to the troll, Gryla, it’s no surprise to learn that the Yule Cat is a savage creature that you simply don’t want to be on the wrong side of. How does one avoid becoming this kittens meal? After Christmas, families are to put out the new clothing they received lest they fall victim to the Yule Cat’s appetite. The lore is believed to encourage hard work before the Christmas season so that loved ones can receive new gifts. Though Gryla has history dating back to ancient Pagan mythos, the first mentioning of the Yule Cat was in the 19th century, with its most popular reference being the early 20th century poem by Johannes ur Kotlum.
While Icelandic tradition gets the joyous company of 13 gnomes known as The Yule Lads, Greek, Bosnian, Serbian, Turkish, Macedonian, and Bulgarian lore get to deal with the terrors of the Kallikantzaros. It is said that these grotesque goblins spend the year sawing away at the World Tree, hoping to one day completely destroy Earth. Only during the Twelve Days of Christmas do they surface to wreak terror. Depicted in a range of ways, such as physically animalistic with black tails, the goblins are a relentless force, destroying property, spoiling food, and making the twelve days from December 25th through January 5th a living hell.
The Yule Lads
We’re all familiar with Sleepy, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sneezy, Bashful, and Doc, but what about Stubby, Spoon-Licker, Skyr-Gobbler, Sausage-Swiper, Candle-Stealer, Meat-Hook, Bowl-Licker, Gully Gawk, Sheep-Cote Cod, Doorway-Sniffer, Window-Peeper, Door-Slammer, or Pot-Licker? The 13 children of Gryl the Icelandic troll may not cause anyone physical harm, but their antics around Christmas are quite mischievous. As their names would imply, each one is known for his own raucous behavior, from stealing sausages to slamming doors to harassing sheep. The 13 gnomes are generally stout creatures with long white beards, none-to-different from Disney’s seven, far more peaceful dwarves.
Hidden within the mountains of Iceland, Gryla lies in wait with her 13 Yule Lads and The Yule Cat. It sounds like a merry family simply waiting for the right time to dish out good cheer across the lands, but this ancient Pagan mythological being is far from merry. After her introduction into Christmas lore post-17th century, Gryla has been said to slink down from her mountain in search of wayward children to help satiate her ongoing hunger. The troll snatches ill-mannered children up to be brought back to her dwelling for a batch of her favorite stew. A grim ending for the life of a child, but we’re betting they were told more than once to straighten up.
Sometimes, having to dish out all of the punishment yourself can be quite the chore, which is why in some retellings of Frau Perchta, she is accompanied by horned beasts known as Straggele. When the Straggle are present, they are believed to be the ones that dish out Perchta’s punishment on bad children. The Straggele attack all bad children, robbing them of their personal affects and sometimes even ripping them apart without pause. Unlike many Christmas creatures and traditions, the Straggele serve no additional purpose but to assist Perchta in punishing badly behaved children, making them one of the more gruesome holiday creatures.
Frau Perchta’s mythology stems from pre-Christian Pagan tradition, meaning she wasn’t always associated with Christmas lore; but as her existence throughout time continued, the lore surrounding her changed and expanded. One of Frau Perchta’s more insidious tellings pegs her as a wanderer that would slit open the belly of someone that went against cultural norms. The expanded mythos behind Frau Perchta in Bavaria and Austria has her wandering during the Twelve Days of Christmas. On these nights, she would visit good children and give them a small silver coin. Children that had misbehaved and did not work hard all year would have their stomachs cut open, their innards removed and replaced with straw and pebbles. The perfect bedtime story for a rambunctious child.
Picture this: You’re sitting peacefully in your home watching a warm fire burn away kindle as another holiday night slips by. You sip your tea and enjoy the peaceful quiet when, suddenly, you hear a loud knock on the door. A masked man raps on your windowpane, Belsnickel and his satchel of gifts. As a child in southwestern Germany, Belsnickel may have been a gift giver like Santa Clause, but his grim style, masked face, and ominous means of announcing his arrival could easily be terrifying. While Belsnickel delivered gifts to good children, he either left sticks for those that were bad or, depending on which version you hear, actually kidnapped naughty children and dragged them into the forest for swift punishment.
La Pere Fouettard
Everybody has an evil doppelgänger… or at least for this comparison that is true. That would mean even the lovable and jolly St. Nicholas would have a cruel counterpart wandering the lands. In French-speaking countries, those not visited by good ‘ole Nick may get a little surprise from La Pere Fouettard, or Father Whipper. Not a monster in design, Father Whipper is simply a shaggy man with a long beard and hooded robe; but his acts are enough to cause children to cower. Perf Fouettard is actually connected to the lore of St. Nicholas saving three children from being murdered by a butcher and served as meat. In the lore, Pere Fouettard was the butcher. Now, he does St. Nicholas’ bidding, threatening children into being good.
This Swedish character teeters on the line of being incredibly helpful and frightfully terrifying. Not a gift giver in any way, the Tomte is a sprite that appears in the form of an older man the size of a young child. His main goal is the protection of the farmstead, success of the crops, and care of the animals. Sounds like quite the gentleman, but the Tomte is not without his demands. On Christmas Eve, should the Tomte not receive a bowl of julegrot, or Christmas porridge, with butter, things can get a bit messy. When denied what he is due, Tomte will relieve his anger in a number of ways, such as slaughtering the animals he once cared for. Modern retellings of the Tomte or jultomte show him as a good-humored figure that delivers gifts to good children, but we best appreciate the fiery sprite of older lore.