The festive season isn’t all about, jesus, old Saint nick and spending time with family. The latter being the most annoying for most people, unless your getting free food. For over 100 years, before Christmas became commercialised, a good scary story was the form of entertainment. Which in turn created terryfying traditional Christmas legends.
8 terryfying traditional Christmas legends
Hailing from Germany. Belsnickel is a creepy looking figure. Covered in patch-worked rags to keep his identity secret, he also wears furs and threatens children by carrying a switch. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Belsnickel stops by the doors of households with children and threatens the misbehaving kids that if they don’t straighten up, they’ll not only not get presents, but a good beating from Belsnickel himself.
Krampus (whose name comes from the Germanic root for “claw”). Dates back long before the time of Christ. But in modern day is more or less the ultimate Christmas demon. The companion and antithesis of Santa Claus (“Old Nick” to “Saint Nick,” as Krampus.com puts it).
Update terryfying traditional Christmas legends
While American kids never feared a lack of shiny new presents no matter their behavioral tendencies. Children of the Old World, especially Germany, knew something worse than a lump of coal was coming their way if they misbehaved. Rather, if you weren’t well behaved, you were beaten and tortured before being kidnapped and taken to the Krampus’ lair. Where we can only assume one was beaten and tortured some more.
In modern days, there appears to be two sides on how to handle the Krampus story. Since the 1950s, Austrians have tried to put the creature on the back burner, claiming terrorizing small children with such tales isn’t healthy. While in the Germanic city of Schlanders (Silandro, Italy), young men are even encouraged to dress up as the Krampus and terrorize small children. Before having some Schnapps with the heads of the house. Elsewhere still, the Krampus is given his own holiday prior to the Feast of St. Nicholas known as Krampusnacht, and he even appears on his own holiday greeting card, known as Krampuskarten.
Icelandic yule lads
The sons of Gryla and her troll husband, Leppalúði. The Yule Lads come in and run around the town in a backward “12 days of Christmas.” The Yule Lads show up one at a time on the 13 days building up to Christmas Day. Each staying two weeks, so that the first Lad who arrived on December 12 is the first to depart on Christmas Day. The remaining brothers then leave one a day in the same order they arrived until festivities end on January 6.
While in modern versions of the story, they are mostly just mischievous creatures pulling harmless pranks. Such as slamming doors and eating the towns yogurt supply (no joke). The original story of the lads was far more sinister (as you may have guessed given their presence on this list).
As in the modern story, they come down from dwellings in the mountains in the days leading up to Christmas day. However, rather than pulling the regular prank or trick, they — along with the Yuletide Cat — keep an eye on all the children. And kidnap those who did not receive any new clothes during the season so they can be eaten.
As you know. Making sure all the children of the world get what’s coming to them at the end of the year is quite an enterprise. Which is no doubt why Santa has everyone from elves making toys for the good kids to demons kidnapping the mean-spirited ones helping him out. But what about those kids who were neither particularly good nor particularly bad? For them, the Germans give us Knech Ruprecht. Also known as Farmhand Rupert. He more or less looks like a shepherd taken out of your neighborhood nativity who sports a long beard, brown cloak and a staff.
Basically his schtick is that he goes around asking kids if they can pray. If they can, they get some awesome gingerbread. If they can’t, he gives them some useless junk, and if they refuse, he beats them with a bag of ashes. So children better remember the “reason for the season” is the baby Jesus. Not just the changes in the seasons, or else they’ll either receive some unfortunate presents or get beaten with some ashes.
The Perchten. A dual-gendered spirit who comes out during the 12 days of Christmas (that is, December 25-January 5). On one hand we have the female Schonperchten (“Beautiful Perchten”) and on the other we have the male and aptly named Schiachperchten (“Ugly Perchten”). The former is a giver of luck and gifts. While the other is an ugly beast who looks much like the Krampus and similarly related to the Devil, whom is the most ugly of the Schiachperchten. As can be expected, Schoneperchten gives treats to the good people of the world. While the Schiachperchten punishes the bad.
What I believe is most terrifying about this character of Christmas mythology is that if it passes you. You can never be too sure which side you’ll be met with. On one hand you gave to the poor, on the other hand, you could have given more.
Yes, werewolves. Although we typically try to limit the lycanthropes to Halloween, B-movies, and steamy fiction. Werewolves have been a part of the Yuletide horror fest since the Middle Ages.
In modernity, it has since been reduced, reused, and recycled to the claim that simply having the audacity to be born on Christmas Day. Is cause enough to make a person a werewolf, as well. The 1961 film The Curse of the Werewolf explains that being born on December 25 is mocking Jesus Christ. And so you must be punished. Yeah, that Jesus: bringing the Christmas cheer by punishing not just a baby for being born, but he’s also damning any who fall into his or her wake every year.
One of the few non-Germanic characters on this list is the Grýla, who comes from Icelandic mythology and is a terrifying lady ogre whose preferred diet was naughty children — because nothing says “Merry Christmas!” quite like being fed to a horrifying crone.
In 1746, a decree was issued prohibiting the use of Grýla and the Yule Lads, as they served no function other than to scare small children. This has lead to the crafting of a few songs, which claim that she has passed; however, a few of the songs suggest that she could always return to the living, should the number of naughty children increase.
Le Père Fouettard
Pere Fouettard is seen to this day during Christmas in Belgium and France. His name means “Whipping Father,” so you can already guess how he brings holiday cheer.
But that’s not the scary part of this story, that’s the happy part.
As the story goes, Le Pere Fouettard began his life as an innkeeper, kidnapper, and murderer, in that order. One day while keeping his inn, three rich boys on their way to a religious boarding school stay at his inn. Recognizing their wealth, Le Pere, along with his wife, decides to capture and murder the children (by slitting their throats) to take their money. Because that somehow seemed like a better idea than ransoming them to their wealthier parents. While trying to make corpse stew, Saint Nick shows up and resurrects the boys. Seeing his power, the innkeeper repents and becomes St. Nick’s partner by becoming the official whipping boy of bad boys and girls.
IIf you know of more terryfying traditional Christmas legends please leave a comment.