Christmas should be a time of cheer and peace towards your fellow man. Or, if you're like me, it's a time for buying presents at thrift stores to avoid the hoards of people and listening to your grandparents call your job "interesting." At least that's what I consider to be my tradition here in the grand U.S. of A.
In other parts of the world, however, Christmas is a time for sheer terror. Okay, maybe not sheer terror, but some of these traditional Christmas characters give me some serious heebie jeebies. I'm sure that if you live in these areas or grew up with these traditions they're a ton of fun. But from an outsider's perspective, they seem pretty wild!
Step aside, Elf on the Shelf, ratting on kids to Santa isn't going to cut it this year when pitted against these historical holiday behavior enforcers.
1. Krampus - Austria
Krampus is essentially the anti-Santa. Instead of the big man handling both the naughty and nice children, in Austria, Krampus and Santa split the work. Except instead of being a man with a belly likened to a bowl full of jelly, Krampus is a goat/demon beastie or sorts . On Christmas, Krampus joins Santa but instead of giving candy and gifts, he dons bells and chains and proceeds to hits bad children with a bundle of birch sticks and then drag them to Hell. I'm not saying they didn't deserve it, but I am saying that this all escalated pretty quickly.
I mean, c'mon, Austria? That's so scary! I swear I've been kept up at night before by the idea of a Krampus-like figure. Luckily, Krampusnacht (Krampus Night) is the night before Nikolaustag (St. Nicholas Day), which is on December 6. So, if you've made it this far into December, little Moviepilot-reading children, then you're in the clear! You can be naughty again until next year when Krampus might be a bit more strict.
2. Perchta - Austria
Perchta a goddess in Southern Germanic paganism, also goes by the name of "the belly-slitter." She shows up sometime in the 12 days before Christmas to, you guessed it, punish the youngsters who hadn't been good or working hard enough. I know what you're thinking But what does she do to them? Did the nickname "the belly-slitter" should be pretty self-explanatory.
3. Belsnickel - Southwestern Germany & Pennsylvania Dutch Communities
Belsnickel is kind of a less scary version of Krampus, which is good because Krampus is absolutely terrifying. No, Belsnickel is just a man wearing dirty robes who roams from town to town lashing naughty children with sticks. Sure, the children would mostly come away from this interaction unscathed, but scared enough to be good and that's what counts. Why does Europe folklore believe so firmly in corporal punishment?
Try as I might, nothing and no one can describe the story of Belsnickel better than they do on The Office. So I'm just going to leave you with this:
Jim: That's my favorite part of Christmas, the authority.
Pam: And the fear.
4. Grýla and her 13 Yule Lads - Iceland
Grýla is a mythical ogress and terrorizer of Icelandic children. According to legend, she is part troll and part animal. While the physical descriptions of Grýla are far from flattering, it's more about what's on the inside that counts. And what's on the inside of Grýla are the remains of children that she boiled alive and ate. Because that's fair punishment for being naughty. Children in Iceland are told stories of Grýla from a young age and are, apparently, even encouraged to carry around a sharp object in case they need to cut themselves out of her sack.
Not only is Grýla all of these awful things, but she's also the mother of the 13 Yule Lads. No wonder she's so mean, she did have rowdy 13 sons, after all. That has to be stressful. As bad as Grýla is, her boys aren't nearly as terrifying. They're pretty much just really irritating from what I gather.
Similar to Snow White's seven dwarves, each of the 13 Yule Lads have their own idiosyncrasies and a name to match. The Smithsonian Museum describes each of the Yule Lads as such:
Sheep-Cote Clod: He tries to suckle yews in farmer's sheep sheds
Gully Gawk: He steals foam from buckets of cow milk
Stubby: He's short and steals food from frying pans
Spoon Licker: He licks spoons
Pot Scraper, aka Pot Licker: He steals unwashed pots and licks them clean
Bowl Licker: He steals bowls of food from under the bed
Door Slammer: He stomps around and slams doors, keeping everyone awake
Skyr Gobbler: He eats up all the Icelandic yogurt (skyr)
Sausage Swiper: He loves stolen sausages
Window Peeper: He likes to creep outside windows and sometimes steal the stuff he sees inside
Door Sniffer: He has a huge nose and an insatiable appetite for stolen baked goods
Meat Hook: He snatches up any meat left out, especially smoked lamb
Candle Beggar: He steals candles, which used to be sought-after items in Iceland
If you're wondering which of these lads I find most threatening, that's complicated because my head says 'Window Peeper' but my heart says 'Meat Hook.' Please, don't steal my food.
5. Jólakötturinn (The Yule Cat) - Iceland
Finally let's discuss Jólakötturinn, or "the Yule Cat," who, surprise to no one, belongs to Grýla's horrendous household. I've decided that the Yule Cat gets its own section because this is the Internet and cats win. Also, there's something quite spine-chilling about the notion of a giant cat roaming the snowy Icelandic landscape and preying on humans.
The only thing that can stop the wrath of the Yule Cat is, get this, new clothing! Today that might sound like a great way to guilt relatives into buying you that sweater you really wanted before Christmas, that wasn't always the case. It is reported that back in the Nineteenth Century, the Yule Cat was used as incentive to finish producing wool in a timely manner. Those who finished early enough would be rewarded with clothing, those who didn't got nada. So if you were a lazy worker, you were destined to be Yule Cat food.
In this hypothetical holiday horror movie the Yule Cat would, of course, be played by Benedict Cumberbatch or Andy Serkis.
Seriously, Iceland, what is Christmas to you? You guys probably have the best behaved children during the holidays. Other than maybe Ralphie.
While I think it's important to note that I really do appreciate other cultures and each of these five fascinating characters (really more like 18, but who's counting), it's equally important to state that, from the outside, this is the stuff of nightmares.
Where are the parents kindly, but strongly encouraging their children to be good and hoping that the promise of Santa's presents will do the trick? Oh right, they're here with me in LA, at this Target, screaming at their parents and kicking my cart. Nice.
I would gladly sit down and watch any of these creepy Christmas movies (including one about spoiled American children). Do any of these exist yet? If so, move over Gremlins, I've got a new holiday horror favorite.