‘Tis the season to be jolly…but in some parts of the world, Christmas isn’t all “Jingle Bells” and “Fa La La La’s.” Here are 5 Christmas traditions from around the world that are more creepy than festive.
1. Austria and other Alpine Countries – The Krampus
If you’re good, Santa Claus brings you presents. If you’re bad, he gives you coal or possibly even a switch for your parents to beat you with, right? Right. Unless you live in certain Alpine regions in Europe, including Austria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Croatia. There, the bad kids have to contend with the Krampus, a nightmarish horned demon who basically acts as Santa’s enforcer. The Krampus distributes coal, bundles of birch twigs called “ruten,” and sometimes carries a washtub in which he drowns bad children so he can eat them.
2. Greece- Evil goblins
In Greece, evil underground goblins called Kallikantzaroi are believed to come to the surface to torment mortals during the Twelve Days of Christmas. Depending on which part of the country you’re in, the Kallikantzaroi can be either larger-than-life or small, like leprechauns, but they are almost always dark-skinned with some animal characteristics, as in the picture above.
They like to enter houses, either through doorways or through the chimney, and cause all sorts of trouble. Fortunately, they are fairly easy to foil. Leaving a colander on your doorstep will keep them from getting in that way, as they can’t count above two and they’ll get caught up trying to count all the holes. A Yule Log burning in the fireplace will keep them from coming down the chimney, and some Greeks will add their stinky shoes to the fire for even better protection. As a bonus, burning stinky shoes also keeps away other unwanted Christmas guests.
3. Iceland- The Yule Lads and the Yule Cat
In Iceland, gifts and punishments alike are doled out by the Yule Lads, 13 troll brothers who live in a cave deep in the mountains and come out around Christmas to cause trouble and frighten naughty children. They may also leave gifts for good kids, but this is a modern addition to the myth.
So, 13 trolls, one of whom is named “Meat Hook.” That’s scary enough, right? Oh no. That’s nothing compared to the matriarch of this dysfunctional clan, a giant troll named Grýla. What’s Grýla’s favorite snack? Children, naturally, particularly the naughty ones.
As a pet, the Yule family keeps a huge, man-eating wildcat called the Yule Cat. He eats people that haven’t been given new clothes for Christmas. Nice kitty!
4. France: Père Fouettard
“Père Fouettard” translates to “Whipping Father” or “Father Whipper.” He’s another one of Santa’s enforcers, beating naughty children so the jolly old elf can keep his hands clean. The true horror of Père Fouettard is the story of how he got his job. Apparently, in his former life he was an innkeeper who killed three rich boys for the money they were carrying, and disposed of the bodies by making them into stew. St. Nicholas came and brought the boys back to life, and Père Fouettard has served him ever since.
Nice bunch of fellows that Saint Nick character hangs out with.
5. United States: The Elf on the Shelf
I don’t know if you’d consider “The Elf on the Shelf” to be a tradition or merely a marketing triumph for its creators, but either way it’s creepy. I mean…just look at it!
Supposedly, the Elf on the Shelf is a spy for Santa, keeping an eye on your kids to report on their behavior. Parents are supposed to move the elf around each night, so that the kids think he’s magic.
Well, it must have some sort of mind control powers, since it’s convinced over 4 million people to spend $30+ on a little elf figurine and a storybook, all to add one more holiday “to-do” item to the list of things for parents to stress about.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night…if you can still sleep, that is!