by Charles Reis
The Christmas season is a time of gingerbread men, gift giving, and holiday movies. However, the newest holiday film, Krampus, showcases a darker side of the Christmas lore. The movie is based on an old Germanic legend concerning a demonic figure that punishes children for their behavior. While Krampus might be the most well-known anti-Santa Claus, he’s not the only one to be found. Here are five additional Christmas Creatures that may give you a Yuletide fright!
1) Kallikantzaros (Southeastern Europe)
[Image via http://grimm.wikia.com/wiki/Kallikantzaroi]
Elves are cute and helpful, but these malevolent goblins are not. Having roots in Greek folklore, the kallikantzaros stay underground all their lives, but from December 25th to January 6th they’re allowed to come to the surface. Their version of the 12 Days of Christmas is less about giving and more about terrorizing. Their evil deeds are done at night and anyone caught outside will be their victims. This may include jumping on people’s backs and demand they take them wherever they want to go or luring people out in the cold in order to freeze them to death.
It’s not a happy occasion if a child is born during these twelve days because there’s a chance that baby will transform into these goblins. To stop this, the parents need to bind their babies in tresses made of garlic or straw, or to burn the baby’s toenails. There are ways to keep the critters away from the home, like burning a Yule Long for the twelve days. The most interesting way to stop them is to leave a colander on the doorstep, which will cause the creatures to count each hole until sunrise. This seems to work because the creatures can’t count to three since it’s a holy number.
2) Frau Perchta (Germany, Austria)
[Image via http://www.conjurecinema.com]
It will be a red Christmas when she’s around. Pagan gods and goddesses often received a Christian make-over in later years. With Perchta, she turned from the goddess of vegetation and fertility to a seasonal witch or demonic creature. Much like the kallikantzaros, she’s active during the twelve days of Christmas, but unlike them she does spread some goodwill. People of good character and nature will be blessed by her with great fortune and prosperity and for hard working children she would leave coins in their shoes. In some ways, this makes her a female version of Santa Claus.
On the other hand, her jolly nature will turn into ghastly horror if she comes across sinners and those who are lazy. Her nickname is Bellyslitter, and she earned it because her celebration of the holiday involves her cutting open the person’s belly, remove the organs, then stuff them with straw and pebbles. Even eating the wrong foods (anything other than fish and gruel) will cause her to kill. She is particularly concerned that girls do all of their years worth of spinning of wool and flax. Singing her a carol won’t stop her, but there are ways of escaping her brutality by offering her food and drink or by burning of certain herbs and incense.
3) Père Fouettard (France, Belgium)
Many gifts are given on the holidays, but some gifts can be painful. The gruesome origins of this person dates back to 1150. Père Fouettard was a wicked butcher who went from carving ham to kidnaped three young boys on their way to religious school, slitting their throats, chopping them up, and salted them in a large tub. The person who discovered this crime was none other than St. Nicholas and he then restored the children to life. As punishment for his crimes, the butcher was forced to follow the saintly man in shame. While Nicholas became the protector of good children, Fouettard became the punisher of the naughty ones.
Père Fouettard means “Father Whipper” in French and he earns that name because he often holds a whip, cane, or switch and those items are not just for show. Traveling the lands on December 6 (The Feast of St. Nicholas), he goes from house to house to give holiday gifts of lumps of coal for disobedient children, but more commonly he brutally beats them. It appears that the only way for children to avoid his beatings is for them to be good for goodness’ sake.
2) Jólakötturinn (Iceland)
[Image via http://theyearofhalloween.com/]
There are many animals associated with Christmas, like reindeer, but there’s a deranged cryptid cat that would eat them. The Yule Lads of Iceland are thirteen friendly trolls, and on each night in the thirteen days before Christmas, one of them will leave a sweet treat in the shoes of good children. But there will be no candies for lazy kids because they’ll be punished by the Yule Lads’ monstrous pet cat Jólakötturinn, also called the Yule Cat. He’s no normal pet as it can be large as a house and have a furious appetite not for gingerbread men but for human flesh.
On Christmas Eve, he will roam the winter wonderland looking for children and adults who haven’t received new clothes. In Icelandic tradition, receiving new clothes is very important and it’s common for people to dress in them for Christmas Eve. If someone doesn’t have these new clothes, it general means the person is too lazy to either make them or to save up money to purchase some. This leaves the person in mortal danger as the feline will pounce on these helpless victims in order to devour them for his Christmas feast.
1) Zwarte Piet (Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg)
When the sleigh bells ring, it’s not just Santa who’s in town. Also known as Black Pete, his origins are traced back to medieval times, and depending on the legend he’s either a captive devil or a freed slave who is a companion for St. Nicholas. Much like Fouettard, he accompanies Nicholas from town to town to bring joy and happiness to children who are good, with both of them giving out rewards of treats and gifts. But a Merry Christmas won’t come to children who are naughty, because Zwarte Piet will be the one to dish out the punishment. He brings a sack that’s not used to carry toys but rather to take away these bad children. Another punishment he may deal out is whipping the naughty kids, but a less violent punishment he may do is just leaving lumps of coal.
The most disturbing aspect of Zwarte Piet isn’t his violent nature but his racist looks. The man has black skin, with traditions saying it’s caused by soot from going up and down chimneys or because he is an African Moor decent. Regardless of the reason, the character is often portrayed by a white person in blackface and an Afro wig, and has been accused of perpetuating racial stereotypes of Africans. There have been numerous protests against it and recently the United Nations urged the Netherlands to stop using Piet due to its racist characteristics.
Have a great holiday season… but remember, you better watch out!