Legend Tripping

A Christmas Story: Terrifying Christmas Traditions from Around the World (Pt. 1)

Everyone in the United States is familiar with Santa Claus. He’s the big, jolly guy with rosy cheeks and a white beard dressed in red that breaks into your home via a chimney (or window if you don’t have a chimney) on Christmas Eve to leave you presents under a slowly dying pine tree. If you’re good, he’ll give you what you want. If you’re bad, you’ll get coal. This is the tradition followed in the United States, but in other parts of the world, naughty children have much worse to fear during Christmastime. Here are some terrifying Christmas traditions from around the world that will make you think twice about misbehaving.

Krampus

Feared in Northern Italy, Croatia, Austria and Slovenia, Krampus is the dark companion to Saint Nicholas. Krampus is a demonic monster, half-goat, half-human, who carries a whip and a sack to whip bad children, sometimes kidnapping them is their negative actions call for it. You can tell Krampus is near when you hear rattling, dragging chains.

According to the legend, Krampus is the son of the Norse god of the underworld, Hel. Krampus was originally thought to have been a part of the pagan rituals for the winter solstice. When Christianity began to spread, Krampus was adopted into Christian tradition as the negative counterpart to Saint Nicholas.

Now, on December 5, children await Saint Nicholas and his demonic companion Krampus. If children have been good, gifts are left for them by Saint Nicholas. If they have been naughty, Krampus whips them, taking the worse children straight to hell.

Pere Fouettard

Popular in Switzerland, France and Belgium, Pere Fouettard, or Father Whipper, is a fearsome figure and reminiscent of Krampus. As the story goes, Pere Fouettard was a butcher. He robbed, kidnapped and murdered wealthy children, carving up their bodies and hiding them in barrels. When Saint Nicholas discovered what Pere did, he brought the children back to life, and now forces Pere to accompany him on December 5 to punish naughty children.

While this story is fanciful, thought to date back to 1150, this is most likely just a folk story. The true inspiration for Father Whipper dates to the Siege of Metz. The fighting lasted eight long years. During one festive period, the locals burned and dragged through the streets an effigy of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. They created the Father Whipper story based on the appearance of the burnt effigy.

The Kallikantzari

Originating in Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and Serbia, the Kallikantzari are goblins with horns and tusks, usually male, who spend most of the year underground, trying to bring about the apocalypse. During the winter festivities, they terrorize humans, spreading their evil and making general mischief.

As the story goes, these goblins spend the year gnawing at the tree that supports the Earth in order to destroy it and, presumably, the world. However, every year around Christ’s birth, the tree renews, seriously angering these goblins. In their rage, they break ground and wreak havoc on human society during the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas.

Those are the first three terrifying Christmas legends from around the world. In part 2, I will be discussing Frau Perchta, Mari Lwyd, Hans Trapp, and the Yule Cat. That list will be out closer to Christmas day. I hope you enjoyed some Yule Tide scares and stay tuned for more!

Further Reading

“Kallikantzari.” The Free Dictionary.

“Le Pere Fouettard: The French Christmas Cannibal Who Serves Santa Claus.” All About History.

Basu, Tanya. “Who is Krampus? Explaining the Horrific Christmas Beast.” National Geographic. Dec 5, 2018.

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