Christmas generally conjures up a warm fuzzy image of a jolly Santa Claus drinking cocoa beside a cosy fireplace. However, some festive traditions from around the world are less wholesome and jolly. We’re going to take a look at some of the most creepy, disturbing, or just plain bizarre traditions and folklore. Let’s dive in with the extremely unnerving ‘Yule Lads’. In Iceland, rather than the traditional St. Nicolas, there are thirteen yule lads. This sounds great in theory – sharing the workload. It gets less great when they leave rotting potatoes in the houses of children they consider to have sinned. According to legend, this is actually pretty tame. At some point in the past, children were warned that bad behaviour would result in being eaten alive by one these guys.
Tastes like chicken!
Still, if you’ve been good – you’re probably thinking you can relax. Nope! You better be wearing your best clothes when these guys show up, if you don’t want their cat to eat you. The Yule Lads are supposedly descended from trolls, and keep a cat who eats people who are not wearing new clothes on Christmas Eve. But even that is nothing compared to the names of these creatures. Let’s do a head count – Sheep-Cote Clod (Annoys sheep), Gully Gawk (Steals Milk), Stubby (Steals pie crusts), Spoon-Licker (Steals spoons to lick), Pot-Scraper (Steals leftovers), Bowl-Licker (Waits under your bed for you to drop food), Door-Slammer (Bangs doors at night), Skyr-Gobbler (Steals Skyr – a type of yogurt), Sausage-Swiper (Steals sausages), Window-Peeper (Stares through your window), Doorway-Sniffer (Uses a large nose to sniff out bread to steal), Meat-Hook (Uses a hook to steal meat), and Candle-Stealer (Stalks small children and steals their candles) As if that wasn’t creepy enough – it is possible to avoid their punishments…if you are willing to take a bath with them.
Moving away from child eating, window peeping Santas, to the Spanish Tió de Nadal. The form of the Tió de Nadal found in many Catalan homes during the holiday season is a hollow log of about thirty centimetres length. Recently, the tió has come to stand up on two or four little stick legs with a broad smiling face painted on the higher of the two ends, enhanced by a little red sock hat and often a three-dimensional nose. Those accessories have been added only in recent times, altering the more traditional and rough natural appearance of a dead piece of wood. Children feed the log every night before bed and wrap it in a blanket. So it’s a bit odd, but all sounding pretty cute and innocent – right?
There isn’t really a polite way to explain this. On Christmas Eve, the kids throw the log into a fire, beat it with sticks, and order it to defecate. The kids then go to another room to pray for the log to poop, while their parents hid presents inside it.
Would you like to see the traditional songs which are sung to the log?
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
log of Christmas,
don’t shit herrings,
which are too salty,
which are much better!
We don’t normally associate witches with Christmas, but in Norway there is a long tradition of fearing the Christmas Witches. On the night of December the 24th, the people of Norway hide all the brooms in their houses from the Christmas Witches. Long ago, the Norwegian people believed that Christmas Eve was when witches and mischievous spirits came out to play. Even today, there is a belief that witches cannot walk on the ground without dying, so they must fly everywhere on brooms stolen on Christmas Eve. Brooms are hidden in cupboards and boxes to deter the witches who would replace Christmas presents with frogs or rats.
Witches however, are nothing to fear when compared to the Dutch legend of Zwarte Piet. Believed to be the sidekick of Santa Claus, Zwarte Piet wears slightly racist makeup, and renaissance style dress when assisting St. Nicholas on Christmas Eve (which falls on the 5th of December in the Netherlands). His makeup has been the source of much controversy, but he’s generally a creepy character. He arrives by boat from Spain, bringing presents for the good children. The bad children however, are kidnapped and taken back to Spain with him. The fact that he has been depicted as Santa’s ‘slave’ since the 1850s, and is only now being updated to a more ‘sidekick’ type of character is a little alarming. There have been calls to ban this questionable tradition, since he essentially does Santa’s dirty work – climbing the chimneys and handing out presents. He is a much loved Dutch figure, but the overall idea is just a little…creepy.
But we’ve saved the creepiest for last. Nothing involved with Christmas should ever be roasting sentient hearts on an open fire. In Austria, instead of elves, or racist sidekicks, Santa does his work assisted by demons. If you’ve been naughty, the demon Krampus will stuff you into a sack and drag you back to his lair – the pits of hell. It’s one way of keeping the kids in line…
Krampus is a tradition spanning centuries, and is said to be the son of Hel – a being who rules Hell itself and feasts on the dead. I’m sure Austrian children sleep well knowing that there is a possibility of a hairy, hoofed demon with a long pointed tongue potentially looming over their bed. Do Christmas bells fill you with seasonal joy? They shouldn’t. The bells are attached to the chains Krampus rattles to frighten children. He also carries branches to beat the kids with, and sometimes replaces his sack with a bathtub for easier transportation when drowning, eating, or comdemning children to hell.
Krampus is pretty cuddly in comparison to Perchta, one of Santa’s other helpers. The goddess of weaving, she had one large foot for working a spinning wheel which she could transform into the foot of animals. In the folklore of Bavaria and Austria, Perchta was said to roam the countryside at midwinter, and to enter homes between the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany (especially on the Twelfth Night). She would know whether the children and young servants of the household had behaved well and worked hard all year. If they had, they might find a small silver coin next day, in a shoe or pail. If they had not, she would slit their bellies open, remove stomach and guts, and stuff the hole with straw and pebbles. We’ll leave you with a mask of her face. Sleep well!