Christmas isn’t all joyful celebrations, carol-singing and receiving presents from Santa.
In fact, the festive season has a more sinister side, with demons who sound more appropriate for Halloween seeking out naughty children to drag into Hell or monsters roaming the land to find people to eat.
Here NATASHA WYNARCZYK rounds up some of the creepiest Christmas stories from around the world…
Half-demon, half-goat, the Austrian Krampus is one of the best-known frightening festive figures, and was the subject of a 2015 film starring Toni Collette. The sinister clawed Krampus, who is a sidekick to the benevolent Saint Nicholas, is thought to roam the streets seeking out naughty children. When he finds them, he either kidnaps them and drags them back to the underworld or eats them. On 5 December, many Austrians celebrate Krampusnacht, where revellers dress up at the beast and parade through the streets, and the festivities date as far back to the 16th Century.
It sounds like something out of a nightmare… revellers turning up to your home with a horse skeleton dressed up in ribbons, bells and a sheet and demanding to be let in. This is an old Christmas custom from South Wales, where the troupe will engage whoever answers the door in a battle of verses and insults. If the troupe wins, they can come in for food and drink – and the ghostly-looking horse, which is called the Mari Lwyd, will scare away anything unwanted from the year.
Grýla and the Yule Lads
A monstrous ogress who comes down from the mountains around Christmastime to kidnap, cook then feast on naughty children, the story of the Icelandic Grýla was so scary that the government once reportedly stepped in to ban the use of her legend as a parenting technique. She’s believed to be the mother of the 13 Yule Lads – who sound benevolent but are actually evil characters with sinister names such as Meat Hook, Window Peeper and Doorway Sniffer who also devour misbehaving kids.
The Yule Cat
Another creepy Icelandic critter, the Yule Cat, or jólakötturinn, towers over houses to see if people got new clothes for Christmas. If they didn’t, they would be eaten by the monstrous moggy, who is Grýla’s pet. It was thought the story of the Yule Cat came from the 19th Century, and was used as an incentive by farmers so their workers would finish processing autumn wool in time for Christmas. The workers who did this would be gifted new clothes, but those who slacked off wouldn’t so would be preyed upon by the Yule Cat instead.
This French legend tells the tale of butcher Père Fouettard, which translates to ‘Father Whipper’. He craved children to eat, and lured three boys into his shop where he killed and salted them. Saint Nick came to the rescue, bringing them back to life and capturing Père Fouettard for his crimes. He now acts at Saint Nick’s servant, bringing punishment to bad children. He is most commonly-depicted as being dressed in dark robes with unkempt hair and a long, scraggly beard.
Belsnickel is another one of St Nick’s creepy companions, and wanders the streets dressed in dirty, ragged clothes made from skin. He also carries a whip that he uses to beat misbehaving children with, but the anti-Santa also does keep sweets and cakes in his pockets for well-behaved kids. He is a character that originally came from south west Germany, and survives in the US Pennsylvania Dutch communities, and his name is a combination of the German belzen, which means ‘to wallop’ and nickel for Saint Nicholas. In an episode of The Office (US), the character Dwight dressed up as him.
The Germans clearly love their creepy Christmas characters – they also have a witch called Frau Perchta who hands out very gruesome punishments between 25 December and Epiphany on 6 January. It’s thought she will slip into your home and leave a silver coin in your shoe if you’ve been nice but beware if you’ve been bad, as she will rip open your internal organs and replace them with pebbles and straw. In some retellings of the story, the hag has one foot significantly larger than the other, which is due to the fact she’s a shapeshifter.
By firstname.lastname@example.org (Natasha Wynarczyk)