Christmas carols, Santa Claus and decorated trees – these are a few of the things commonly associated with the most festive time of the year. And while many children have to deal with the eventual disappointment that there’s no jolly old man from the North Pole delivering them gifts if they’re nice enough, others have to deal with some rather strange and downright scary figures from their cultures. Below are five of the most bizarre Christmas characters from around the world.
For naughty children outside of Central Europe, a lump of coal in your stocking is a thousand times better than being whisked away and punished by a half-demon goat named Krampus. This figure has pagan origins but was eventually incorporated into the Chistian tradition. He even has his own festival called Krampusnacht during which the famed Krampus Run takes place. It’s that time of the year where men, dressed as the demon, roam the streets beating bad people with bundles of birch twigs.
2. Frau Perchta
Certain parts of Germany and Austria have a character named Frau Perchta who pays them a visit during the 12 days of Christmas. She is described as a crone with an animalistic face and a long robe with a sharp knife hidden underneath. Is she friendly or mean? Well, that depends on how naughty or nice you’ve been. It’s not your behavior that she judges but whether you have spun all your wool or flax into yarn by the end of the twelfth night. Those who have will get a gift. And those who didn’t? Well, they will be disemboweled, stuffed with straw then sewn back up!
In southeastern European countries, the 12 days of Christmas mark the arrival of the Kallikantzaroi – small, black, impish spirits who live deep in the center of Earth where they spend their time hacking at the fabled World Tree that supports said planet. It’s during this time that they’ll shift their focus to you, with the intent of wreaking havoc in your home and the world at large. Hanging the jaw of a pig on the door or even some flax will keep them at bay. The latter will keep them occupied as they can’t help but obsessively count the strands!
4. Gryla and the Yule Cat
Iceland isn’t any different than its neighbors when it comes to shady Christmas figures. For them it’s Gryla and the Yule Cat – a cannibalistic, repulsive giantess and her bad-tempered Yule Cat named Jolakotturinn. Together, the pair instill fear in the hearts of Icelandic children; Gryla stuffs bad children in her sack to devour later, while her Yule Cat eats children who are still wearing their old clothes. In Iceland, because children are rewarded with new clothes for doing their chores, wearing old ones is seen as naughty. And Jolakotturinn is said to be the one to deliver the punishment.
5. The Yule Goat
The Yule Goat is nothing like Gryla’s grumpy Yule Cat. Unlike the duo, he comes to spread joy and give presents to good children with Father Christmas. The jolly old man did not always have his sleigh pulled by reindeer – this was a job done by the Yule Goat who is said to be a descendant of Thor’s two goats who pulled his chariot. Many people in Sweden still honor the folklore by hanging small straw goat decorations on their trees. The Swedish town of Gavle erects a giant Yule Goat every year, which suspiciously catches fire every single time!
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