If you thought getting charcoal for Christmas was horrible, wait till you see what these characters do to naughty children.
Now, don’t shoot the messenger, but I honestly believe Santa Claus is one creepy character, and I know I’m not alone in this department. Even carol singers agree with me, “Who’s got a big red cherry nose?” Ahem…. generally, drunk people do! And don’t get me started with the “He sees you when you're sleeping” part because that’s a serious stalker right there.
He brings joy to kids, but the whole “judgement” part and the whole goodie and baddie list is a bit weird if you ask me. Now, I thought he was the creepiest and darkest of them all, but it turns out that out there in the big, wide world there are far more hideous Christmas creatures lurking behind your tinsel.
Krampus (Germany / Hungary / Austria)
We have to start with the most famous of all these Santa wannabes, and that’s the fearful, half-goat and half-demon Krampus. This horned character is thought to punish naughty children. In many folktales, which are thought to have pre-Christian origins, Krampus abducts children and takes them to the depths of hell to devour them. Bloodthirsty, isn’t it?
Befana, also known as the Christmas Witch, was an ordinary woman who was driven mad by the sudden death of her son. In her grief, she heard about the birth of Jesus and decided to present him with gifts. Delighted by her thoughtfulness, Jesus made her the mother of all children in Italy. To this day, many children receive Christmas presents from Befana. Yet, there’s a creepy element to this story; she swapped her sled for a broom and instead of keeping a list of bad kids, she whacks them over the head with her broom.
Father Christmas (England)
I decided to include Father Christmas not because he’s creepy, but because he is the funniest and most honest when it comes to what goes on in the holidays. Dating back to Anglo Saxon times, Father Christmas is often portrayed as a very hedonistic guy who loves to drink and eat at parties. So, pretty much it’s you on Christmas.
Gryla, the Yule Lads, and Jólakötturinn (Iceland)
This killer combo would scare children to death, literally, especially if they were naughty. Gryla is an ogress who lives in a secluded mountain and only comes out during Christmas to mete out punishment and eat bad children. She’s also the mother of the Yule Lads, 13 troublesome gnome-like creatures who have distinct personality traits, from pranksters to full on killers.
Finally, we have Jólakötturinn, a fashionista cat who eats people who don’t get new clothes before Christmas. It turns that in Iceland there’s a tradition that says you can get a new set of clothes if you finish all your chores before Christmas. So, procrastinators would’ve been Jólakötturinn’s victims of choice. I know plenty (including myself) who would have suffered this horrible fate.
Belsnickel (Germany/ Austria)
If this guy rings a bell, it’s because you may have seen him in The Office (remember that episode when Dwight dressed up like him?). Coming from Southwestern Germanic tradition, the Belsnickel is a grumpy and ill-tempered creature who visits children on Christmas Eve to judge whether they’ve been naughty or good throughout the year. Dressed in fur, carrying rattling chains and branches, he punishes children by smacking them with his wooden switch, and he only stops after they dance and sing for him.
Olentzero (Basque Country)
Nowadays, Olentzero may seem like a friendly and good-hearted farmer who brings gifts to children in the Basque Country. However, his origins tell a different story. In some old versions, Olentzero was the ultimate punisher who went after those who sinned of gluttony on Christmas Eve. He’s also believed to sneak into people’s houses carrying a sickle, slitting the throats of children that stood up late.
I would say these creepy and nightmarish creatures were created to scare children so to keep them on the right track. Still, these characters are more real, honest, and even human than Santa, a flawless benevolent saint. I’m not buying the whole “he’s so good and pure that he rewards children alike”, and that’s probably why I’ve always thought he’s nothing but a creep, pointing fingers at those worthy of presents and those worthy of charcoal.
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