How do you get children to behave during the exciting days before Christmas? Many people in older times achieved this by scaring the living daylights out of them. They used the threat of terrible creatures to encourage children to behave. These beings would come and punish miscreants before Christmas in many horrible ways. Most of these arose from the culture of Europe and they are legion in number. These five are some of the most despicable of the mythical creatures of Christmas.
This creature’s name derives from the German word “krampen”, which means “claw.” This horrible companion of St. Nicolas had the horns and cloven hooves of a goat and a disgusting, pointed, lolling tongue. Hair covered his body and evil-looking fangs protruded from his mouth. He carried rusted chains, a bundle of birch sticks and a sack of coal. He originated in the Alpine regions of Germany, but his traditions spread over the world. He went about on Saint Nicholas Day Eve, December 5, rattling his chains to scare children into behaving. He whipped bad children with a stick and left them a lump of coal. He dragged particularly bad children to his lair.
This fearsome beast came from Icelandic folklore. This bloodthirsty feline roamed the countryside on Christmas Eve. It devoured those that did not get new clothes to don for Christmas Eve. Employers used the threat of Jólakötturinn to incentivize workers. They would admonish them to finish their tasks by Christmas Eve. If they did, they received a new garment. If they didn’t complete their jobs, they got nothing, becoming a potential meal for the “Christmas Cat.”
From southern Germany, the legend of Frau Perchta emerged. Jacob Grimm described her as a white-robed spirit with one large foot. She roamed the countryside during the period known as the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” On the twelfth night, she entered homes. Her special magic allowed her to know which children were good and which were bad. Good children would find a silver coin in a shoe or pail in the morning. She would slit open bad children and replace their entrails with pebbles and straw.
A semi-benevolent mythical figure, Belsnickel arrived in homes about two weeks before Christmas. He originated in the legends of the Rhineland regions of Germany, France and Switzerland. Dressed in tattered furs, he carried a sack of presents and a wooden stick. After entering the home, he had the children recite a song, biblical verse or answer a question. If the children did as he bid, he would toss candy or other small presents on the floor. If the children behaved and acted mannerly, they could retrieve the presents. If they jumped too fast for the treats without thanking him, he would strike them with his stick.
These trolls began in Icelandic folklore. Thirteen in number, they were the sons of mountain trolls Grýla and Leppalúði. Originally, this crew would descend from their mountain home and scare misbehaving children. They would abduct those who were bad. They took them back to their mountain home to boil and eat. If the children repented of their bad behavior, they had to release them. These trolls evolved into modern beneficial creatures. These beings visit homes bearing gifts during the Icelandic Thirteen Nights Before Christmas one at a time. Each has a specific night he visits. Their visits conclude on Christmas Eve.
Modern parents would shudder to threaten their children with these terrible beings. The times in which these horrible creatures originated were terrible. Life was hard and mean and many of the tales and legends during that time were hard and mean. Many of these mythical creatures had their origins in the not-so-distant pagan past. After reading about them, you may wish to leave them there.