Christmas Boogeymen

Have you been naughty or nice this year? Better hope you end up on the nice list, otherwise you might meet some of these Christmas-y boogeymen from around the world.

**Warning, just because they are being called “Christmas-y” boogeymen, does not mean that they actually arrive on Christmas. Many of them appear early in December or during the Twelve days of Christmas.**

Krampus: Primarily seen in Austria and Germany (or Germanic cultures), Krampus is a “dark” companion of St. Nicholas. Traditionally, he is depicted as a classic devil, complete with cloves hooves, horns, and a monstrous tongue. Occasionally, he will just be a “sinister gentleman” dressed in black or “man-beast.” Krampus is the bad cop to St. Nicholas’s good cop, going around beating naughty children (and some women) and if they have been particularly bad, he will stuff them into a bag or basket and carry them to his lair (which is typically considered Hell). He arrives on Krampusnacht, which is the eve of St. Nicholas’s Day to wreak its havoc.

Zwaret Piet (Black Peter): is another companion of St. Nicholas (Dutch: Sinterklaas) that originated in the Low Countries. Zwaret Piet’s job is to help St. Nicholas deliver gifts to the good children and deliver punishments to the naughty. Naughty children will receive punishments based upon the severity of their “crimes”; children who are not particularly naughty will probably receive a “roe” (bundle of birch twigs) to imply that they should receive a birching or a lump of coal while the very naughty will be carried off in a burlap sack to Spain where St. Nicholas and Zwaret Piet are said to live during the off season.

Gryla, Yule Lads, & Yuletide Cat: Gryla is an ogress living in the icelandic mountains who is said to be part troll and part animal. She has 13 children, who are known as the Yule Lads. Each Christmas season she and her Lads come down from the mountain. Gryla is in search of naughty children to boil in her cauldron (children who repent their naughty ways are released). The Yule Lads go about making mischief throughout the 12 or 13 days of Christmas with one arriving daily. In the past they were used to strike fear into children with their nasty ways, but now they have been transformed into a Santa Claus like creature, leaving treats for good children and rotting potatoes for the naughty. The Christmas or Yuletide Cat belongs to Gryla and her boys. The cat comes down while the Lads are causing mischief and hunts out the children who have not received new clothes for Christmas (because a lazy or bad worker would not need new clothes) and, depending on the severity of the story, will steal their presents or go so far as to eat those children.

Knecht Ruprecht: Yet another of St. Nicholas’s companions. Knecht Ruprecht hails from German folklore as a scruffy farmhand. He visits children and asks if they can pray. Children who can will receive sweets, nuts, and perhaps small gifts; children who cannot will receive useless or ugly gifts (lumps of coal, birch switches, stones, etc.); and finally children who refuse will be beaten with his bag of ashes.

Kallikantzaroi: Greek malevolent goblins who dwell underground, spending their days trying to cut down the World Tree (and destroy the Earth). During the Twelve Days of Christmas they come above ground to cause mischief to humans and forget their sawing. On the Epiphany (Jan. 6th) they must go back underground and resume their sawing of the World Tree which has miraculously healed while they were above ground. Generally, these guys mess with everyone–naughty or nice.

Belsnickel: As seen on The Office, originates from the Palatinate region of Germany and has some popularity in the Penn. Dutch community. Belsnickel comes to homes one or two weeks before Christmas carrying a switch and looking terribly mean and shabby (usually dressed in torn, tattered, and dirty clothes). He threatens to beat naughty children with the switch (though never actually hurting anyone), and effectively scares children into being good so Santa will bring them gifts.

Pere Fouettard (Whipping Father): A French companion of St. Nicholas who accompanies St. Nick on his rounds on December 6th (St. Nicholas Day). While St. Nicholas is delivering toys and sweets, Pere Fouettard is dispensing lumps of coal or floggings to naughty children.


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