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Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

8 Legendary Monsters of Christmas

Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The customs of the holiday season, which include St. Nicholas Day, New Years Day, and Epiphany, as well as Christmas, often incorporate earlier pagan traditions that have been appropriated and adapted for contemporary use. Customs that encourage little children to be good so as to deserve their Christmas gifts often come with a dark side: the punishment you'll receive from a monster or evil being of some sort if you aren't good! These nefarious characters vary from place to place, and they go by many different names and images.

1. KRAMPUS

As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. Public celebrations that night have many Krampuses walking the streets, looking for people to beat. Alcohol is also involved. Injuries in recent years have led to some reforms, such as requiring all Krampuses to wear numbers so they may identified in case of overly violent behavior.

Krampus may look like a devil, or like a wild alpine beast, depending on what materials are available to make a Krampus costume. In modern times, people can spend as much as they like to become the best Krampus around—and the tradition is spreading beyond Europe. Many cities in America have their own Krampus Nights now.

2. JÓLAKÖTTURINN

Jólakötturinn is the Icelandic Yule Cat or Christmas Cat. He is not a nice cat. In fact, he might eat you. This character is tied to an Icelandic tradition in which those who finished all their work on time received new clothes for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not (although this is mainly a threat). To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores! A poem written about the cat ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they, too, can have the protection of new clothing. It's no wonder that Icelanders put in more overtime at work than most Europeans.

3. FRAU PERCHTA


Flickr // Markus Ortner

Tales told in Germany and Austria sometimes feature a witch named Frau Perchta who hands out both rewards and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). She is best known for her gruesome punishment of the sinful: She will rip out your internal organs and replace them with garbage. The ugly image of Perchta may show up in Christmas processions in Austria, somewhat like Krampus.

Perchta's story is thought to have descended from a legendary Alpine goddess of nature, who tends the forest most of the year and deals with humans only during Christmas. In modern celebrations, Perchta or a close relation may show up in processions during Fastnacht, the Alpine festival just before Lent. There may be some connection between Frau Perchta and the Italian witch La Befana, but La Befana isn't really a monster: she's an ugly but good witch who leaves presents.

4. BELSNICKEL

A drawing of Belsnickel.
Lucas, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Belsnickel is a male character from southwestern German lore who traveled to the United States and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch customs. He comes to children sometime before Christmas, wearing tattered old clothing and raggedy fur. Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. In modern visits, the switch is only used for noise, and to warn children they still have time to be good before Christmas. Then all the children get candy, if they are polite about it. The name Belsnickel is a portmanteau of the German belzen (meaning to wallop) and nickel for St. Nicholas. See a video of a Belsnickel visit here.

Knecht Ruprecht and Ru Klaas are similar characters from German folklore who dole out beatings to bad children, leaving St. Nicholas to reward good children with gifts.

5. HANS TRAPP

Hans Trapp is another "anti-Santa" who hands out punishment to bad children in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. The legend says that Trapp was a real man, a rich, greedy, and evil man, who worshiped Satan and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He was exiled into the forest where he preyed upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. He was about to eat one boy he captured when he was struck by lightning and killed—a punishment of his own from God. Still, he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.

6. PÈRE FOUETTARD

The French legend of Père Fouettard, whose name translates to "Father Whipper," begins with an evil butcher who craved children to eat. He (or his wife) lured three boys into his butcher shop, where he killed, chopped, and salted them. St. Nicholas came to the rescue, resurrected the boys, and took custody of the butcher. The captive butcher became Père Fouettard, St. Nicholas' servant whose job it is to dispense punishment to bad children on St. Nicholas Day.

7. THE YULE LADS

The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are 13 Icelandic trolls, who each have a name and distinct personality. In ancient times, they stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime, so they were used to scare children into behaving, like the Yule Cat. However, the 20th century brought tales of the benevolent Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus), who brought gifts to good children. The traditions became mingled, until the formerly devilish Jólasveinar became kind enough to leave gifts in shoes that children leave out ... if they are good boys and girls. 

8. GRÝLA

All the Yule Lads answer to Grýla, their mother. She predates the Yule Lads in Icelandic legend as the ogress who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children who don't obey their parents. She only became associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. According to legend, Grýla had three different husbands and 72 children, all who caused trouble ranging from harmless mischief to murder. As if the household wasn't crowded enough, the Yule Cat also lives with Grýla. This ogress is so much of a troublemaker that The Onion blamed her for the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

A version of this post originally ran in 2013. See also: more Legendary Monsters

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Chinese New Year
iStock
iStock

Some celebrants call it the Spring Festival, a stretch of time that signals the progression of the lunisolar Chinese calendar; others know it as the Chinese New Year. For a 15-day period beginning February 16, China will welcome the Year of the Dog, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac table.

Sound unfamiliar? No need to worry: Check out 10 facts about how one-sixth of the world's total population rings in the new year.

1. THE HOLIDAY WAS ORIGINALLY MEANT TO SCARE OFF A MONSTER.

Nian at Chinese New Year
iStock

As legend would have it, many of the trademarks of the Chinese New Year are rooted in an ancient fear of Nian, a ferocious monster who would wait until the first day of the year to terrorize villagers. Acting on the advice of a wise old sage, the townspeople used loud noises from drums, fireworks, and the color red to scare him off—all remain components of the celebration today.

2. A LOT OF FAMILIES USE IT AS MOTIVATION TO CLEAN THE HOUSE.

woman ready to clean a home
iStock

While the methods of honoring the Chinese New Year have varied over the years, it originally began as an opportunity for households to cleanse their quarters of "huiqi," or the breaths of those that lingered in the area. Families performed meticulous cleaning rituals to honor deities that they believed would pay them visits. The holiday is still used as a time to get cleaning supplies out, although the work is supposed to be done before it officially begins.

3. IT WILL PROMPT BILLIONS OF TRIPS.

Man waiting for a train.
iStock

Because the Chinese New Year places emphasis on family ties, hundreds of millions of people will use the Lunar period to make the trip home. Accounting for cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transport, the holiday is estimated to prompt nearly three billion trips over the 15-day timeframe.

4. IT INVOLVES A LOT OF SUPERSTITIONS.

Colorful pills and medications
iStock

While not all revelers subscribe to embedded beliefs about what not to do during the Chinese New Year, others try their best to observe some very particular prohibitions. Visiting a hospital or taking medicine is believed to invite ill health; lending or borrowing money will promote debt; crying children can bring about bad luck.

5. SOME PEOPLE RENT BOYFRIENDS OR GIRLFRIENDS TO SOOTHE PARENTS.

Young Asian couple smiling
iStock

In China, it's sometimes frowned upon to remain single as you enter your thirties. When singles return home to visit their parents, some will opt to hire a person to pose as their significant other in order to make it appear like they're in a relationship and avoid parental scolding. Rent-a-boyfriends or girlfriends can get an average of $145 a day.

6. RED ENVELOPES ARE EVERYWHERE.

a person accepting a red envelope
iStock

An often-observed tradition during Spring Festival is to give gifts of red envelopes containing money. (The color red symbolizes energy and fortune.) New bills are expected; old, wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness. People sometimes walk around with cash-stuffed envelopes in case they run into someone they need to give a gift to. If someone offers you an envelope, it's best to accept it with both hands and open it in private.

7. IT CAN CREATE RECORD LEVELS OF SMOG.

fireworks over Beijing's Forbidden City
iStock

Fireworks are a staple of Spring Festival in China, but there's more danger associated with the tradition than explosive mishaps. Cities like Beijing can experience a 15-fold increase in particulate pollution. In 2016, Shanghai banned the lighting of fireworks within the metropolitan area.

8. BLACK CLOTHES ARE A BAD OMEN.

toddler dressed up for Chinese New Year
iStock

So are white clothes. In China, both black and white apparel is traditionally associated with mourning and are to be avoided during the Lunar month. The red, colorful clothes favored for the holiday symbolize good fortune.

9. IT LEADS TO PLANES BEING STUFFED FULL OF CHERRIES.

Bowl of cherries
iStock

Cherries are such a popular food during the Festival that suppliers need to go to extremes in order to meet demand—last year Singapore Airlines flew four chartered jets to Southeast and North Asian areas. More than 300 tons were being delivered in time for the festivities.

10. PANDA EXPRESS IS HOPING IT'LL CATCH ON IN THE STATES.

Box of takeout Chinese food from Panda Express
domandtrey, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Although their Chinese food menu runs more along the lines of Americanized fare, the franchise Panda Express is still hoping the U.S. will get more involved in the festival. The chain is promoting the holiday in its locations by running ad spots and giving away a red envelope containing a gift: a coupon for free food. Aside from a boost in business, Panda Express hopes to raise awareness about the popular holiday in North America.

A version of this story originally ran in 2017.

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31 Valentine's Day Cards Through the Years
Chris Ware, Keystone Features/Getty Images
Chris Ware, Keystone Features/Getty Images

Giving romantic Valentine's Day cards slowly came into fashion during the 18th century, but they were mostly DIY affairs at the time. By the end of that century, pre-printed cards began to appear, and once the printing and manufacturing technologies of Victorian Britain picked up, the Valentine card industry boomed. Not all sentiments were romantic—some were downright rude—but the tradition of giving friends and loved ones cards has only continued to grow (it's estimated that Americans will spend $1 billion on cards this year alone). Below are 31 cards from years past.

1. 

Vintage Valentine circa 1860
A vintage Valentine circa 1860.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

For the couple who fancies themselves a Victorian-era Romeo and Juliet.

2. 

vintage Valentine circa 1902.
A vintage Valentine circa 1902.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

Here's hoping his best girl can teach this little Edwardian Alfalfa a thing or two about grammar.

3. 

vintage Valentine circa 1902
A vintage Valentine circa 1902.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

He looks so shy about it though!

4. 

vintage Valentine circa 1903
A vintage Valentine circa 1903.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

Puppy love.

5. 

vintage valentine circa 1903
A vintage Valentine circa 1903.
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

Sounds like a recipe for love.

6. 

vintage Valentine circa 1904
A vintage Valentine circa 1904.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

Please, Mr. Postman!

7. 

Vintage Valentine
New York Public Library // Public Domain

For the Irish love in your life.

8.

vintage Valentine circa 1905
A vintage Valentine circa 1905.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

Elaborate flower arrangements have always been quite popular.

9.

Vintage Valentine
A vintage Valentine
New York Public Library // Public Domain

Ahh, the art of love.

10.

vintage Valentine circa 1907
A vintage Valentine circa 1907.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

For when "roses are red, violets are blue" is just a little too … elementary.

11.

vintage Valentine circa 1908
A vintage Valentine circa 1908.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

An enterprising cherub preps for the big holiday by making love locks.

12.

vintage Valentine circa 1909
A vintage Valentine circa 1909.
NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY // PUBLIC DOMAIN

They both seem shocked to be in this position.

13.

vintage valentine with krampus
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

For when your sweetheart loves Santa's demonic counterpart, Krampus, so much that you need to put him on every holiday card.

14.

vintage Valentine circa 1910
A vintage Valentine circa 1910.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

When you want to get a little moralistic with your notes of affection.

15.

vintage Valentine circa 1910
A vintage Valentine circa 1910.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

What a gallant little messenger.

16.

Vintage Valentine circa 1912.
A vintage Valentine circa 1912.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

We vote you don't give the gentleman who sent this the time of day.

17.

vintage Valentine
in pastel, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Like an I-O-U for a walk in the gardens come springtime.

18.

vintage Valentine circa 1920
A vintage Valentine circa 1920.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

Self-deprecating sentiments from the Roaring Twenties.

19.

vintage Valentine circa 1921
A vintage Valentine circa 1921.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

She's got her mind on her honey and her honey on her mind.

20.

vintage Valentine
New York Public Library // Public Domain

Musicians always seem to get the girl.

21.

vintage Valentine circa 1922
A vintage Valentine circa 1922.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

When "the language of the heart" gets lost in translation.

22.

vintage Valentine
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

Dead. I'm dead.

23.

vintage valentine with a clown
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

Creepy clowns are unlikely to win many hearts, "Daddy."

24.

vintage valentine
RoniJJ, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Just make sure your crush doesn't have a seafood allergy.

25.

vintage valentine
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

The hot dog pun almost makes up for putting faces on them.

26.

vintage valentine
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

Tell this stalker to buzz off.

27.

vintage valentine
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

Please avoid this gun show.

28.

vintage valentine

This is frightfully adorable.

29.

valentine
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

Not exactly the most romantic Tennessee Williams line to send …

30.

vintage valentine
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

Racy!

31.

valentine with pizza
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

Now this is a sentiment we can get behind.

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