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

Celebrate the Holidays With a Harry Potter Sock Advent Calendar From Target

Target
Target

Harry Potter Advent calendars are becoming a new Christmas tradition among wizards and witches at heart. For the 2019 holiday season, LEGO is launching an Advent calendar set of Harry Potter minifigures, and Funko is releasing its own calendar themed around the Yule Ball. Now, Bustle reports that Target is getting in on the action with four new Advent calendars packed with Harry Potter-themed socks.

No matter what type of Harry Potter fan you are, there's a batch of socks for you in Target's line-up. If you're someone who gets assigned a different house every time you take a sorting hat quiz, go with the first Advent calendar. It includes socks in men sizes 6 through 12 emblazoned with the crests and colors of all four Hogwarts houses.

The other three packs feature women's socks with a somewhat random assortment of designs. You'll find footwear branded with iconic Harry Potter imagery, like Hedwig the owl, the golden Snitch, and the Hogwarts Express. Other socks bear quotes from the books and films, like "Mischief Managed" from the Marauder's Map and Hagrid's famous one-liner, "You're a wizard, Harry."

Every Harry Potter Advent calendar from Target comes with 15 pairs of socks, working out to just $1 a pair. If you'd like to start planning the holiday season early this year, you can order them today from Target.com. And to make the holidays even more magical, don't miss out on this Hogwarts castle tree topper that plays "Hedwig's Theme."

Harry Potter socks from Target.
Target

Harry Potter sock advent calendar.
Target

Harry Potter socks from Target.
Target

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy.

When Should You Book Your Thanksgiving and Christmas Flights? Right Now!

zoff-photo/iStock via Getty Images
zoff-photo/iStock via Getty Images

For many people, paying for distressingly expensive airline tickets is just part of life when it comes to traveling for the holidays. And, while you might think you’ll get the best deal by checking fluctuating prices obsessively from today until the day before Thanksgiving, you’re probably better off booking your flights right now.

“Once you get within three or four months, the chance of something cheap popping up for Christmas or New Year’s is not very likely,” Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, told Travel + Leisure. “Certainly don’t wait until the last week or two because prices are going to be way higher.”

This is partially because airlines devise algorithms based on last year’s ticket sales and trends, and they know many travelers will fork over some serious cash rather than decide not to go home for the holidays—and there are always plenty of people who wait until the last minute to book their flights. In fact, so you know for next year, the absolute best time to book holiday travel is actually during the summer.

Scott Mayerowitz, the executive editorial director of The Points Guy, admits that it is possible to save a little money if you’re extremely diligent about following flight prices leading up to the holidays, but he thinks your mental health is worth much more than the pittance you might (or might not) save. “The heartache and headache of constantly searching for the best airfare can drive you insane,” he told Travel + Leisure. “Your time and sanity [are] worth something.”

If you’re not willing to throw in the towel just yet, you could always track the prices for a little while, and give yourself a hard deadline for booking your flights in a few weeks. Mayerowitz says buying your seats at least six weeks in advance—or earlier—is a good rule of thumb for holiday travel. That still leaves you several weeks to periodically scroll through flight listings and get a feel for what seems like a reasonable price.

To minimize your travel anxiety even further, try to fly one one of these dates, and check out eight other tips for a stress-free holiday trip.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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