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

Vermont and Maine Are Replacing Columbus Day With Indigenous Peoples' Day

David Ryder/Getty Images
David Ryder/Getty Images

The narrative surrounding Christopher Columbus has shifted in recent years, leading some U.S. states and cities to reconsider glorifying the figure with his own holiday. If the governors of Vermont and Maine sign their new bills into law, the two states will become the latest places to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day, CNN reports.

In 1971, the Uniform Holiday Bill went into effect, officially designating Columbus Day as a federal holiday to be celebrated on the second Monday of October. The holiday was originally meant to recognize the "discovery" of America—a version of history that erases the people already living on the continent when Columbus arrived and ignores the harm he inflicted.

As Columbus's popularity decreases in the U.S., some places have embraced Indigenous Peoples' Day: A day dedicated to Native American culture in history. The holiday is already observed in Seattle, Washington; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Alaska. Earlier this year, Sandusky, Ohio announced they would swap Columbus Day for Voting Day and give municipal workers the election Tuesday of November off instead.

Indigenous Peoples' Day has been celebrated in place of Columbus Day in Vermont for the past few years, but a new bill would make the change permanent. The Vermont state legislature has voted yes on the bill, and now it just needs approval from Governor Phil Scott, which he says he plans to give. If he passes the law, it will go into effect on October 14, 2019 (the date Columbus Day falls on this year).

Maine voted on a similar bill in March, and it gained approval from both the state's Senate and House of Representatives. Like Governor Scott, Maine governor Janet Mills plans on signing her state's bill and making the holiday official.

Regardless of the legal status of Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples' Day celebrations take place across the country every October. South Dakota hosts Native American Day festivities at the Crazy Horse Memorial each year, and in Seattle, Indigenous Peoples celebrations last a whole week.

[h/t The Washington Post]

6 Creative Recycling Efforts From Around the Globe

iStock.com/ElenaSeychelles
iStock.com/ElenaSeychelles

Recycling isn't—and shouldn’t be—limited to separating plastic cartons, junk mail, and tin cans for the garbage collector. This Earth Day, think outside the plastic bin, and brainstorm creative ways to convert or re-purpose old, discarded, or unexpected materials into something new and useful. Don't know where to start? Get inspired by one (or all) of the sustainable organizations and initiatives below.

1. The Shopping Center That Sells Recycled/Upcycled Items

The adage “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” rings true in Eskilstuna, Sweden. The metropolis is home to a shopping center, ReTuna Återbruksgalleria, which only sells upcycled, recycled, or sustainable merchandise. (The name ReTuna Återbruksgalleria combines Tuna, which is a nickname for the city; återbruk, which means “reuse” in Swedish; and galleria, which means mall.)

Patrons can drop off objects they no longer want or need at a designated recycling depot. Items that can be repaired are fixed and re-sold in the mall’s nine shops, which offer customers everything from furniture to clothing items to sporting equipment. Goods that can’t be sold are donated to needy institutions or organizations, or recycled.

2. The Mall That Feeds Its Food Waste To Hogs

A sign outside the Mall of America
iStock.com/Wolterk

The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, is the nation’s largest shopping center—and it’s also vying for the title of “greenest.” In addition to LED parking garage lighting, water-efficient toilets, and thousands of air-purifying plants and trees, the mall annually recycles more than 2400 tons of food waste by donating it to a local hog farm. (If you’re an entrepreneur who’s interested in emulating the MOA’s large-scale food waste strategy, you can check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines for getting started here.)

3. The Nonprofit That Transforms Flip-Flop Flotsam Into Art

Around 8.8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. Soda bottles, grocery bags, and six-pack rings aren’t the only plastic items polluting the world’s waterways and harming fish, turtles, and other animals: In 1997, marine conservationist Julie Church came across a beach in Kenya that was strewn with discarded flip-flops.

Church noticed children making toys from the debris, and convinced local women to collect, wash, and process the flip-flops into colorful art objects. This initiative grew into Ocean Sole, a fair-trade business that today collects flip-flop flotsam from Kenya's beaches and waters and transforms them into plastic sculptures, accessories, and trinkets. Ocean Sole's goal is to recycle 750,000 flip-flops per year, and the organization also provides business opportunities to women living in city slums and remote coastal areas.

4. The Company That Turns Used Diapers Into Usable Items

 
Founded in 1989, Knowaste is a Canadian company that recycles diapers and absorbent hygiene products (AHPs), such as baby diapers, feminine hygiene products, and incontinence pads. They've developed a way to strip them of their plastic and fiber, which they then use to make products like composite construction materials, pet litter, and cardboard industrial tubing.

5. THE ECOLOGICAL NONPROFIT THAT COLLECTS HAIR TO CLEAN UP OIL SPILLS

Work at a beauty salon or own a furry pet? Instead of tossing shorn or shed hair into the trash, donate it to Matter of Trust. The San Francisco-based ecological charity’s Clean Wave program collects hair and fur, and uses it to make oil-absorbing mats and stuff containment booms. Hazmat teams use these all-natural tools to clean up after oil spills, and public works departments use them to keep motor oil drip spills out of waterways.

In addition to large-scale donations from beauty salons, barbershops, and groomers, Matter of Trust also accepts smaller contributions from private individuals. If you’re interested in helping out, visit Matter of Trust’s website, register to participate in the nonprofit’s Excess Access recycling program, and follow the instructions to donate. The program’s need for hair and fur ebbs and flows, depending on the volume of recent donations. But in the case of an emergency oil spill, all donations are welcome. (Cases in point: Matter of Trust’s hair mats and booms were used to help clean up after both the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill in the San Francisco Bay and the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.)

6. The Nonprofit That Re-Purposes Old Crayons Into New Ones

As art supplies go, crayons are relatively cheap, making it all too easy and inexpensive to toss scuzzy, broken, and worn-down wax stubs into the trash and purchase new ones. But crayons are typically made from paraffin wax and aren’t biodegradable—so to keep old art tools from clogging landfills, a Northern California-based nonprofit called The Crayon Initiative collects unwanted crayons from restaurants and schools and melts them down to make fresh ones. Then, they donate the re-purposed goods to children’s hospitals. Family restaurants and schools can find out how to organize crayon donation drives online.

A version of this article first ran in 2017. It has been updated to reflect current data.

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