The typical iconography of Christmas takes us to an enchanted world full of reindeer, elves, gingerbread houses and gifts brought by Santa Klaus.
But Santa Klaus in several cultures, mostly in the North, has a dark side, and Christmas is also related to evil figures like Krampus and the Moorish servant, “showing up” on December 5 or 6, during Saint Nicholas’ Day.
Are you ready to discover these evil characters? Let’s go!
Austria and Trentino: The Krampus
Faun-like figures with horns, hair, monstrous faces and ragged clothes. According to the legend, a long time ago, in small mountain villages, some starving young people began to plunder the nearby villages disguised in furs, feathers and animal horns.
One day they discovered that the Devil was among them; Saint Nicholas defeated the devil and hired the young people as helpers, to follow him in the distribution of gifts to good children and lashes to bad children!
Iceland: Jólakötturinn, the “Christmas Cat”
An Icelandic legend says that those who complete all the tasks before Christmas are gifted with new clothes. Therefore the Yule Cat can easily find lazy children thanks to their old clothes, and these children will be sacrificed to him. But this story has also a gentle message given by the poem of the Christmas Cat suggesting to children to give away their discarded clothes so that others can protect themselves from the Jólakötturinn.
Germany and Austria: Frau Perchta
She is a witch who distributes gifts and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25th to January 6th). Frau Perchta’s punishments are quite macabre, like ripping out the sinner’s intestines and replacing them with garbage.
The legend of Perchta comes from an Alpine goddess who takes care of the forests for most of the year and of men at Christmas time.
Dressed in rags and a worn fur coat, the Belsnickel has a stick to scare bad children. Its name derives from the union of the German word Belzen (meaning blow, beating) and the contraction of St. Nicholas, the other name of Santa Klaus.
France: Hans Trapp
Originally from the Alsace-Lorraine area, this French figure punishes naughty children. According to the legend, Hans Trapp really existed: he was a rich, greedy and cruel man, who seemed to venerate the Devil. Therefore he was exiled to the forest where he began to hunt children dressed up as a scarecrow. One day, as he was about to eat a child he had kidnapped, a bolt of lightning killed him.
Even today he continues to scare children before Christmas, still dressed as a scarecrow.
France: Père Fouettard “Father Whipping”
The story begins with an evil butcher who lures three little boys into the butcher’s shop to kill them, cutting them into pieces and salting their meat to preserve it. Legend has it that Saint Nicholas resurrects the three children and puts the butcher in chains.
So Père Fouettard became the servant of Saint Nicholas for punishing naughty children at Christmas.
Iceland: The Jólasveinar or Yule Lads
The Yule Lads are the children of Grýla, an ogress who kidnaps, cooks and eats bad children. They are 13 trolls, every one with its own name and personality. During the Christmas period, they disturb and steal everything, and their stories are used to scare children.
Norway: The gnome Nisse and the witches
Nisse is a spiteful gnome from Norway that pursue children that don’t offer him a cup of porridge. According to another legend, on Christmas Eve witches roam in the night skies. For this reason, on December 24 all the brooms should be hidden, otherwise, a witch will come to get the broom and ruin Christmas Day.
Raise your hand if you’re now scared of Christmas?!?