Demons, devils, killers, and Krampus: the dark stories of old world Christmas

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Demons, devils, killers, and Krampus: the dark stories of old world Christmas

These chilling stories from Europe will give you a new appreciation of the dark side of the holiday season.

The holidays, am I right?

If you're an incorrigible grinch like I am, there is plenty of stuff to amuse you during the Christmas season. I personally find it therapeutic to study the darker side of the Christmas mythology. Why care about a Santa Claus who shills for heartless mega corporations and gives the best gifts to rich asshole children when you can read about a cat that devours unwary travelers or a French butcher who wound up as a punishment spirit after chopping up three children? What about a demon who removes the internal organs of wicked people and replaces them with garbage or a skeletal white horse that will scare evil from your home in exchange for booze?

Here are our favorite Christmas monsters.

1) Jólakötturinn

One of the most annoying things about the Christmas season is just how PREACHY it is. Everyone is all "be good, and you'll get stuff" or "be bad, and some jerk is gonna judge you."

Well, not jólakötturinn the Icelandic Yule Cat. It doesn't matter if you're naughty or nice. If he catches you in the winter snow, he'll devour you. While he doesn't particularly care if you have been a good person or not, he is repelled by new clothing, which was a typical Christmas gift. So parents would give new clothes to good kids and tell bad kids to stay indoors for the season.

So next time you get a pair of socks for Christmas, remember that it's not because the gift giver is lazy. Instead, they're trying to protect you from an oversized hungry cat with an appetite for people.

2) Mari Lwyd

There are a lot of stories about white horses in the British Isles. They were symbols of fertility and abundance, and they appear in a lot of local myths. One in particular, the Mari Lwyd, is a frightening tradition from Wales. Known colloquially as the "Christmas Zombie Horse," the Mari Lwyd is represented by revelers who carry a horse skull on a pole that has been draped with white linen and flowers. The revelers would go wassailing door to door and challenge the owners to contests of wits and riddles. After the games are completed, the revelers were invited inside to feast and drink. The presence of the Mari Lwyd was said to frighten away harmful spirits and bad fortune.

3) Grýla and the 13 Yule Lads

Grýla is another monster from Iceland, one associated with our friendly feeling the Yule Cat. Grýla, however, is far worse and more horrifying. Appearing as a haggard old witch with a massive nose and a hunched body, this troll hunted naughty children. Any she caught were put into a sack, which she would then take back to her cave in the mountains and devour them alive.

If that wasn't bad enough, she is also the mother of the 13 Yule lads, a group of thirteen trolls who would cause mischief. According to Sarah Elizabeth Troop at Atlas Obscura:

"Sheep Cote Clog," a peg-legged sheep fancier; "Gully Hawk" who hides out in ditches or gullies and waits for an opportune moment to run into the cow shed and lick the foam off the milk in the milking buckets; "Stubby" whose name denotes his stature as he is unusually short; "Spoon Licker," a licker and thief of spoons; "Pot Scraper" who is a petty thief of leftovers; "Bowl Licker" who hides under your bed and waits for you to absentmindedly put down your bowl so he can steal and yes, lick it; "Door Slammer" who slams doors all night; "Skyr Gobbler" who eats "skyr" yogurt; "Sausage Swiper" who steals sausage; "Window Peeper" who watches you from the windows; "Doorway Sniffer" who uses his incredibly large nose to sniff through doors to find bread; "Meat Hook" who always brings a hook along with him so he can steal meat; and "Candle Stealer" who follows children around so he can steal their candles, leaving them in the dark.

4) La Befana

One of the few creatures on this list that isn't actually malevolent, La Befana is an Italian witch who appears as a deformed woman riding a broom greased with goose or duck fat. The story goes that she was asked by the Three Wise Men to join them in their search for the Christ Child. She took too long to get ready, and the Wise Men left her behind. Now she soars the night looking for Christ. She visits homes and, if she finds any children, she will leave candy and cookies for them. It goes to show that beauty is only skin deep, but cookies are forever.

5) Père Fouettard

One of my favorite Christmas terror tales, Père Fouettard is another spirit of punishment. Originally from France, Père Fouettard's name means "Father Whipper" and his legend is rooted in stories of highwaymen and evil innkeepers who murder travelers for their money.

According to a 12th-century legend, Père Fouettard was either an innkeeper or a butcher. He heard that three young boys were traveling through his region on religious orders, so he conspired with his wife to lure them to his home. There, he slit the boys' throats and dismembered them before hiding their bodies in a salt barrel. St. Nicholas found out what happened and resurrected the boys before returning them safely home. In punishment, Père Fouettard was forced to serve St. Nick for all eternity.

Once a powerful and handsome man, Père Fouettard barely looks human anymore. Hundreds of years of sleeping in filth and being filled with bitterness at his predicament have made him a stooped and miserable figure. He carries a switch and wields it with glee at the few naughty children that St. Nicholas believes deserve punishment.

6) Hans Trapp

Imagine if Ebenezer Scrooge got worse after his experiences with the ghosts of Christmas, but then he went insane, got superpowers, and became an evil scarecrow. Then you might have an idea about what Hans Trapp would be like.

In life, Hans Trapp was a tremendously greedy and selfish man who worshipped Satan in Alsace and Lorraine, France. In exchange for worship, the dark lord made Hans Trapp a wealthy man. He enjoyed life as a big rich prick before his neighbors discovered his blasphemous practices and excommunicated him. His notoriety caused him to lose his wealth and status in society, so he withdrew to a cabin in the deepest part of the wilderness, where he slowly went mad.

That's when children started going missing from the woods.

Hans Trapp continued his sinister worship, but he now offered the blood and flesh of the children he took as tribute. To capture them, he would dress up as a scarecrow and wait for children to stumble upon him while exploring the woods. Finally, when he was about to consume the flesh of one of his victims on Christmas Eve, God slew him with a lightning bolt.

Not even death could stop Hans Trapp's evil. They say he's still out in the woods somewhere, dressed in his scarecrow costume, appearing to naughty children. He always wants to kill and devour them, of course, but all he can do is scare them into good behavior.

7) Krampus

If you're reading this, you probably already know who Krampus is, but I gotta put him on the list anyway.

A pagan demon from pre-Christianity (or the Devil himself, depending on what you believe) who was captured by St. Nicholas. Bound to permanent servitude, this demon gets his own special day before Christmas, where he's allowed to torment wicked children. The best a bad kid can hope for is a couple solid whacks with a willow switch, but the worst would be stuffed in a sack and taken to the underworld.

Krampus is by far the most popular anti-Santa, and massive parades are thrown every year to celebrate his legacy. Revelers were getting out of hand this year, wrecking property and scaring children.

It sounds like my kind of holiday celebration.

8) Lussi

In Norway and Sweden, December 13th is St. Lucia's day. This is meant to celebrate a 4th-century martyr, and traditional celebrations involve the saint being represented by a young woman in a white gown wearing a wreath crown on her head with a circle of lit candles lighting a hair above her.

Like many things, the image we have is a sanitized and clean version of the pre-Christian myths behind them. A long time ago, Lucia was Lussi, and she was the head of a massive festival that would last through the night.

Pity the poor human caught in the festivities, because December 13th was when the dead were supposed to walk the land and when the gates of hell were opened. At the head of it all was the Lussi. Hideous and hateful, she flew through the night with her entourage of demons. They were looking for people to kill. Still, all good Christians could keep themselves safe by hiding indoors and painting a crucifix on the doorway. Without any victims to torment, the Lussi would amuse herself by destroying crops, poisoning wells, and butchering livestock.

9) Perchta

Imagine being a good little boy/girl/nb and meeting the Perchta during Christmas. She appears before you as a beautiful young woman, decked out in furs and other old costuming, and she would praise you and give you treats in gratitude for your faithfulness, decency, and adherence to tradition.

Now imagine being a bad little boy/girl/nb and meeting the Perchta. This time, she is a warped and bitter-faced old woman with hateful eyes and a scream like a banshee. You could try to run away or hide in some deep dark corner, but she always finds her prey. Once she catches you, she slits your belly open, removes your entrails, and replaces them with straw and pebbles. Those who would find your ruined corpse the following day would be reminded of the cost of wickedness.

So there you go. Tell these tales around the Christmas fire, and MAYBE you'll scare some little kids quiet.

Happy holidays, creeps!

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