When we think of Christmas, only positive things come to mind at first; joy, presents, family … and why would it be any different? Christmas’ starring character is a plump and happy man who delivers gifts all over the world in his sleigh. But the truth is, Santa Claus is not the only Christmas character we can find on these dates. There are numerous European legends in which the friendly character is replaced or accompanied by all kinds of sinister creatures.
Here we bring you the top 7 European Christmas creatures you didn’t know – you’ll wish you had been good this year after hearing more about them…
Krampus is one of the most well-known European Christmas creatures across Austria and Central Europe. It is a demonic-looking creature – a kind of humanoid goat with long fangs, a forked tongue and sharp claws. His goal is to punish children who have misbehaved during the year, whipping them with a birch stick until they become good.
Legends say that Krampus is the son of Hel, the goddess of death in Norse mythology and his name comes from German Krampen (claw). According to legend Krampus appears during the Krampusnacht or “Krampus night” on December 6th and during this time he can kidnap the children keeping them in their den for a whole year.
It is believed that Krampus accompanies his antithesis Santa Claus. His arrival can be noticed by the tinkling sound of rusty chains and cowbells that resonate in his path.
Today this character is still used as a celebration in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. Drunk men disguise themselves as this horrid beast and run through the streets scaring children and adults during Christmas.
A species of furry hoof giant with a monstrous appearance lives in the mountains of Iceland and during the Christmas season goes in search of children who have misbehaved to carry them in her grimy sack. Then she boils them in a pot and devours them.
This terrifying character from Icelandic mythology is one of the most ancient. Since the thirteenth century, poets like Snorri Sturluson have collected stories about Gryla and her dreadful activities.
According to legend, Gryla married twelve times until she found her husband Leppaludi with whom she had thirteen children, the Yule Lads. These are a kind of elves that annoy families when Christmas is about to arrive, although sometimes they also leave gifts or rotten potatoes in shoes.
This legend extends to Norway and some parts of Sweden. It tells of a kind of witch that attacks anyone who had not finished their tasks at the end of the year. Her name comes from the Latin “lux” which means light. Lussi appears during the night of December 13th, the longest night of the year, also called Lussi Long-night (Lussi Langnatte).
Anyone who has not finished their cleaning, sewing or other type of task feared Lussi’s arrival. She will crush their chimneys causing them to go cold throughout the Christmas period. She also shouts their disapproval through the window showing a frightening face.
It is also said that Lussi is accompanied by terrifying beings such as trolls and spirits that help her kidnap anyone who ventures into the dark night to be tortured and then released.
4. Père Fouettard
Père Fouettard – in French, literally “father whip” – is a sinister character of French origin who appears next to Santa Claus as a creepy assistant. He usually appears next to him on the night of December 6th and is dedicated to threatening the disobedient children if they were naughty during the year.
Père Fouettard is described as a hairy man with a long beard. He announces his arrival with the snapping sound of his whip and sometimes some bells that he carries.
5. The Karakoncolos or Kallikantzaros
European Christmas creatures are arife in Turkey, and extend to other countries such as Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Serbia and Cyprus. The Karakoncolos is described as a kind of monstrous elf that appears from the Winter Solstice, when it is colder and the nights are darker and longer, to annoy and hunt down humans. On January 6th, Karakoncolos disappears underground, where he lives for the rest of the year.
The name derives from the Turkish kara-kondjolos (werewolf or vampire).
According to some legends, any child born during Christmas days could become a Karakoncolos. Some believed that the way to prevent it is to protect the baby with garlic heads or to burn the toenails so that they do not become hooves.
7. Frau Perchta o Berchta
Frau Perchta is a sinister witch of Germanic mythology. She will appear at Christmas to kill those who have not been good during the year or those who have not cleaned their houses. In addition, Perchta removes organs from its victims and replaces it with stones, straw or rubbish. However, Perchta is not all evil, those who behave well during the year will receive a silver coin from her.
According to some legends, Perchta is an alpine deity of nature but in most references the creature is referred to as a spirit. Perchta changes her appearance as she sees fit. It is often presented as an old beheaded woman but if you make her angry she will become a horrifying monster. She won’t hurt you if you follow the Christmas traditions and behave well.
8. Jólakötturinn or The Christmas Cat
Jólakötturinn is a gigantic black cat that runs through the snowy mountains in Iceland during Christmas. This fierce creature will devour anyone who does not have new clothes at Christmas. Although there are other variants of the myth in which it will simply eat your food.
In Iceland there is a tradition of giving clothes to children who behave well during the year and complete their tasks. That is why Jólakötturinn is dedicated to watching through the windows to see if the children receive this gift, as if they don’t, he deduces that they have been disobedient and will eat them.
The origin of this legend is really old, but interestingly the first time it was mentioned in a writing was in the 19th century. This creature links to the previously mentioned Gryla, as some legends say that Jolakotturinn is Gryla’s cat.
Be careful in choosing your next Christmas destination…If you’re planning to spend Christmas in any of these countries try to behave well and follow the traditions. If not, any of these sinister European Christmas creatures may go after you and you may never come back …