Every culture has their legends and myths surrounding the holidays. Here are a couple of fun legends from Germany and Iceland that’ll make you think again about being on the naughty list.
Germany – The Krampus
In Germany, naughty little boys and girls have more to fear around Christmastime than just a stocking full of coal. According to popular lore, the Krampus, a demon-like beast, snatches up the worst behaved children, stuffs them into a bag or basket and then carries them off to his mountain lair.
The Krampus is sort of St. Nicholas’ Mr. Hyde-like alter-ego. The two travel together, with St. Nick handing out the goodies and getting all the hugs, and the Krampus doing all the dirty work. This disturbing legend traces back at least 400 years, but it’s likely much older. National Geographic explains more:
Krampus, whose name is derived from the German word krampen, meaning claw, is said to be the son of Hel in Norse mythology. The legendary beast also shares characteristics with other scary, demonic creatures in Greek mythology, including satyrs and fauns.
According to folklore, Krampus purportedly shows up in towns the night before December 6, known as Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night. December 6 also happens to be Nikolaustag, or St. Nicholas Day, when German children look outside their door to see if the shoe or boot they’d left out the night before contains either presents (a reward for good behavior) or a rod (bad behavior).
The head-shaking Catholic church and poo-pooing by fascists pushed Krampus underground for a while, NatGeo continues. But today the Krampus is back in the holiday spotlight. In Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia, teenage boys especially like to dress up as the Krampus in December, and some people enjoy exchanging Krampus-themed Christmas cards. Now, the Krampus is even gaining a following on this side of the pond, with Krampus art shows, Krampus beer crawls and Krampus rock shows all in the works this holiday season.
Then there’s these guys!
Iceland – the Yule Lads
Icelandic children get to enjoy the favors on not one but 13 Father Christmases. Called the Yule Lads, these merry but mischievous fellows take turns visiting kids on the 13 nights leading up to Christmas. On each of those nights, children place one of their shoes on the windowsill. For good boys and girls, the Yule Lad will leave candy. If not, the Yule Lads are not subtle in expressing their disapproval: they fill the shoe with rotting potatoes.
Don’t think well-behaved Icelandic kids have a sweet deal all around, however. They may enjoy 13 Santa Claus-like visits, but they also have to contend with a creature called Grýla who comes down from the mountains on Christmas and boils naughty children alive, and a giant, blood-thirsty black kitty called the Christmas Cat that prowls around the country on Christmas Eve and eats anyone who’s not wearing at least one new piece of clothing.
Apparently, the Yule Lads used to be a lot more creepy then they are today, too, but in 1746 parents were officially banned from tormenting their kids with monster stories about those particular creatures. Today, they’re mostly benign–save for the harmless tricks they like to play.
Like Snow White’s seven dwarves, each of the Yule Lads has his own distinct personality. Their names, however, remained a point of much interpretation and debate until recently. As the National Museum of Iceland describes:
Dozens of different names for the Yule Lads appear in different folk tales and stories. A popular poem about the Yule Lads by the late Jóhannes úr Kötlum, which first appeared in the book Jólin koma (Christmas is Coming) in 1932, served to make their names and number much better known. The names of the 13 Yule Lads that most Icelanders know today are all derived from that poem.
Today, as the Museum describes, the Yule lads are:
- Sheep-Cote Clod: He tries to suckle yews in farmer’s sheep sheds
- Gully Gawk: He steals foam from buckets of cow milk
- Stubby: He’s short and steals food from frying pans
- Spoon Licker: He licks spoons
- Pot Scraper, aka Pot Licker: He steals unwashed pots and licks them clean
- Bowl Licker: He steals bowls of food from under the bed (back in the old days, Icelanders used to sometimes store bowls of food there – convenient for midnight snacking?)
- Door Slammer: He stomps around and slams doors, keeping everyone awake
- Skyr Gobbler: He eats up all the Icelandic yogurt (skyr)
- Sausage Swiper: He loves stolen sausages
- Window Peeper: He likes to creep outside windows and sometimes steal the stuff he sees inside
- Door Sniffer: He has a huge nose and an insatiable appetite for stolen baked goods
- Meat Hook: He snatches up any meat left out, especially smoked lamb
- Candle Beggar: He steals candles, which used to be sought-after items in Iceland
Read more on Smithsonianmag.com.
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