By now most everyone is familiar with Krampus, the monstrous goat/demon hybrid who throws naughty children into his sack and hauls them down into the flaming underworld (especially since Hollywood made him into a major motion picture). But not everyone is familiar with the rich wealth of Christmas horror traditions that are scattered all over Europe.
From time immemorial, discouraging the “naughty behavior” of children has been a key preoccupation of folklorists, God-fearing sadists, and parents alike; but the truth is that Krampus isn't even close to being the most fearsome apparition we've managed to come up with. Below are just a few of the child-disemboweling hags, flesh-eating serial killers, and roving horse skulls that misbehaving kids had best go out of their way to avoid this (and every) holiday season.
Frau Perchta and Her Tinsel EntrailsPhoto: Čeněk Zibrt / via Wikimedia Commons
Frau Perchta, the puckered, decomposedly-grinning Hannibal Lecter of Eastern Europe, is one of Christmas's most thrillingly terrifying apparitions. According to this article (which is succinctly titled “Frau Perchta is a Christmas Witch Who Will Replace Your Children's Organs With Garbage”), she resembles a kind of deranged, Frankensteinian goat pieced together from various severed body parts; she's sometimes also depicted as a hag with two faces. Terrifying though she is, good children have nothing to fear from her, but naughty ones had best batten down the hatches. Her way of dealing with bad seeds includes “slitting open their bellies, removing their organs, and replacing them with pebbles and straw.”
So if you wake up on Christmas morning and see intestines strung from the rafters (and tree) instead of tinsel, chances are you (or some other unfortunate member of your family) has been visited by Perchta.
Jólakötturinn, the Child-Devouring Christmas Cat
Jólakötturinn, the child-devouring Yule Cat, comes to us from the wintry wonderland of Iceland. Though he's often depicted as being bloody-fanged, slavering, and thickly-furred, he acts more like the famously hairless Sphinx cat, because he's always in search of warm clothing. Legend has it that children who don't put out warm items on Christmas Eve (sweaters, socks, scarves, etc) are destined to be eaten alive.
Moreover, the clothing must be new: Jólakötturinn doesn't accept hand-me-downs, and he doesn't want your stinky moth-eaten coats; and if you put out milk for him, you best put out meat instead of cookies.
Grýla, the Giantess Who Eats Kids for Christmas Dinner
Grýla, another Icelandic Christmas apparition of epic proportions, is almost as frightening as the child-eviscerating Frau Perchta. She's described as a giantess with cloven hooves and thirteen swishing tails … one, presumably for each of her thirteen ominous sons, who are known as the “Yule Lads” (and who are discussed in more detail below).
Grýla lives deep in the mountains with her demonic brood, and only comes down to the village on Christmas, which basically serves as her hunting ground. Her prey is naughty children, whom she throws into a sack, takes back to her lair, and boils alive. (Everybody deserves a succulent Christmas feast). Her palate, however, isn't limited to kids: she's also rumored to have killed and eaten her first three husbands … because they bored her, and because she felt they made better victuals than companions.
The Yule Lads, 13 Christmas Poltergeist Trolls
Despite their catchy name, the Yule Lads are not an indie band, but Grýla's thirteen trollish sons. By most accounts, the boys are far less malevolent than their homicidal mother, but they're still destructive enough to strike fear into the hearts of most people. They include Door Slammer (who repeatedly bangs shutters in the night like an angry poltergeist), Window Peeper (who stares ominously in on children as they sleep), and Meat Hook (who steals hanging and butchered hams - a common staple in every household? - with a long hook). The most frightening brother is undoubtedly Sky Gobbler, who goes straight for all-out destruction and simply devours the sky, and everyone's oxygen, whole.
The Yule Lads usually come down the mountain every Christmas, and presumably accompany their mother as she goes from house to house, kidnapping children. In some versions of the story, Jólakötturinn, the child-eating Christmas cat, is even a part of the brood, and stands by to do his own devouring thing as misbehaving children boil away in the family stew.