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.
Hans Trapp, the Satanic Christmas Serial KillerPhoto: Public Domain / via Wikimedia Commons
Hans Trapp is more of an “ordinary” Christmas serial killer than an extravagant Christmas monster, proper. Legend has it that he was a rich and unscrupulous man who was eventually excommunicated from the church; he then turned to Satanism and black magic, and began to obsess about eating human flesh. As it stands now, he now travels “from house to house in his scarecrow disguise” every Christmas, “scaring the life out of small children and drooling greedily over their tender flesh.”
However, in "real" life (that is, the real life of the legend) justice was, it's said, finally done. Word on the street is that God finally struck Hans dead by frying him with a lightning bolt, thus ending his reign of child-eating horror once and for all.
Belsnickel, Christmas Eve's Masked Visitor
Belsnickel is a comparatively benevolent (though still frightening) figure whose aim is to dispense (fairly) reasonable justice rather than hellish punishment. According to this article, he's a masked figure who carries a big black sack, and who announces his arrival by rapping on windows or doors early (pre-bedtime) on Christmas night. (The family is then expected to let him in, so he can do his thing out in the open). He apparently has toys and goodies for good children, and switches for naughty ones... though being given a switch is, of course, a hundred percent better than being boiled alive or eviscerated.
Other versions of the story are much more sinister, however: some say that Belsnickel drags naughty children into the forest, where he makes them “pay for their mischievous behavior.” What this punishment entails is never specified, but ignorance is bliss.
Mari Lwyd, the Traveling Holiday Horse Skull
Mari Lwyd, the dead Halloween/New Year's Eve crossover horse, is a Welsh tradition that's as festive as it is macabre. Traditionally, the ceremony went like this: on New Year's Eve, a horse's skull was mounted on a pole held by a live “puppeteer,” who was draped with a white cloth to hide his body.
The horse then “traveled” from door to door, trick-or-treat fashion, but here's the great part: in order to prevent it from coming into your house, you had to outwit it with rhymes. (In other words, the ceremony encompassed a sort of pagan-era poetry slam contest).
The horse was also frequently accompanied by merrymakers and singers, but their intention was holiday cheer rather than home invasion: the ceremony was, and still is, meant to symbolize rebirth and the triumph of life over death.
Struwwelpeter, the Christmas Character That Launched a Thousand Bizarre Childhood Deaths
Struwwelpeter (AKA “Shockheaded Peter”) has become a household name almost on par with Edward Gorey in recent years. Originally created by psychiatrist and author Heinrich Hoffman as a Christmas present for his son, Struwwelpeter sported huge, electrocution-lifted hair and long, pointed, talon-like fingers (which would later go on to inspire the creation of Edward Scissorhands).
Struwwelpeter is mainly a kind of cautionary (and bloodthirsty) moralist; he stands by as children burn to death (for neglecting fire safety), get their fingers severed with scissors (for sucking their thumbs), and waste away, Stephen King's Thinner-style (for refusing to eat their soup). Fortunately for the curious, a beautifully scanned and reproduced version of this masterpiece can be read in its entirety here.