You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blizten, but do you recall the most terrifying Christmas characters of all? For some time now, Christmas has been a terrifying holiday masquerading as the "most wonderful time of the year." As much as we may love Santa Claus and his predecessors for shelling out presents to good boys and girls during the yuletide season, we mostly ignore that it's a reward system with traumatic consequences for a social contract none of us ever agreed to.
Yet, Santa is the least offensive (aside from being the de facto overlord) of these characters as he only deals with those who end up on his "Nice List." But what happens to those who end up on his Naughty List? Do they get a lump of coal? Perhaps; in some traditions - ancient and modern - we bad boys and girls don't get off so easily. Here we unveil some of the most scary and traumatizing characters who have haunted the most wonderful time of the year throughout the ages.
So what is the scariest Christmas legend? This list will give you a foundation of how evil, scary and twisted the holidays can be.
Hailing from Germany, Belsnickel is a creepy looking figure. Covered in patch-worked rags to keep his identity secret, he also wears furs and threatens children by carrying a switch. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Belsnickel stops by the doors of households with children and threatens the misbehaving kids that if they don't straighten up, they'll not only not get presents, but a good beating from Belsnickel himself.
Based on the book, The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bel, illustrated by Coë Steinwart. Now, aside from the fact you can't call something new "a tradition," The Elf on the Shelf is the latest trick for parents to keep children well-behaved during the winter months (if not throughout the year). A mix of the yule lads and Belsnickel (only without the corporal punishment), the story goes that Santa sends out his little helpers — who apparently haven't worked enough through the year making toys for all the good kinder of the world — to all the households of the world to keep an eye on the kids in the final days building up to Christmas. Each day, the elf appears in a different part of the house to monitor and report back to Santa, in case Timmy and Tiffany aren't really staying on their best behavior.
Part of the tradition of Elf on the Shelf is that he pulls pranks and does cute and creative things. However, despite the fun and mischief he provides, children are forbidden from touching him. For if they do, he will lose all his magical powers and not be able to report back to Santa. On one hand, that seems like a great idea if you are naughty because then Santa can never truly know. On the other hand, it is rather damning circumstantial evidence.
Here's a blog dedicated to "creative" Elf in the Shelf ideas, but mostly it's just a blog of creepy ideas.
Krampus (whose name comes from the Germanic root for "claw") dates back long before the time of Christ, but in modern day is more or less the ultimate Christmas demon, the companion and antithesis of Santa Claus ("Old Nick" to "Saint Nick," as Krampus.com puts it).
While American kids never feared a lack of shiny new presents no matter their behavioral tendencies, children of the Old World, especially Germany, knew something worse than a lump of coal was coming their way if they misbehaved. Rather, if you weren't well behaved, you were beaten and tortured before being kidnapped and taken to the Krampus' lair, where we can only assume one was beaten and tortured some more.
In modern days, there appears to be two sides on how to handle the Krampus story.Since the 1950s, Austrians have tried to put the creature on the back burner, claiming terrorizing small children with such tales isn't healthy. While in the Germanic city of Schlanders (Silandro, Italy), young men are even encouraged to dress up as the Krampus and terrorize small children, before having some Schnapps with the heads of the house. Elsewhere still, the Krampus is given his own holiday prior to the Feast of St. Nicholas known as Krampusnacht, and he even appears on his own holiday greeting card, known as Krampuskarten.
Black Peter (known to natives of the Netherlands as Zwarte Piet) may appear rather tame in theory: he does, after all, give sweets and presents to good little boys and girls and is a companion of Sinterklaas (that is, Saint Nicoholas). The insidiousness of Black Pete comes in the fact that he is a racial stereotype by the lily white natives of the Netherlands and Belgium. Although modern attempts to be politically correct have claimed that the reason for the naming of "black" in Peter's name comes from his occupation as a chimney sweep, the physical appearance says otherwise. Black-face make up, exaggerated red lips, and thick, Brillo-y hair.
It should also be noted that Pete accompanies Sinterklaas on his journey from Spain, meaning he is likely a moor (like that Othello guy from Shakespeare), as suggested by Jan Schenkaman in Saint Nicholas and His Servant.
In attempts to downplay the racist background of the character to foreign tourists, the Dutch have tried having the person playing Zwarte Pieten instead paint himself in a variety of colors. This didn't set well with those rooted in the tradition, and he has since returned to his black face roots. In recent years, the backlash returned from figures from other cultures, which has forced the local governments to downplay and rethink Zwarte Piet's role in the winter celebrations.