Whether you're naughty or nice this year is up to you, but be warned that in addition to getting a stocking full of coal, if you're naughty you just might get disemboweled by Frau Perchta. If you thought Krampus was a scary holiday dude, folktales from Germany and Austria about this violent Christmas witch will make you squirm. In fact, humanity should be eternally grateful there isn't a Perchta-Krampus hybrid.
Like some other creepy fairy tales, Perchta's popularity was helped out by Jacob Grimm and although the exact origin of the Frau Perchta Christmas legend is unknown, it goes pretty far back in German-Austrian folklore. She was believed to be a goddess celebrated during the days between Christmas and Epiphany, until Christianity overturned the pagan beliefs thought to have created her. These days, Frau Perchta's just another scary Christmas creature. Similar to stories of Iceland's Yule Brothers or one of the worst moments in a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, it's believed Frau Perchta will do some pretty nasty things if you've been naughty that year. You may no longer believe in Santa, but you better watch out if Frau Perchta ever comes to town.
Frau Perchta is often referred to as the "belly slitter," and for good reason. According to legend, if a person doesn't complete their work due to laziness or has done too many bad deeds throughout the year, she'll use the long knife she hides in her clothing to slit their belly open and steal the person's guts. What she does with all those guts isn't clear but at least she's nice enough to replace them with straw and rocks or garbage. Perchta's also been known to use pieces of glass to cut the tongues of children who lie or set fire to a spinner's half-finished work. These extreme measures make a lump of coal seem almost as awesome as an Xbox.
A horrible group of evil spirits called Perchten are under the control of Frau Perchta and she leads them around as she flies across the mountains and plains of Eastern Europe. While she lets this pack of demons do whatever they want to the humans that have behaved badly, it is said she protects the people who are good by keeping her hoard away from them. Masks and costumed dancers were utilized by villagers in an effort to keep these evil creatures away. Many members of her group are believed to be the spirits of children who were not baptized before they died and thus unable to enter either heaven or hell. It's possible the claim that the children were unbaptized was suggested by Christians in order to explain Perchta's appearance with kids who weren't hers.
It is believed the name Perchta was adapted from a German word that means "bright" or "shining" and in some folktales she is seen as a beautiful woman wearing all white. In the less romantic stories, however, Frau Perchta appears as an old crone. Sometimes her nose is long and curved like some sort of bird beak, it's suggested she may be a shapeshifter, and she's occasionally dressed in rags. It's also possible that she is actually half man and half woman, representing all humans at once.
Researchers believe Perchta's transformation from goddess to terrifying hag came about as pagan practices were overtaken by Christianity and their desire to squash pagan beliefs. Considering the duality of tales told about Perchta in which she is either kind or murderous, and appears during the holiday season as a new year is dawning, having an appearance that is two-sided makes sense.
Frau Perchta is said to appear during the 12 days between Christmas and the January 6 holiday Epiphany, a Christian celebration remembering the revelation of God in the newborn Jesus Christ. According to legend, if people work on her Epiphany feast day, she will become very angry. Perchta would prefer humanity join together for a meal and enjoy each other's company. Before she visits their homes, people will leave food out, such as porridge, as an offering to her. If Perchta doesn't get any offerings or if a person was lazy any other day of the year, she may bestow her wrath upon them. She has a special love of spinners who work hard to make thread but expects them to produce a certain amount by the end of the year. Those who come up short are said to anger Perchta as well.