In this part of the world, we're used to stories about Santa, the jolly-yet-creepy immortal who sees you when you're sleeping, who knows when you're awake. Santa is a monster in his own right, but he can't hold a candle to these twelve legends of monsters that haunt the holiday season.
1. Krampus, Austria
Krampus, who is essentially a giant demon goat, tends to tag along with St. Nicolas. And while good ol' St. Nick is giving the good children gifts, Krampus finds the bad ones and beats them. According to some legends, Krampus might alternately stuff bad children in his sack and take them off to his cave to torture and eat them. Frankly, I think this legend would be way more effective than Santa in teaching children not to misbehave.
2. Belsnickel, Germany
As any fan of "The Office" knows, Belsnickel is an anti-Santa who wears furs, a mask with a long tongue, and who carries a whip. Belsnickel's job is to find out whether or not children have been naughty or nice by asking them to recite a prayer. If the children can do so, they're rewarded with candy or nuts. If not, well, he does carry a whip.
3. Knecht Ruprecht, Germany
As you may have noticed, Germany is chock-full of monsters to terrify their children. Legend says that he was once an innkeeper discovered to have murdered three boys and stuffed them in a picking barrel. He was discovered, and as a punishment forced to work alongside St. Nick for eternity. The kind of work he does? Beating naughty children. Somehow, I feel like this was not well thought through.
4. Perchta, Alpine countries
Frau Perchta is a Christmas witch known for judging women who didn't clean their houses well enough for Christmas. If you hadn't, say, finish your weaving, Frau Perchta would tear apart all the weaving you had done. Whatever happened to women supported women? Come on, Frau, life is hard enough already.
5. Werewolves, Prussia
Before werewolves became a staple of teen TV camp and all furry-adjacent romance, they were a staple of Yuletide terror. Because of the darkness associated with that time of year, werewolves were said to always be on the prowl. Additionally, it was counted disrespectful to be born on Christmas, and any child that was would certainly become a werewolf. The lesson? Don't steal Jesus' thunder, even when you have no say in the matter.
6. The Yule Lads, Iceland
The Yule Lads are thirteen mischievous tricksters from Icelandic folklore who each visit a child in the days leading up to Christmas. They sometimes leave gifts, but each one has a specific kind of trouble they like to cause. Tell your sheep to watch out if Stekkjarstaur comes to call, and be wary of Pottaskefill, who will steal your leftovers if you aren't looking.
7. Le Père Fouettard, France
You know that a guy is messed up when his name literally translates to "Father Whipper." Le Père Fouettard was a child murderer and cannibal who repented of his sins and offered to serve Father Christmas. Like Krampus and Knecht Ruprecht, he tags along with Santa and punishes bad children by whipping them. Seems a bit sketchy, if you ask me.
8. La Befana, Italy
In the more innocent versions of her origin story, La Befana was blessed by the Magi and became the Christmas Witch, spreading gifts and doing good deeds. In the slightly darker versions, La Befana lost her child shortly before the birth of Jesus. This drove her mad, and she believed that Jesus was her own child and showered him with gifts. This made Jesus happy and he gave La Befana the gift of being the mother of every child; hence her gift-giving to all children on Christmas.
9. Jólakötturinn, Iceland
Jólakötturinn is a gigantic cat that lurks about near Christmastime. He eats everyone who hasn't bought themselves new clothes--supposedly to encourage people to work harder. Crazy, right? Who knew Jeff Bezos had his own legend?
10. Kallikantzaros, Southeastern Europe
Me walking into my mom's room at three AM to tell her I threw up
The Kallikantzaros is a goblin who surfaces during the Twelve Days of Christmas (December 25th to January 6th, no, every commercial ever, the twelve days leading up to Christmas are not the Twelve Days of Christmas, and this isn't going to make me buy more stuff!). While the goblin is underground, he tries to saw down the World Tree, but when he comes above ground to cause trouble, the tree heals itself, and he has to start over. Thank you, God, for condemning all these mythical creatures of chaos to Sisyphean tasks.
11. Hans Trapp, France
Hans Trapp is another beating-giver to kids specifically in the French regions of Alsace and Lorraine. Hans Trapp was said to have been excommunicated from the Catholic Church because he started worshiping Satan. (Can I just say to the Catholic Church? Good call on this one. He's a bad egg.) Trapp started living in the forest and developed a taste for human flesh. He would disguise himself as a scarecrow and lie in wait for human victims. Trapp was supposedly struck dead by a bolt of lightning from God, but the legend lives on.
12. Gryla, Iceland
Gryla is the most terrifying Christmas witch of them all. She lives in the mountains, keeping track of which children have been bad. Come Christmas, she goes from town to town, fetching the misbehaving children and cooking them into her stew.
The legend of Gryla dates back to the 13th century. There are even songs about her, one describing Gryla as having: "A bag on her back, a sword/knife in her hand/Coming to carve out the stomachs of the children/Who cry for meat during Lent." Replacing your bedtime lullabies with this cheerful ditty? An effective parent technique if there ever was one.