Christmas means different things to different people. For some, it is a religious holiday to commemorate the birth of Jesus. For others, it is a time for gift giving, charity, and family. And for others still, it is just a huge hassle, where stores are busy, the roads are horrific, and the music has enough bells and good cheer to drive a person crazy.
The “most wonderful time of the year” isn’t always so wonderful for everyone, and this is especially true in some countries outside of North America, where instead of a joyous Santa Claus, they have nightmare-making Christmas monsters who haunt the dreams of all the little children.
Here are 7 of the worst Christmas monsters that even the Grinch wouldn’t touch with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole.
1. Finland’s terrifying Satan-like billy-goat
While Joulupukki is now a fun and mythical creature similar to Santa Claus, the “Christmas buck” or “Christmas goat” used to be extremely terrifying for Finland’s children. With satanic horns and hooves, and dressed in tight red leather pants with a fur-trimmed red leather coat, the billy-goat would enter the homes of good and bad children and leave presents for the good. You don’t really want to know what he did to the bad children – but it involved beating them until they were bleeding – and he quite enjoyed it. There are many similarities to the now-beloved Santa Claus, including how the man-goat dressed, that he had a workshop, plus the fact that he had a flying wagon pulled by reindeer or goat bucks.
2. Eastern Europe’s Christmas witch
Known by Frau Perchta, Percht, Berchta, or “rewarder of the generous, and the punisher of the bad, particularly lying children”, this former goddess had two forms: beautiful and white as snow, or elderly and haggard. You didn’t want to mess with either version, because if you did, she would slit open your stomach, remove your insides, and replace them with straw or pebbles. No need to worry needlessly though, unless it was the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany, where she would enter the homes of the people of Bavaria and Austria and leave a silver coin for the well-behaved children, and well, you know what she’d do to the ones who hadn’t behaved. Common offences that warranted a belly full of straw included not spinning enough flax or wool that year, or eating something other than the traditional meal of fish and gruel on her feast day.
3. The Yule Cat who ate you if you didn’t get clothing for Christmas
These days, if we get gifts we don’t like, we can return them to the store or re-gift them. Back in 19th century in Iceland, however, you had better smile and accept that awful holiday sweater knitted by your aunt or risk being eaten by a vicious cat. Yule Cat, also known as Jólaköttur, is the Christmas monster who made sure people did their work. Apparently, if you worked all year, you would be rewarded with new clothes for Christmas. If you did not, you were kitty chow.
4. The ogress who boiled and ate children
Those poor Icelandic people didn’t just have a child-eating cat, but a child-boiling and eating mother giant who came down from the mountains before Christmas and abducted naughty children. Gryla had children of her own, the Yule Lads, who would give treats to good children and then cause horrible mischief like licking spoons and sniffing doorways. There was never a shortage of food for Gryla, who adored a stew of naughty kids. She lives in a cave with the Yule Lads, her husband, and Yule Cat. Yes, the cat is hers.
5. The crotchety old man who gives kids a wallop, literally
Belsnickel, when translated, means “to wallop”, and that he does. Carrying a switch, he gives good children cake, candy and nuts, but the bad kids get a walloping. Looking disheveled and dirty, his mere presence is enough to give kids a fright. His story began in the southwestern part of Germany, but is well preserved in Pennsylvania Dutch communities. There are two current versions of Belsnickel, one which is urban and one which is rural. Both are just as frightening.
6. A cow-killing hungry gnome
Luckily, this troll only kills livestock and not children, but that doesn’t make him any less scary. Nisse is a legend from Norway, and there is a similar character called Tomte in Sweden. With a sweet and very cute demeanor, the gnome is only 35” tall, with a long, white beard, and wearing a red knit cap. Seems harmless? He lives in the houses and barns of the people, acting like a secret guardian. If the families treat him well, he protects them and their farms from evil. But you really don’t want to upset him. His short temper means that not only will he kill your livestock, he’ll smack your ear – hard. He won’t tolerate rudeness, and you definitely don’t want to spill something on the floor. Even worse, don’t forget to put butter in the porridge!
7. Santa’s nemesis – the goat demon
Many know the legend of Krampus, originating in Germany centuries ago. Half goat and half demon, Krampus beats and steals all of the naughty children from their homes just before Christmas. The legend goes that on the night of December 6th, the children would place their boots and shoes outside in anticipation of the arrival of Santa Claus or Krampus. Good children would get treats! Bad children were put in a sack and taken to Hell. This definitely put new meaning in “you better watch out, you better not cry”. Adorned with bells and chains, along with birch branches for whipping naughty children, Krampus has had many different representations throughout time.
Now you’ve read some disturbing stories of Christmas monsters, try playing a few Christmas quizzes to get you back in the holiday spirit!
Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.