Strange and terrifying Christmas monsters from around the world

Here in the UK, we love a good ghost story at Christmas. But we don’t really have the kinds of festive monsters that other nations have. The ghosts of Marley and Christmases Past, Present, and Future come close, sure. And some regions have their own strange Christmas traditions (read on for more about that!) But they’re not really in the same league as Austria’s Krampus, or Iceland’s Yule Cat, or South Africa’s festive murdered-child ghost.

If you’d like to know more about the ‘anti-Santas’ who stalk the world at Christmastide, here’s our quick guide to some of the strangest…

  • Krampus. Krampus, the half-goat monster who accompanies Santa through Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia, is pretty famous. However, Krampus is nothing compared to some of the others on this list. Krampus carries a birch with which to whip naughty children. Sounds nasty – but it’s pretty amateur stuff compared to what his counterparts in other nations get up to.


  • Mari Lwyd. In Wales and parts of the Westcountry, the tradition of Mari Lwyd is alive and well. Mari Lwyd is a horse skull on a stick. Sometimes she’s brandished by a person under a blanket, panto-horse style. Sometimes she’s just your basic festive horse skull on a pole. Mari is usually decorated with ribbons and shiny things, and she’s accompanied by a group of increasingly drunk wassailers who carry her around the houses, singing songs and demanding refreshments (preferably alcoholic).


  • Hans Trapp. Hans Trapp (and most other monsters on this list) makes Krampus look like a Care Bear. According to the Alsace-Lorraine legend, Hans Trapp was a wealthy, devil-worshipping baron who lost his great riches after being excommunicated by the church. Penniless, he began wandering the countryside disguised as a scarecrow (as you do). One Christmas he lured a shepherd boy to a remote spot, killed him, and began to cook him over a fire as a diabolical Christmas feast. However, God smelled the cooking fire, and was appalled. God took aim with a traditional lightning bolt, and that was the end of Hans Trapp. Nevertheless, the people of Alsace-Lorraine tell their children that Hans Trapp comes back once a year, at Christmas, and goes door to door looking for naughty children to cook and eat.


  • Danny the festive murdered child. Once upon a time in South Africa, a little boy named Danny and his grandmother left some biscuits out for Santa. But, during the night, Danny felt a bit peckish and ate the biscuits. So his grandmother beat him to death. Which seems a rather unreasonable reaction, but evidently there is a risk that other grandmothers may react in similar manner, for the ghost of Danny haunts South African homes at Christmas as a warning to other children not to eat things without permission.


  • The Yule Cat. When I first heard of the Yule Cat I thought it must be a tricksy feline spirit which comes into homes and knocks all the baubles off Christmas trees (that’s what my cat does, after all). But no. The Yule Cat is a gigantic monster which prowls the snowbanks of Iceland and gobbles up children who have ventured outside without wrapping up warmly. Luckily, the warm jumper and scarf which your nana knitted you for Chrismas are excellent protection against the fashion-conscious kitty.


  • Frau Perchta. We’re back in Austria again to meet Frau Perchta (the Austrians love a festive monster). Frau Perchta roams around the country at Christmastime. She’s easy to identify, because she dresses in strange, flimsy rags and has a beaky nose made of iron. However, on the offchance that you should let Frau Perchta into your home, you’d better be sure that it’s spick and span. If she finds that you’ve not completed your domestic duties in time for Christmas, she’ll gut you with her long, bone knife and replace your organs with the rubbish she finds in your home. Yikes.


  • Pere Fouettard. Pere Fouettard – French for ‘Father Flogger’ – was once an inkeeper in rural France. Legend has it that he murdered three travelling boys and robbed them of all that they possessed. He then butchered the bodies and hid the bones in a barrel. However, Saint Nicholas (aka Santa) found the bones, resurrected the children, and killed Pere Fouettard stone dead. So far, a fairytale ending (albeit a very Grimm fairy tale). But then Saint Nick resurrected Pere Fouettard, declared him just the chap to help him on his Christmas Eve rounds, and gave him a job. Far be it from me to question Santa’s motivations, but I am sure he could have found someone more suited to the task of bringing joy to children at Christmas. Anyway, Pere Fouettard skulks around France with Santa and doles out sly beatings (or lumps of coal) to naughty children. Delightful.

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