Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Monsters of Christmas

On Facebook I came across a link to an article about the dark side of the Christmas season in many European folk traditions. It includes some creepy illustrations:

Why Monsters Haunt Christmas in Europe

The page describes Black Piet, Krampus, Belsnickel, and several other horrifying creatures that roam the world around the time of the winter solstice. It quotes some observations by Stephen Nissenbaum, author of my favorite nonfiction book about the holiday season, THE BATTLE FOR CHRISTMAS. Before the nineteenth-century reforms that converted the REAL "old-fashioned Christmas" into a family-centered occasion for giving presents to children, Yuletide was "a disorderly time" dedicated to celebrating the post-harvest leisure period with feasting, drinking, making noise, wassailing (begging from door to door), and dressing up in grotesque costumes. In this period of "misrule," the social order often got turned upside down, with ritual defiance of authority. A tamer remnant of that pattern, mentioned by Nissenbaum, survives in the custom of officers in the British Army waiting on enlisted men on Boxing Day / St. Stephen's Day (December 26), as depicted in one Christmas episode of the TV series MASH.

Works that showcase the scary side of Christmas include the movie NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel HOGFATHER, in which Death has to substitute for the vanished Hogfather (that world's Santa figure). Not surprisingly, Death's idea of a suitable winter holiday is a bit odd. This book, by the way, has been filmed:

Hogfather Movie

Here's a page devoted to all things Krampus, where you can find, among other features, a list of cities that hold Krampus celebrations:


On reflection, it's obvious that grim figures such as Black Piet serve a useful purpose in the celebration of Christmas. If St. Nicholas has a dark sidekick who punishes naughty children, Santa himself doesn't have to bear the burden of the punitive role implied by "he knows if you've been bad or good." Instead, he can be the completely benevolent gift-dispenser.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt


  1. Here's an entertaining podcast I just saw about Krampus and other Christmas monsters: