Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Around the World

A Christmas story that I read not too long ago (A Christmas Tale) got me to thinking about the stories that parents tell their children to convince them to behave. 

Growing up, Kendra and I were always told about the Naughty & Nice List.  You didn't want to be on that because then you got a lump of coal for Christmas.  (It used to be a joke in our teenage years - we would buy each other candy that looked like lumps of coal.)  So when we grew up and Kendra had the girls, we used that same story.  That lump of coal just doesn't seem to have the same effect as it used to - not that we really ever had behavior problems from the girls.

A couple of years ago, my mother and I found an article in the Houston Chronicle about the way that other countries depicted Santa Claus and his elves/helpers and all I have to say is - I would have NEVER misbehaved if we had some of these guys in our country.

I wish I could find that article.  But since I can't, I decided to do a bit of research and share with you guys what I found.

I was disappointed because the one I remember the most about - the one that really got the girls listening - was the only one that I couldn't find anything about.  (I can't remember what she was called and it's driving me crazy, so if any of you reading know, please leave me a comment.)  It was an old lady who had several sons.  Before Christmas, she would send them out to get all of the kids who misbehaved and she would cook them up and eat them.

The Christmas Witches
In Norway, the Christmas Witches are mischievous and love to play.  Because of this, they hide all the brooms on Christmas Eve so that they can't come in and exchange the presents for things like frogs and rats.  (The belief is that the witches will die if they touch the ground.)

Italy has their Christmas witch, called La Befana.  She is usually depicted as an old hag on a broomstick wearing a black shawl and holding a bag of gifts.  Some stories say that she is a kind woman who gave food and shelter to the Three Wise Men while they were on their way to visit Baby Jesus.  Other stories say that she lost a child that was very close to her and in her grieving believed that Jesus was her baby.  It is said that she will whack any child that sees her with her broomstick (another reason for children to go to bed early on Christmas Eve).

Pere Noel & Pere Fouettard
In France, Pere Noel ("Father Christmas") does not travel by sleigh and reindeer, but rides a single donkey named Gii ("Mistletoe").  

He travels with Pere Fouettard ("The Whipping Father") who is feared by naughty kids.  Legend says that in the 1100s he and his wife kidnapped and murdered three young men and then cooked them into a stew.  When Pere Noel found the victims and brought them back to life, Pere Fouettard repented his evil deeds and promised to always be Pere Noel's helper.

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet
Sinterklaas is from the Netherlands.  (Every time I hear that name, I think of the part in Miracle on 34th Street when Santa talks to the little girl in her language and they sing that song together - one of my favorite parts of the movie.)  Instead of a flying reindeer, he comes from spain on a boat bringing presents for the good children.
His "sidekick" is Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter.  (There's a horror movie about these two - you should find it and check it out.).  His job is to kidnap the bad kids and take them back to Spain with him.
The Yule Lads
The Yule Lads (or Yulemen) are from Iceland.  They are an interesting bunch (13 to be exact), supposedly descended from trolls, that own a cat who eats people, especially if they are not wearing new clothes on Christmas Eve.  (I think it's time we all go shopping, don't you?)
They bring gifts for all the good boys and girls, but leave rotting potatoes for the children they consider to have sinned.  Bad behavior can get you eaten alive.
They each play a different, often quite weird, trick.  There's Sheep-Cote Clod who has peg legs and harasses sheep, Gully Gawk who waits in gullies waiting for a chance to sneak in and steal milk from cows, Stubby who is abnormally short and steals pans so that he can eat the crust that is left on them, Spoon-Licker who is very thin from malnutrition and steals wooden spoons to lick, Pot-Scraper who steals leftovers from pans, Bowl-Licker who waits under beds waiting for someone to put down their bowl so he can steal it, Door-Slammer who likes to slam doors especially during the night, Skyr-Gobbler who really likes an Icelandic cultured dairy product similar to strained yogurt, Sausage-Swiper who hides in the rafters to steal sausages that are being smoked, Window-Peeper who looks through windows to find things to steal, Doorway-Sniffer who has a large nose and a keen sense of smell that is always on the lookout for Laufabraud (a traditional Icelandic bread that is most often eaten at Christmas time), Meat-Hook who uses a hook to steal meat, and Candle-Stealer who follows kids to steal their candles (back then, they were made of tallow, which is edible).
 Ded Moroz and Snegurochka
Russia, Suburbia, Bosnia, Ukraine, Macedonia, Poland and other former Soviet Republics celebrate the holidays with Ded Moroz ("Grandfather Frost") and his granddaughter, Snegurochka ("The Snow Maiden").  The story says that he was once an evil and vicious sorcerer who would kidnap children and demand presents for their ransom.  Over time he has been reformed to a good guy more like our Santa Claus.
German, Austria, Argentina and some Dutch communities in the United States have the Belsnickel.  He accompanies Santa on his trip and is the main disciplinarian of Santa's entourage.

He's a mountain-man style figure with fur covering his body and occasionally wears a mask with a long tongue.  He's generally a character to be feared and parents use him as a warning to get their children to behave.

In Austria, Germany and Hungary, Santa doesn't have elves to help him out.  Instead, he has demons.  Krampus is the main demon, a hairy, hoofed demon with a long pointed tongue who is the son of Hel, a being who ruled Hell itself and feasts on the dead.
If you've been naughty, Krampus will stuff you in Santa's bag and drag you back to his lair - the pits of Hell.
And those Christmas bells that everyone loves to hear?  They are actually attached to the chains he rattles to frighten the children.  He also carries branches to beat misbehaving kids with.  It is said that sometimes he replaces his sack with a bathtub for easier transportation when drowning, eating or condemning children to hell.
And last, but certainly not least ...
In Austria and Bavaria, Perchta is one of Santa's other demon helpers.  He roams the countryside at midwinter and enters homes during the twelve days between Christmas and the Epiphany.  
He knows whether the children of the household have behaved and worked hard all year.  If they had, he would leave them a silver coin in a shoe or pail, BUT if they were bad, he would slit open their bellies, remove their stomach and guts, then stuff the hole with straw and pebbles.
That's what he did.
So ... my question for you is ... are you on the good list ... or are on the naughty list?  Hmm...


Andrew Leon said...

Some of those are waiting to be turned into Disney movies.

Meghan H said...

I know, right?!?! Those last two especially. :p