1. La Befana.
La Befana is an Italian Christmas witch. Not terrifying in any way, but a very strange legend. She is pictured as an old woman who flies on a broomstick and carries a large bag. According to the old folklore tale, she visits children on Epiphany Eve to determine if they have been naughty or nice. Very much like Santa, if the kids have been nice, she rewards them with gifts and candy. If they’ve been naughty she leaves them a dark lump of coal.
Probably the creepiest of Christmas myths, Grýla is a mountain giantess/troll. According to Icelandic folklore, she travels from the mountains in search of naughty children. When she finds them, she abducts them and eats them. Is it any surprise children are rarely naughty in Iceland?
3. Yule lads.
In another Icelandic legend, the Yule lads range from being bloodthirsty murderers to mischievous pranksters. Originally there were 13 Yule lads that would travel from the mountains where they live with their mother, Grýla, to the villages to scare unsuspecting victims. They take turns visiting kids 13 days before Christmas. Each Yule lad leaves a small gift for nice kids or a rotten potato for naughty kids.
This Icelandic Christmas cat dates back to the 19th century. According to the legend, Jólakötturinn is a huge cat that roams the streets around Christmas time, praying on those who don’t wear new clothes. Those unable to buy new clothes for the holidays, the Yule cat eats. Some say the story was created to make people work harder around the holiday period.
This creepy fella originates from the middle-ages in Europe. He was one of the first to separate the good kids from the naughty. However, he did allow kids to redeem themselves if they had been bad all year. Throughout the year, the masked Belsnickel would leave candy in nice kids’ houses, and leave the naughty kids with a switch. Although he never actually used the switch on kids, the stories vary. In some stories, he would leave the bad kids with nothing, in other stories he would either abduct them and never let them go home or take them to the Forrest to punish them for their bad behavior.
6. Frau Perchta.
This scary lady would roam the countryside during winter and enter homes between Christmas and Epiphany, according to Bavarian and Austrian folklore. If kids and servants had been nice, she’d leave them with a silver coin. If they hadn’t been, she would cut open their abdomen, take out their organs and replace them with straw.
Krampus is one of the most common Christmas myths. It’s slowly growing in popularity in America and has made several TV appearances on American Dad!, Grimm, and Krampus, an upcoming horror comedy. The German tale goes way back and tells the story of a large horned creature that works opposite Santa Claus, abducting and killing naughty children.
8. Knecht Ruprecht.
Similar to Belsnickel, Knecht Ruprecht would carry around a switch. He was said to be a helper to Saint Nicholas, going door-to-door to ask parents about their children’s behavior. If they’d been naughty, he’d punish them with the switch.
9. Père Fouettard.
Similar to Knecht Ruprecht, Père Fouettard would accompany Saint Nicholas. Originating in France and southern Belgium, the story of Père Fouettard is a pretty sinister one. Père Fouettard was a butcher who came across three wealthy boys on their way to boarding school, captured them and robbed them. Later he killed them, chopped up their bodies and kept them in a barrel. After Saint Nicholas found out, Père Fouettard was punished and spent the rest of his days following Saint Nicholas.
In Portugal, it is tradition for people to wake up early on Christmas morning and have a big feast. The feast is knows as Consoda. It honors dead relatives and celebrates ancestors. Families set out extra plates and sometimes even leave crumbs on the plate.
A malevolent goblin in Southeastern folklore, Kallikantzaros lives underground but comes out between Christmas and Epiphany to play pranks on people and scare them. So he’s pretty much the grinch of mythology.
12. Mari Lwyd.
The Mari Lwyd tradition was once carried out in South Wales. Groups of men would go around door-to-door with a horse prop, made of a horse skull on a stick, asking for entry to the house in a song. The homeowners would deny entrance through a song, and it would go back and forth until someone eventually gave up. If the homeowner gave up first, the group of men would be granted access to their home and would be allowed food and drink and to basically cause chaos in the house.