Everyone knows Santa Claus is the fatso in a red suit who brings amazing gifts to good little boys and girls, and lumps of coal to assholes. But as great and joyful as we all think Santa is, the dude’s associated with some shady weirdos. Like, Krampus, for example. That’s Santa’s pal who puts naughty children in his bag and drags them to hell. Or Black Pete, the dude who walks around looking like Ted Danson at the Friar’s Club circa 1993.
Although the stories surrounding these ancient Christmasy types have been sanitized and made less horrifying over time, they’re still disturbing. Here are eight of the strangest …
Less of a cuddly old man and more of a horrific demon with horns, Krampus is a Christmas devil who dresses in rusty chains and bells and carries a bundle of sticks that he uses to swat naughty children. Also, according the photo, he has a Gene Simmons tongue. Krampus has become an anti-Santa in Austria where you can buy Krampus candy and other merchandise. Many countries celebrate “Krampuslauf,” which is basically an excuse for dudes to get wasted and dress up like Gwar-reject monsters for a night. For gifts, punches to the nose or anything that creates bodily harm is accepted. We’re half-kidding.
Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete, is popular in Dutch culture, where evidently walking around in blackface, an afro, and painted red lips won’t earn you a roundhouse kick to the face. Filthy racism aside, Black Pete is actually a helpful fellow — he assists Sinterklaas (European Santa) in passing out gifts. If you’re wondering why Black Pete has such a racist look, so were we! Some legends say he was a chimney sweep who was covered in soot, while children’s author Jan Schenkman published a book in 1850 (“Saint Nicholas and His Servant”) that straight up showed Santa with a black page boy servant by his side.
Not surprisingly, the character pisses lots of people off, and sparks protests calling for Pete’s retirement.
Belsnickel made an appearance in Season 9 of The Office, where Dwight Schrute dressed the part and whipped co-worker Jim. It’s funnier than we described, we swear.
Anyway, Belsnickel is an impatient dick who dresses like a hobo who just skinned a woolly mammoth. Because of this, we’re guessing he’s also a virgin. His gimmick: He knocks on houses and demands that children answer a question or sing a song. He’ll then toss them candies, but they better not jump for them too fast lest they yearn for the business end of his switch.
The night before the Three Wise Men visited the manger, they stopped at an old lady’s home seeking directions. (Wait, why didn’t they just use Google Maps?) After accepting her hospitality, they asked her to come with them to see the baby Jesus, but she was all “I’m busy putting lotion on my enormous face mole.” Later, the old crone came to her senses and decided to visit baby Jesus. Much like any sane person, she planned to give him gifts that belonged to her dead child. So she hopped on her broomstick and flew into the sky looking for B.J. (which probably isn’t the best abbreviation for baby Jesus). Unfortunately, she got lost and never found him.
Children in Italy hang stockings on the evening of January 5th (Epiphany Eve) in the hopes that a flying old bag will leave them gifts on her ongoing quest to find little B.J. On the bright side, La Befana is apparently a good housekeeper, and will sweep up the floor before she leaves. Seriously.
No, it’s not a Russian death metal band — “Ded Moroz” translates to “Grandfather Frost.” According to legend, he started out as an evil sorcerer who would kidnap children and demand presents from their parents as ransom. Seems like a good scheme, but he pussied out and found a conscience or something, eventually becoming similar to Santa Claus — except he wears uglier robes and hangs with his hot granddaughter the Snow Maiden, a level-up from Mrs. Claus.
Just as we were warming up to the guy we find out that in Croatia he pals around with the Krampus, who follows “Grandfather Frost” and carries away wicked children. So he’s like mostly good but could technically be wanted for accessory to kidnapping in several countries.
The name literally translates to “Father Whipper,” and he lives up to his name by lashing bad children and advising St. Nicholas to skip their homes come gift-giving time. He’s typically depicted as a decrepit old man in tattered robes carrying a bundle of sticks on his back.
His origin story might haunt you, so feel free to repeat it to kids on Dec. 24: A butcher named Pere Fouettard kidnapped three young rich boys who got lost on their way to a religious boarding school. After robbing them, Fouettard and his lovely wife slit their throats, salted them up, and tossed them into a stew barrel.
St. Nicholas later discovers Pere Fouettard’s crime, and resurrects the children and returns them to their parents. In some versions of the tale, the murderous butcher repents and becomes St. Nicholas’ sidekick. In others, he’s forced by St. Nicholas to accompany him as his slave as punishment for his crimes. Either way, this is a Christmas story that involves butchered children. God bless us, everyone!
Fun fact: Some people believe the dude on the cover of the Led Zeppelin IV album is Pere Fouettard.
Knecht Ruprecht is a bearded old German man who serves as the Jolly Old Elf’s muscle by administering swift justice to naughty children. During his visit, Knecht Ruprecht asks children if they know their prayers. Answer yes and you get a treat. Answer no and you get walloped with his bag of ashes.
In some tales, he leaves coal for bad children. In others, he leaves a switch behind for their parents to use. The threat of future beatings is perhaps what makes Knecht Ruprecht the most terrifying of all of Santa’s “Dark Helpers.”
THE YULE LADS
No, this isn’t a group of peppy a cappella carolers; they’re 13 trolls who descend from the mountains to bring gifts and cause various levels of mischief. In the 13 days leading up to Christmas, Icelandic children place their shoes in the window in the hopes that the Yules Lads will put gifts and treats in them. if they’re naughty, however, they get a potato in their shoe.
Some of the Lads — like Skyrgámur (translation: Skyr-Gobbler), a cheeky fellow with a taste for Icelandic yogurt, or skyr,— are harmless in nature. Others, like Gluggagægir (Window Peeper) and Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage Swiper) are a bit more suspect. But that’s nothing compared to their mother, Gryla, who in the earlier, less sanitized myths would collect naughty children to boil in her stewpot. Oh, and don’t forget the Yule Cat. Nope, it’s not a cute little kitty — it’s their enormous black cat who eats any child who doesn’t receive new clothes for Christmas. Seems like that one is more on the parents than the kids.