Dark and Mischievous Christmas Traditions

Learn all about Krampus, otherwise known as 'the bad Santa' as well as other Christmas traditions around the world putting up a fight with jolly and nice.
Author Headshot
Olivia Higgs
Dec 9
2.5 mins
Dec 9
2.5 mins

If the image of a jolly, laughing Santa Claus and prancing reindeers is all a bit too sweet for you, there is no shortage of tales and characters to balance out all that cheer.

Krampus - the half-man, half-goat demon

At a night time parade, a person dressed up in a krampus costume with a scary mask with red eyes and horns

Every year on December 5th, the evening before St Nicholas, people in Germany, Austria, and other parts of Europe come out to celebrate Krampusnacht.

Krampus is a mythical creature originating in the Alpine regions of Europe. He is a hairy, horned figure with cloven hooves and a long, pointed tongue. He is traditionally dressed in a fur suit, with a chain and bells around his waist. While Saint Nicholas rewards the good children with presents, Krampus carries a bundle of birch sticks, which he uses to whip the naughty children. He is also thought to have a basket or sack, in which he carries away the bad children to be punished.

The origin of Krampus is unknown, but he is thought to have evolved from pre-Christian traditions. The figure of Krampus was first recorded in written form in a 17th-century book from Austria, but the traditions surrounding him are likely much older. Many believe he is related to European pagan gods, such as Pan or Hermes, who were also thought to punish naughty children.

Krampus festivals are becoming increasingly common, where people dress up as the mythical creature and parade through the streets at night. The furry costumes are made to look scary with demonic masks, horns, whips, and torches and those dressed up will interact with the crowds flicking their whip and scaring kids and adults alike.

Krampus isn't the only sinister Christmas tradition keeping the misbehaving children up at night...

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Meet the mythical figure Grýla

Illustration of Gryla the giantess. She has a tail, scraggly hair, long nails and sack over her shoulder likely filled with her victims

She is found in Icelandic folklore and lives in a cave up in the mountains but makes her appearance around Christmas time. According to legend, Grýla was a giantess who had thirteen mischievous sons known as the Yule Lads and a giant black cat. Grýla was said to have an uncontrollable appetite so at Christmas, with the help of her companions, she would go on the hunt for naughty children who did not obey their parents. She'd kidnap them and take them back to her cave for turning into a big vat of stew. Grýla is typically depicted as an old woman with a fierce temper and long claws. She is often portrayed wearing a black shawl and apron, with a big nose and sharp teeth.

The Elf on the Shelf - a mischievous tradition

Toy elf in a red santa hat and outfit with big eyes and a smiling face

Less gruesome, more mischievous - The Elf on the Shelf has become a beloved tradition for many families during the Christmas season. The Elf on the Shelf is a small, elf-like creature that is sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus keep an eye on who's been naughty and nice. The concept came from a book written by Carol Aebersold, along with her daughter, Chanda Bell. The story goes that every night, the elf returns to the North Pole to report to Santa, then heads back to the family's home in a different location each morning. Over the years, people have adapted the tradition to make it their own, with parents hiding their toy elf for children to find each morning or even creating mischief with practical jokes.

Often these old traditions are seen as a symbol of the mischievous or darker aspects of the Christmas season. They are meant to remind us of the importance of being good, and of the consequences that come with bad behavior.

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