Christmas is coming. With it comes the medley of cheery Christmas characters, like gingerbread people, Santa, elves and reindeer. But the characters we are featuring today have more in common with the monstrous Krampus, than any festive Christmas character staple.
A native of Iceland, Grýla’s name translates into “growler”, which is apt because Grýla is not human. Instead, she’s an ogress that appears around Christmas to look for misbehaving children.
When she finds them, she tosses them into a sack she carries around, just like how a karang guni collects refuse. Then she makes them into stew. Tales of Grýla have been recorded since 1300. The most recent portrayal of her was by actress Heather Doerksen, for Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
Think of Père Fouettard, or Father Whipper, as a sort of anti-Santa. His origin story is nothing short of horrendous. He committed a crime so heinous that Santa himself, or Saint Nicholas if you prefer, decided to have him serve his penance by being on eternal Christmas duty.
The story goes that Père Fouettard kidnapped three children and butchered them. Saint Nicholas then showed up and upon seeing what happened, resurrected the children and sent them back to their parents. From then on, Père Fouettard was said to follow Saint Nicholas during his yearly sojourn to the mortal world. He carries with him a whip, to wield before naughty children. All the better to scare the children with, I guess.
Let’s take a break from the blood and horror and look at… El Caganer.
As you can see, El Caganer is in the midst of doing Number 2. Unsurprisingly, El Caganer translates into “The Pooper”. A common fixture in Nativity scenes found in Catalonia, the traditional depiction of El Caganer is that of a peasant man emptying his bowels. Like anything that has been around since the 18th century, however, things have evolved. There are now Caganers of celebrities, political figures, you name it. In December 2010, a 19 foot tall Caganer graced the atrium of a mall in Barcelona.
Picture this. You’re in Wales as Christmas rolls around. You hear knocking on your front door. When you look through the peephole, it’s not a person but a grinning horse skull with shiny baubles for eyes and a mane made from ribbons.
Though it may sound terrifying, what you’re about to witness is actually a battle of wits. The horse skull is mounted on a pole and carried by a person concealed under a cape and accompanied by revelers. All are seeking entry into your abode and through rhymes they speak and through rhymes you must refuse them. If they win, they get in and drink all your booze. If they lose, they move on to the next house.
We return to Iceland for the final critter for this article, the Jólakötturinn or Yule Cat. This towering black feline is the pet of Grýla and her 13 children. Its Christmas mission: to eat the dinners of lazy children and then the children themselves. So even if you didn’t like those socks you got, be grateful: they might be the only thing saving you from becoming cat food.
Now that you’ve met a few of the Christmas characters that would definitely fail their Disney auditions, can you guess which of the above predate Christmas itself? Tell us who you think it is on our Facebook page here.