While I appreciate the decorations and lights of this time of year, there is something I find very daunting about the holidays. All this cheer, all the merriment, the world becomes a Disneyland ride, and it is all a bit…well, boring. As David Sedaris put it:
While eight flying reindeer are a hard pill to swallow, our Christmas story remains relatively dull. Santa lives with his wife in a remote polar village and spends one night a year traveling around the world. If you’re bad, he leaves you coal. If you’re good and live in America, he’ll give you just about anything you want.
But what is light and gifts without a little dark and danger? Before it became a commercial powerhouse, the holiday season was a time of ghost stories and the dark things that come out on winter nights, which nestled right alongside the mistletoe and wreaths. So here is my gift guide celebrating all of Saint Nick’s creepy little monster friends.
Of all the old folk Christmas traditions, Krampus is the most well-known in modern times. Our horned and cloven-hooved Christmas devil has a penchant for schnapps and beating naughty children with sticks. There has been a great revival in Europe over the last few years in Krampusnacht (Krampus night) parties, and Krampuslauf (Krampus runs) parades on December 5th. With delight and horror in equal measure.
The Tometen are like Santa’s elves, your dead grandpa, and a god-damned poltergeist all mixed into one. The Tometen, or Nissir as they are known in Norway, are Scandinavian domestic spirits. They began as beloved relatives in pre-Christian ancestral cults before getting downgraded to folkloric little people. The names Tomte and Nisse refer to the first farmer to clear a field or the early burials on a property. Some stories say these little red-capped guys live in the burial mounds. Basically, they are the manifestation of the first person that founded a homestead but then they become more. They are the living collective soul of the farm, growing with each owner. Work hard and be kind and your Tomte will help you out, especially during the harsh northern winters. Treat his beloved farm poorly and first, he will start by hiding your things, then stealing your stuff, then he might just eat all your animals or rip you to shreds. It kind of depends on how annoyed he is with your carrying on. When they are not feeling so murderous the Tometen can be seen accompanying the Yule Goat on its Christmas gift-giving rounds.
I loved Tometen and grew up with these stories. If you want to make an absolutely adorable Christmas gift for little money, shell out for this step by step pattern and then make your own grumpy bearded house spirits with a bit of felt and some thread. Just for the love of all things holy don’t make them mad!
Perchta is thought of like the girl version of Krampus. Please, Perchta is who Krampus calls when he needs tips on sadism. “Oh that’s cute, you beat the bad kids with sticks. Well, I much prefer slitting open their bellies, pulling out their entrails and filling them up with rocks, but you know…that’s me, always putting in 110%. No, I don’t work for St. Nicolas, Twelfth Night is kind of my solo jam”. Just think of the bedtime stories, “Kids I hope you were good all year and followed all the rules. Perchta is coming tonight, and she might leave you some chestnuts, or she might cut you open and fill you with hot rocks. Nightie night! Go to sleep.”
Now you too can smell like the dark lady of winter herself with Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs’ Perchta fragrance. It is reminiscent of her Alpine abode with notes of wild musk, snow, crocus, touch-me-not, edelweiss, and violet.
La Befana Ornament
Befana is everyone’s favourite Christmas witch, and like all good Italians, she likes having some wine and not taking this shit too seriously. La Befana is a soot-covered, broom riding hag that visits the children of Italy on Epiphany. Similar to Perchta but less…murderous. If you are good, she will leave candy in your socks. If you are bad, she will leave you a stick or some coal. If you are terribly naughty, Befana isn’t above beating you senseless with her broom. Don’t be crass and leave her milk and cookies though, she would rather have a glass of wine and the local speciality pastry.
The Nuckelavee by Oliver Barrett
When begone is the Mither O the Sea, you best beware the Nuckelavee! In the Orkney Islands, the Nuckelavee (Sea Devil) is the 80s heavy metal album cover of your nightmares. How to describe it? It looks like this:
It is a humanoid torso with oversized arms and a loling head, fixed to the back of a horse with one red, glowing, eye and webbed front feet. Oh, and its skinless and breaths the plague. The Nuckelavee lives under the sea and spends most of the year trapped. However, when the Mither (aka Mother) of the Sea leaves her palace in the north sea for her southern abode, this gives the Nuckelavee a chance to escape. Free from his bonds the Nuckelavee stirs up rough seas and storms before breaking through to dry grounds to wilt crops and cause illness. Unlike the others on this list, the Nuckelavee is not there to dish out punishment but is instead drawn to the land by the power of happiness and good cheer that the holidays bring. The misformed creature can never know happiness and has gone mad with resentment towards anyone that can feel joy. It just wants to ruin everyone’s good time. While the Nuckelavee can strike any time during winter, he is particularly drawn to bumming folks out on Christmas.
The Nuckelavee by Oliver Barrett isn’t a Christmas story, but it is a story about a dark and stormy night and the things that wait in the dark. I love the richness of these illustrations that perfectly capture the feeling of gloom closing in. Its a great read from a first-time author.
So from me to all of you wonderful readers that have been with me through this crazy year, happy holidays and best wishes for the year to come. I have lots brewing in the months ahead that I can’t wait to share with you.