December 25 has always been a holiday, but it hasn’t always been Christmas. What the Romans celebrated on that day was not the birth of Christ. The pagan festival of Saturnalia took place at this time. The birth of Mithra, the god of light, was celebrated on this day. The story of the conception, birth, and death of Mithra is very similar to the story of Jesus. Mithra is even supposed to have resurrected from the grave.
What about Santa Claus? When did the exchanging of presents come into the picture? Gifts were already given during Saturnalia and the celebration of the birth of Mithra. The actual St. Nicholas went around on a horse or with a donkey by his side, not in a sleigh pulled through the air by reindeer, giving gifts to children . The character of Santa Claus has grown partly from the generosity of the original St. Nicholas. Now on to the side of Santa that a lot of people don’t know much about.
Did you know that there was a dark side to jolly old Santa Claus? For those of us who love the horror genre, this is rather exciting. There isn’t a dark side to Santa himself, but he does have different dark companions that supposedly accompany him on his gift-giving journey. Santa is the one who gives out gifts to children that have been good, but what about the children that have been bad? Those who have been naughty get the pleasure (or displeasure) of meeting one of the following dark and somewhat evil sidekicks of the jolly man in red.
There are many different versions of the legends surrounding the following dark companions of Santa Claus. Please realize that there is so much more to be known about each one of them than what I have written here. Once you have learned about the dark associates of Santa, pick at least one of them and write a Christmas story that includes him and his terrifying activities. Or you could choose to make your story not so scary and focus on how this encounter makes someone a better and kinder person.
These first two companions aren’t that scary, but they are still bad. They are definitely not who we would expect Santa Claus to associate with.
Belsnickel is a man wearing enough furs to cover his entire body. Sometimes he wears a mask with a long tongue protruding from it. This scary character was used by desperate parents to scare their young ones into behaving. If they had been good, he would give them gifts and candy. If they had been naughty, he would beat them with switches.
Black Peter, also known as Zwarte Piet, is tall and thin with dark hair and beard – the complete opposite of Santa Claus. His image has been calmed down in recent years, but he originally would stuff naughty children in a pirate’s bag, take them to the pirate’s hideout and beat them, sometimes even taking them back to Spain, the country he originated from, with him. During the nineteenth century, Black Pete began to be represented by an African slave, so Santa had a black servant. In Holland, Zwarte Piet is a big part of the Christmas festivities.
Because of the tension in the world today, some places are now just putting black smudges on Black Pete’s face as marks from the soot smudged on his face when he goes down the chimney.
The last two companions are just a bit more bloody and violent in how they deal with naughty children.
Le Père Fouettard is a butcher. According to legend, he invites three boys inside his butcher shop and then kills them, cuts them up, and puts them into a stew. Sometimes this takes place during a severe famine, sometimes not.
St. Nicholas catches him in the act and brings the boys back to life. I hope he puts their pieces together first. Some versions of the tale say that Fouettard repents of his crime and chooses to travel with St. Nicholas. In other versions, he doesn’t repent. Instead, St. Nicholas forces him to travel along with him as punishment for his crimes.
Either way, Fouettard is the one who punishes the children who have been naughty. How would you like to be punished by a butcher who actually killed people and cut them up? It would be like having Charles Manson or Sweeney Todd dole out the punishment.
The Krampus, otherwise known as the Christmas devil, is the scariest of Santa’s darker companions. The legend of Krampus is so much more frightening than that of Scrooge or the Grinch. The Krampus—half-man and half-beast—has fangs, a huge red tongue, and horns that protrude from his head. And, even scarier, for those of you who have seen the Lord of the Rings movies, he strongly resembles an Orc with horns. His looks alone are enough to scare anyone into behaving.
How does the Krampus punish those who were naughty? A child or an adult, it doesn’t matter which one, is sleeping soundly in bed. This person has been extremely naughty all year long but is convinced that no one knows just how naughty, so this individual is sleeping peacefully and dreaming of all the Christmas presents he will receive. But his bad deeds are known.
Quietly, a half-man, half-beast figure jumps into the room from the shadows. His huge, red tongue lolls out of his mouth between his sharp fangs. The sleeping person wakes up just as the Krampus reaches for him. Screams of terror fill the room, but the screams don’t do him any good. The Krampus grabs him, spanks him with his bundle of birch twigs or the whip that he has with him, and throws him into a wooden pail or a sack on his back to take him straight to a place of darkness and eternal torment.
Modern television shows have taken advantage of this legend.
“A Very Supernatural Christmas”—season 3, episode 8 of Supernatural—featured the Krampus. It aired in December 2007.
The Krampus has also been a part of Grimm. He is the star of season 3, episode 8, “Twelve Days of Krampus.”
In 2015, Krampus had a movie named after him. In this movie, Krampus has his own companions who help him out. Parts of this movie are scary, yet other parts are funny. I would suggest that young kids not watch this one without parental supervision. The ending is great and would be enjoyed by all.
There are probably many more dark companions that Santa has travel with him in various parts of the world. Do any of you know anything about them?