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Creepy Folk Creatures of the Holidays

By Violet Wisdom

Jolakotturinn, The Yule Cat and Gryla

Icelandic- Gryla and her husband live in the mountains with Jolakotturinn. Gryla is something of a Troll/Ogress. She and Jolakotturinn come out on Christmas Eve to reward good children with presents and punish bad children with rotten food in their socks. The Yule Cat was known to eat anyone not wearing new clothes by Christmas Eve, which apparently helped motivate wool workers in the 1800’s to get the wool spun by winter. Gryla’s children, the thirteen Yule Lads take turns sneaking into town every night for thirteen nights before Yule. They cause havoc and steal from people. They also will leave gifts to children who are good and rotten food if they are bad, although they are left in wooden shoes. Earlier versions of this odd duo are much more horrific in nature (think Hansel and Gretel).

The Scottish Trow

Nocturnal Little people (fairy-like) of the Northern Isles. Trows live in below ground luxurious dens and are known to be expert fiddle players. Legends tell of Trows both kidnapping humans to make them play fiddle for them and teaching humans to play.

One Yule’s Eve, the Trows were able to come out and be among people. Parents would put a straw cross in front of the house to protect their children from Trows on this night as they were known to assume children’s identities and join in the music and celebrations.

The Scandinavian Tomten or Nisse

The Tomten wears a red hat and has a long white beard, similar to Santa Claus. Known as Tomte(n) in Norway, Nisse (Denmark), Tonttu (Finland) and Tomtenisse (Sweden). A Nordic gnome-like creature who protects farms and homesteads dating back possibly as far as the 1200’s. The Tomten specifically protects farmers and their animals…. as long as the Tomten is happy. Having short tempers they are easily made unhappy by human laziness, sudden changes and messes. They have no tolerance for cruelty to animals. To ensure you have kept the Tomten happy be sure to leave a bowl of porridge atop a big slab of butter on Winter’s Solstice and for good measure, a mug of beer (and a few cookies) as often as possible. Beer labor is pretty hard to come by these days.

Something to keep in mind about both the Trow and Tomten, adult humans cannot communicate with either of them. The Trow and Tomten can however speak to children and animals. This likely has made its way into holiday season magic being specifically for and about animals and children.

Christmas and the Winter Solstice also have several human figures in folklore that either act as a type of Santa Clause, an assistant to Santa Clause or an Anti-Santa Clause (which allows Santa to always be the good guy while the Anti-Santa delivers punishments such as coal). These include Pere Fouetta from France, Hans Trapp, also from France, Knecht Ruprecht from Germany and of course Belsnickel also from Germany who moved to Pennsylvania with settlers. He even found five minutes of fame on t.v.’s The Office as Dwight’s preference over Santa.

Now, of course you can’t have European folklore without a witch. No worries! Frau Perchta of Austria, the Alpine goddess of nature leaves the forest just long enough to reward good boys and girls with silver coins during Christmas. When it comes to this medieval witch, you definitely wouldn’t want to be on her bad side.

If I were you, I would be on my best behavior this time of year. To think, you thought you only had Santa to worry about.

Happy Holidays!

Violet Wisdom

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