Who will be visiting you on Christmas Eve? Children across East Sussex and the rest of the country will be waking up early on Christmas Day with the urgent panic, excitement, and thrill of the question they will have been mulling in the fitful hours after they had gone to bed and before they finally fell asleep…would Santa come?
In the UK we have grown up with the tradition of Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, coming down the chimney (more inventive modern adaptations have developed, of course) in the dead of night on Christmas Eve as families sleep, and leaving good children presents in a stocking hanging by the fireplace or under the tree.
Naughty or nice?
All we have to fear, apart from the Sticky Bandits in Home Alone or The Grinch, is being put on the naughty list and finding coal in our stockings.
But spare a thought for children in other parts of the world where there are some interesting and sometimes frankly odd characters who strike fear into the hearts of children and who raise the nice or naughty stakes considerably.
From Krampus, a terrifying, anti-Santa creature who has the appearance of a ‘half-goat, half-demon’ in Germany and Austria, to the whip or rod wielding Pere Fouettard (Father Whipper) who punishes naughty children in France, and Baba Yaga the evil witch who hates children and steals their Christmas presents in Russia, many countries have scary figures whose function is to encourage children to be on their best behaviour.
Iceland – be afraid!
They are all eclipsed, however, by the absolute masters of folklore…Iceland. And at Christmas this wonderful country does not let us down.
The Jolasveinar, also known as Yule Lads, are a staggering 13 characters like Santa. Believed to be the sons of the mountain trolls, the Yule Lads were originally rather mischievous, though, stealing from homes, disturbing farm animals and generally pulling pranks on the adults and children. However, modern depictions show them as more Santa-like, as they deliver presents to the good kids and, randomly, put potatoes in the shoes of the naughty ones.
But as well as potatoes, naughty children in the country also have to fear being caught by Gryla, an ogress who lives in a mountain cave but comes out each year to plague bad kids during Christmas. During the 18th century, Gryla was such a terrifying figure—her mythology at the time included eating bad children, not just scaring them—that a public decree banned the use of Gryla to strike terror in the hearts of the poorly behaved. Fittingly she is also the mother of the Yule Lads. Yikes!
If Icelandic children survive the terrors of Gryla and the Yule Lads, they’re still not out of the woods. They still have to contend with Jólakötturinn, a cat that doesn’t care if you’ve been bad or good— only if you’re properly dressed. According to Icelandic tradition, the towering, bloodthirsty feline, who lives with Gryla and the Yule Lads (of course), eats people who don’t get new clothes before Christmas. That ties in with another Icelandic tradition, in which those who have finished all their work for the year get new clothes before the holiday. It’s a wonder Icelandic children have any nerves or finger nails left by Christmas!
Whatever the traditions you celebrate, whichever character you hope will visit your home (or keep well away) this festive season, everyone at Your East Sussex wishes you a healthy, happy and wonderful time with those you love. And if you’re planning a festive holiday break to Iceland…good luck!