Words by Brittany Conrad
While eggnog, tinsel, and high rates of consumerism are all hallmarks of Santa’s season, the unmistakable theme of strange and unusual punishment surrounding most Christmas myths isn’t to be ignored. I understand hating your kid the minute you see their long list to Santa, but why stop with a piece of coal to teach a lesson? From the borderline sketch to the outright offensive, Convicts brings you a selection of the all time f%$#ed up Christmas traditions still lurking around the globe. Hide yo kids, hide yo wife.
1. Whipping Father
Le Pere Fouettard (The Whipping Father) originated as a tradition in Belgium and France. It’s pretty creepy, and definitely still a thing. As the story goes, The Whipping Father began his life as an innkeeper, kidnapper, and then later, murderer. Jolly. One day while tending to his inn, three rich boys came to spend the night on their way to a religious boarding school. Recognizing their wealth, Le Pere, enlisted his wife to help capture and murder the children by slitting their throats to ultimately take their money. Because ransom would be wrong. During this abduction and murder, St. Nick strolls in and resurrects the boys. Enamored by his power, the innkeeper repents and becomes St. Nick’s latest partner in crime as the official whipping boy of bad boys and girls. Evidently, Santa gets down with some seedy folk.
This list wouldn’t be complete without a shout out to the OG Christmas devil himself. Celebrated and feared in Austrian culture, Krampus makes his reign annually on December 5th, the night before the feast of St. Nicholas. Half goat, half demon, Krampus is known for beating naughty children with a stick, and ultimately kidnapping them to bring to his lair. Moral of the story is don’t fuck up, do your homework, do your chores, the usual.
Scarily enough, Krampus is still celebrated today in many places, with a wide range of costumes and parades across many cultures. Austria originally sought to ban all things related, as it is widely recognized as horrifying, but it turns out that there are just too many folk out there all too eager to keep Krampus alive!
3. Black Peter
Known to the natives of the Netherlands as Zwarte Piet, Black Peter, isn’t really all that bad of a guy. He is well known for giving sweets and treats to all of the good children, and he’s a trusty sidekick of Sinterklaas (St. Nick). The insidiousness of Black Peter moreso comes in the fact that he is a walking racial stereotype brought to life as a slave to help Father Christmas carry out his annual duty. Modern attempts to be politically correct have claimed that the “black” in Black Peter comes from his occupation as a chimney sweep, and that he is of Spanish Moor descent (hence the dark skin). However, his physical appearance sure does say otherwise. In recent years, those in the Netherlands have tried to downplay Black Pete’s role in the holiday festivities, but the black face get up is still frequently seen at parades and events. Easily the most controversial Christmas character.
4. Knecht Ruprecht
As you know, making sure all the children of the world get what’s coming to them at the end of the year is quite an enterprise, which is no doubt why Santa has everyone on his payroll from elves making toys for the good, to demons kidnapping the mean-spirited ones. But what about those kids who were neither particularly good, nor particularly bad? For them, the Germans (standard) have given us Knecht Ruprecht, otherwise known as Farmhand Rupert. Sporting a long beard, brown cloak, and staff, Farmhand Rupert looks like your average shepherd, only his schtick is asking little kids if they can pray. If they can, they are rewarded in gingerbread. If they can’t, he bestows upon them useless junk. Refusing to pay homage to the real reason for the season however, results in being beaten with a bag of ashes. Makes sense.
5. Elf on the Shelf
It’s fairly new, but still worth mentioning. In 2005, Elf on the Shelf inserted itself into the Christmas tradition rotation. A popular children’s book, Elf on a Shelf, comes with a toy elf that is meant to be hidden around the house all throughout the season. Each morning children wake up to find their elf has moved to a different hiding place throughout the house. His job is to help Santa monitor if you are being naughty or nice. Part of the tradition is that the elf will pull pranks and do creative little things for you to find, but while he is allowed to be mischievous, the children are not allowed to touch him. In fact it is highly forbidden. Once the elf is touched, he loses all of his magical powers and is unable to report back to Santa. On the one hand, it seems great because if you are naughty Santa never needs to know. On the other hand, that’s some rather damning circumstantial evidence.
6. Yule Lads
Instead of just getting a visit from Santa on Christmas Eve, Iceland has the 13 “Yule Lads” descending from the mountains to wreak havoc and indulge mischief on the nights leading up to Christmas. As tradition goes, beginning December 12th, Icelandic children leave their shoes on the windowsill each night. One by one the Yule Lads make their rounds each night, bestowing little gifts in the shoes of well behaved, and potatoes for the naughty. Think Seven Dwarves, but more like the little asshole version with lovable characters such as Spoon Licker, Door Slammer, Sausage Swiper, and the most alarming weird little twit, Window Peeper. Assuming they weren’t already taken, my guess is “Statutory Rapist” and “Pathological Predator” just didn’t have the right ring to them.
7. Yule Cat
As if the Yule Lads aren’t traumatizing enough, folklore states that our homeboys above also have a vicious pet cat (Jolakotturinn) to keep everyone on their toes. The threat of the Yule Cat was used by farmers as a way to incentivize their workers to finish processing the autumn wool before Christmas. The Yule Cat was rumoured to prey upon those who were not dressed in new clothing during the Christmas season. Those who worked hard were rewarded for their efforts in new outfits, while those who did not were at the mercy of the cat. Coincidently, this monster had a taste for old clothes and flesh. Comforting, but more importantly what a great way to drive up those holiday sales!
Right on Santa. They say you are a reflection of the company you keep, but who am I to judge.
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