As a child, many of us were warned that if we were naughty, Santa would replace our gifts with coal. The idea of that was horrible, but as I’ve traveled and learned more about Christmas traditions around the world I can tell you that a lump of black coal is the least of anyone’s worries.
While Santa may be the best-known Christmas character, he certainly isn’t the only one. So if you are traveling during the holiday season you better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout, I’m telling you why: it’s not just Santa coming to town, and being naughty in these parts of the world just might get you tortured and eaten.
That coal doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?
So before you decide to jet off to another country for the Christmas season, consider whether you belong on the naughty or nice list before picking one of these destinations.
Austria and the Legend of Krampus
Krampus is basically the anti-Santa. Like the man in red, he has a sack for children. Unlike the jolly Old Saint Nick, Krampus’ sack is not full of toys.
Instead, it is full of children.
Naughty children who he drags to his underground hell to torture and eventually eat.
Oddly enough though he’s actually a companion to Saint Nicholas. Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s enough to tarnish my childhood idea of a fat, friendly man with a warm twinkle in his eye. Sounds like Santa has a bit of a naughty side himself.
Want to check it out yourself? Keep an eye out for signs advertising the Krampus Run in alpine cities, especially Salzburg, in early December (usually around the 5th of the month). Join the locals in running away from the terrifying demons by beware — they use those whips!
The Kallikantzaroi of Greece
In North America, we want something, or more specifically a jolly, fat someone, to come down our chimney on Christmas Eve. However, those in Greece fear the idea of something coming down the chimney, because in this part of the world, its more likely to be an evil goblin than Santa.
According to Greek tradition, the 12 days of Christmas are more like the 12 days of hell. During this time evil goblins called the Kallikantzaroi come to wreck and destroy anything in their path. These creatures are described as black in color with long tails and are thought to be mostly blind. Throughout the year they live underground and only come to the surface during the holiday season at night.
If you wander through a Greek village during this time period, keep an eye out for colanders placed on doorsteps. It is said that it will deter the Kallikantzaroi from entering homes as they will become obsessed with counting the holes. But since the number three is holy, they need to start over again and again after number two.
The Ghost of Danny in South Africa
Leaving cookies for Santa is a classic holiday tradition in many parts of the world. Eating Santa’s cookies, well that’s frowned upon and probably veers towards the naughty side. But it doesn’t deserve too serious a punishment. No one would kill a child because he ate Santa’s cookies.
Oh wait. Apparently, they would.
One of South Africa’s classic holiday stories tells the tale of a young boy named Danny who was cheeky enough to eat Santa’s cookies. All of them. Upon discovering what he had done his grandmother beat him to death in anger, leaving poor Danny’s ghost to haunt people’s houses during the Christmas time.
Moral of the story: leave Santa’s cookies alone, kids. It’s not worth it. And maybe, leave a couple extra out for poor Danny’s ghost.