It’s that time of year again. Christmas carols are on most
radio stations, featured in elevator Muzak and played throughout most malls,
but do you really know your Christmas carols? Apparently many people mishear
the traditional songs. Do you have the holiday expertise sort out these messed
the grazing mule before us, fa la la la la la la la la…
on we’ll perspire, as we drink by the fire…
the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names.
thy dark streets China…
we now our day of peril…
the world! The Lord has gum…
corncob pipe and a butt and a nose…
we are, as in olden days. Happy golden rays, up yours…
go drown in Listerine…
bomb, O tiny bomb…
King Wences’car backed out, on the feet of Steven…
making a list of chicken and rice…
dressed, ye married gentlemen…
Make your guesses in the comments. You’ll get full marks if
you can fix the line and tell me the title of the carol it comes from. Later
today or first thing tomorrow, I’ll post the answers.
retrospect, a creepy holiday myth from the Germans shouldn’t be that
surprising. Bad dreams are inevitable after a heavy meal starring sauerbraten,
after all. Seriously, considering the end of the year is so full of good cheer
and twinkly eyes and ho-ho-hos, it’s amazing how many dark, disturbing myths
can be found. Or maybe it’s because of it. Maybe it’s the overeating.
Germans? But the American tradition of Christmas trees all sparkly comes from
the Germans, you protest. Yes, but there’s more to it. There’s the matter of
that dark little demon Krampus, known as the anti-Santa, giving you coal. Or a
switch, but depending on where you are in Europe, that could be even if you’re
the pan-European version of Santa Claus, who visits children with his
assistants—who again are demons. If you’ve been good, no problem, because Santa
will give you prezzies. If you haven’t, though, that’s a problem, because then Krampus
takes you away to hell. Merry Christmas! Then there’s Santa’s other assistant,
Perchta, who appears before Christmas Day to find out if you’ve been naughty or
nice and if you haven’t been good, she’s going to soften you up for Krampus by
slicing you open. I have to feel sorry for German-speaking children.
first, St. Nicholas shows up on December 6 (which is, of course, St. Nicholas
Day), with his assistant, Knecht Ruprecht, he with the long, red tongue who
apparently shows up wearing dark, ominous clothing and has a stick to punish
bad children. But at least he’s just there as a warning for the most part.
not just the German speakers, either. Well, it’s part of the German language
family. There’s the Dutch version of Santa, better known as Sinterklaas, who
also has a sinister assistant. Zwarte Piet also takes bad children, but instead
of taking them to hell, he takes them to Spain. (This may say something about
the Dutch attitude toward the Spanish, actually.) What is it about the German
language family cultures?
you’re interested in the Slavic traditions, both before and after the Soviets,
there’s the story of Ded Moroz (also known as “Grandfather Frost”), which was
the seasonal figure that the Communists used as a substitution for Jesus. These
days, Santa Claus has made in-roads into the region. Not necessarily St.
Nicholas in Central Europe, though he shows up on St. Nicholas Day and leaves
gifts and candy for the good kids, while his assistant, Krampusz (now where
have we seen that name before?) or just the devil with no name, leaves birch
switches. So it’s not just the Germanic cultures. Europe seems to be a scary
place for the holidays.
to Grandfather Frost. The legend in Eastern Europe has the fellow traveling in
a sleigh drawn by reindeer or three white horses with his
assistant/granddaughter, the blond Snegurochka (also referred to as the snow
maiden). I didn’t find anything that made Sneggy the snow maiden a scary
assistant, so that’s a point for her. The Russians also have Ded Moroz and
Sneggy. These traditions could have been brought to the country in the 1600s,
but not for the first time, I have to ask what was there before. Again similar
but not quite is the Georgian version of Santa Claus, tovlis papa (“grandfather
there are the Scandinavians. Let’s start with the Danes, not so melancholy.
They have Julemanden, their version of Santa Claus, who also arrives in a
sleigh with reindeer. He has helper elves called nisser, but they’re not scary!
Finally, a German family language culture that doesn’t threaten scary things!
has the mischievous Yule lads, the sons of trolls living in the local
mountains, who wreak mild havoc, but pretty mild. They wear strangely familiar
red and white suits. And there are the Swedes, with their jultomte, house
gnomes, who insist on being fed porridge or they’ll spread some bad luck for
the coming year. Okay, a little ominous. Those gnomes are basically Santa Claus
in red with white beards, and instead of trying to work their way down a
fireplace, they are smart enough to knock and inquire if there are good
children around. Nothing like the direct route!
celebrates Christmas on December 24 and Estonians look forward to a visit from
jouluvana on Christmas Eve, and while they don’t have to fear that scary
demonic assistant, they do have to sing or recite poetry to get their gifts.
That’s not bad, unless you have stage fright. Christmas Day is also a day to
visit one’s deceased relatives there.
always, the Finnish march to their own drummer. They have their Declaration of
Christmas Peace that is recited throughout the country every year on Christmas
Eve; 1939 was the exception, since they were at war with the Soviet Union
(known as the Winter War). And there’s also a tradition of a pre-sunset sauna,
leaving the sauna available for the ancestral spirits to return and take their
own after the sun goes down.
if we go to Eastern Europe again and take a look at Bosnia-Herzegovina and so
forth, we have Santa with his assistant Krampus (familiar?), who steals the
gifts of wicked children and the good children as well! The Slovenes also have
Santa Claus and Dedek Mraz (“Grandfather Frost”)(note the similarity to other
area figures. Ain’t comparative linguistics grand?). In Bulgaria there’s Santa
Claus as “Dyado Koleda,” with “Dyado Mraz,” the similar character introduced by
the Soviets, now faded away.
we drop by Greece and Cyprus, with their Orthodox traditions, there’s St. Basil
who is basically Father Christmas, as opposed to St. Nicholas. But there are
holiday goblins that show up around the Epiphany, thought to be satyrs, the
descendants of Pan.
was an anthropology major, so I enjoy researching cultures. But this thing
about sinister demons around Christmas? Freaky!
Elizabeth MS Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories,
romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, historical fantasies and short stories, a
young adult novel, and a graphic novella (most published under the name of
Eilis Flynn). She’s also a professional editor and has been for more than 35
years, working with academia, technology, and finance nonfiction, and romance
fiction. If you’re looking for an editor, she can be found editing at
emsflynn.com and reached at email@example.com. If you’re curious about her
books, check out eilisflynn.com. In any case, she can be reached at
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