Holiday Monsters

For the month of December, we have been exploring tulpas.  We’re continuing our focus with holiday creatures/monsters and the festivals that manifested them into existence. We’re going to focus on three regions: Scandinavia, Italy, and Germany/Austria. 

If you haven’t listened to our other episodes about Tulpas, here is a friendly reminder from wikipedia:

“A tulpa is a type of willed imaginary friend which practitioners consider to be sentient and relatively autonomous.“ 

One of the most famous tulpas out there is Santa Claus.  If you’ve ever dived into the manifestation of Santa Claus, you would find a whole world of other holiday entities that seem to be similar to Santa Claus, yet precede the jolly gift giver.

Before we get into the creatures/monsters let’s talk briefly about Yule or Yuletide. It is a festival historically observed by the Germanic people. The original celebration Modraniht, or Night of the Mothers, was an event held at what is now Christmas Eve by the Anglo-Saxon pagans but also has connections to the Wild Hunt, and the god Odin.  The traditions of today like Yule log, Yule goat, yule boar, and yule singing stem from pagan Yule traditions.  Yule is pretty much Christmas but a key difference is we get some great Scandinavian folklore wrapped into it.

Here is a link about Gryla: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/why-icelands-christmas-witch-much-cooler-and-scarier-krampus-180967605/

We talk about Iceland’s Grýla, the Christmas witch! An ogress who lives in a cave in Iceland’s hinterlands, and has a strange family of Yule Lads, and Jolakotturinn (Yule Cat). The family is famous for snatching up misbehaving children and turning them into a delicious stew.

She is described as an ogress with a horned tail and has a sack that she tosses bad children into.

Here are some links about the Jolakotturinn (Yule Cat) & Yule Lads:

https://monster.fandom.com/wiki/Yule_Cat

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/meet-the-thirteen-yule-lads-icelands-own-mischievous-santa-clauses-180948162/

https://www.showcatsonline.com/holidays/xmas/icelands-christmas-cat.shtml

To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores.

From Germany/Austria, we discuss Frau Perchta and Belsnickle.

Frau Perchta, who is depicted as dressed in rags, a beaked nose made of iron, carries a long knife under her skirts. She’s associated with domestic neatness and spinning.  Legend is, all of your flax must be spun by Twelfth Night (January 6th, last of the 12 days of Christmas) because when the Christmas season was over it was time to set up the upright loom and you should have enough thread to begin weaving.

Here is a link about Frau Perchta: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perchta

Belsnickle, made famous by Dwight from the Office, goes solo to find out who was naughty or nice. He’s like Santa and Krampus in one: he dresses in torn, dirty rags and furs and is adorned with deer antlers or other bits of nature.  You know he’s at your house when you hear tapping on the outside of the windows from his switches. He will quiz children on if they have been good or bad, if no then they will get smacked with switches, if yes then the kids get candy

Here is a link about Belsnickle: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belsnickel

From Italy, we discuss La Befana and Saturnalia.

La Befana is an old woman in Italian folklore who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5) in a similar way to St. Nicholas or Santa Claus.  The story of Le Bafana is that she helped the magi on their way to see baby Jesus.  After they left, she also went to check out the newborn and brought gifts.

Info on La Befana from wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Befana

Info on the Feast of the Epiphany and La Befana from Italia Living: https://italialiving.com/articles/lifestyle/the-feast-of-the-epiphany-and-celebration-of-la-befana/

Before Christmas or Christianity was a thing, the Romans celebrated Saturnalia, which is a festival in honor of Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture and time.  

Saturn eating his child

Back in ancient Roman times, Saturn was honored for helping folks with their agriculture and adopting a more civic and moral lifestyle.  So, at the end of the working season, when all the harvest has been harvested, it was time to party.  Saturnalia was a mix of a 1980s corporate office holiday party, Santa Con, The Purge, and opposite day.  It was wild and full of chaos!

Here is a link to the great, detailed Ancient History Fangirl podcast about Saturnalia: http://www.ancienthistoryfangirl.com/2018/12/20/saturnalia-the-show-notes/

A really good recap of the relation between Saturnalia and Christmas with ancient sources: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lsctaPJSvo&ab_channel=ReligionForBreakfast

And a cute infographic video on how Purge-like Saturnalia was: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9B4_K1EL6Hs&ab_channel=TheInfographicsShow

Other Cool Links on Holiday Monsters: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/54184/8-legendary-monsters-christmas

Happy Macho Manialia!

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