6 Badass Old-Timey Christmas Mascots (We Need to Bring Back)
Mythology is like the music industry: For every mediocre act that manages to get famous, there are dozens that are far more awesome but lack the mass appeal. The holidays are no exception. The time is dominated by Santa Claus, whose jolly jelly belly and regrettable fashion sense greet the post-Black Friday season every year as reliably as (elf-slave manufactured) clockwork.
But why must it always be boring old Santa? There are so many badass Christmas characters out there, just waiting for their time in the limelight. This year, let's give them a moment to shine.
The Yule Family
Iceland's favorite Christmas creatures are known as the Yule family. They may sound like a happy congregation of elves, but don't be deceived by the soppy name: The family actually consists of a horde of trolls and their pet monster, Yule Cat, a giant demonic feline that stalks the land after the presents have been exchanged and eats everyone who isn't wearing new clothes. Because fuck your Christmas, poor people.
Oh, you're the thing judging everyone by their appearance!?!
The actual family consists of the mythical ogress Gryla and her 13 children, the Yule Lads. Gryla is an ancient, cunning creature who particularly enjoys hunting and eating children. This is her:
Her Lads are slightly less dangerous but equally mischievous creatures, who occasionally leave presents in a Santa-esque fashion, but whose true purpose in life is to wreck shit whenever Christmas is approaching. Each Lad specializes in a particular act of petty terrorism, ranging from everyday warfare (slamming doors at night, stealing sausages) to borderline serial-killer behavior like eating candles, licking people's spoons, and, um, harassing sheep. One of them carries a meat hook.
"I look so much like Santa. What can I do to really stand out? Got it -- it's obviously meat hook."
Icelandic legends, uh, aren't very big on the whole "Merry Christmas" thing.Why They Need to Be a Part of the Holidays:
The holidays are all about survival: gift shopping, insane traffic, "I gave you this present last year" stabbings, drunkies. It stands to reason that the mythological creatures of the season would follow the same general theme.
Let's just update the more outdated Lads a bit: The one who licks wooden spoons at night could take up unplugging everyone's phone chargers, and the candle guy can start, say, blowing fuses. That way, each and every one of them can participate in building our character by making December ever so slightly more hellish than it already is.
And if things get so chaotic on Christmas Eve that Gryla herself needs to pay a visit? Just have a friend storm in wearing an ogre costume and tell the kids (and the stupider adults) that the ones who behave from now on might not be eaten. Boom! Instant peace and quiet.
That goddamn cat can go hang, though.
Seriously, Yule Cat? Clothes?
Olentzero is a traditional Basque Christmas spirit: a friendly, immortal giant who spends the holidays bringing presents to children and eating insane amounts of food. He is usually depicted holding a wine flask, because Olentzero has long ago grasped the true meaning of Christmas.
"What'd you kids want for Christmas? I hope it was either this stick or for me to pee a whole lot."
If you're anything like me, there are two possible ways your Christmas-Hanukkah-Kwanzaa-Yule-Epiphany tends to go. If you're spending the holidays with your family, chances are you'll consume every piece of food in your vicinity in a manner that would be impossible for anyone who hasn't trained their stomach cavity to accommodate an entire turducken over Thanksgiving. After that, you might sneak a drink or 16. If visiting the family is not an option, you'll probably still do that exact same thing, only with less forced conversation and a lot more whiskey.
You will be visited by one Christmas spirit, often, and until it isn't Christmas anymore.
Notice a place for Santa in either of those scenarios? Hell no. The way you and I celebrate Christmas, a creepy bearded dude in a red, fur-laced boiler suit is not so much a beloved Father Christmas as he is a fever nightmare, brought to you by your tortured digestive system.
What we need is a symbol for our holidays. Olentzero is the perfect mythical creature for this purpose -- just an unassuming big guy who is prepared to eat and drink anything he can get his hands on. So come on, you drunk old fictional giant, pull up a seat and feast with us like the animals that we are.
The Yule Log
Hey, look at this cute little guy:
Isn't that the sweetest log you've ever seen? He looks like he was carved by a 6-year-old who couldn't decide if he was making a puppy or a Pokemon. This adorable creature is known as Caga Tio, a variation of the Yule Log, and it's all about three things:
Fire, fecal matter, and death.
Yes, really. The original Yule Log was a huge chunk of wood that had to be kept burning for 12 days before Christmas to ward off evil spirits and disease, a tradition that is thought to derive from ancient Celtic human sacrifices. Caga Tio is basically the great-grandson of that tradition, with an added mutant power of pooping presents at people. Again, yes, really.
"Look into my eyes. Witness this. Witness this."
What practical use does this have, you ask? Come on, you've been Christmas shopping -- don't pretend that you don't secretly want to replace every mall Santa with a smiling wood golem that randomly poops flaming projectiles at people.
Pere Fouettard and Belsnickel
Pere Fouettard, aka Father Whipper, is a partner at Santa's French office. He is often seen accompanying the French St. Nick, Pere Noel, on his adventures. The black-clad Mr. Fouettard appears to be a shadow Santa of some sort: His character completely ignores the whole "Happy Holidays" business. Instead, he walks around looking like Jack the Ripper's broke-ass cousin and whips people.
"Presents are for pussies."
Yep, Pere Fouettard's entire job description is to do what Santa is too chicken to do himself: Locate the naughty kids and open a can of Christmas whoop-ass. There's no coal and no gray area and no lessons; it's all whipping, all the time. All whipping, no waiting. What time is it? Fuck you, it's whip time, that's what time it is. It's an all-you-can-whip buffet, and Fouettard's whipping arm has been training in the off season.
Remarkably, Fouettard won't hog ALL of the sweet whipping action. The Belsnickel, a fur-clad figure with his face obscured by rags, goes around giving children candy -- and then whips them anyway, just out of principle. While this may seem more dickish than truly creepy, keep in mind that a Belsnickel looks like this:
None of these people were ever found.
Every pop culture character has a cool evil counterpart to combat ... except Santa. All he gets is the occasional joke brawl against maniacs like the Ultimate Warrior. In fact, outside professional wrestling and the occasional movie, the concept of dark Santa Claus is criminally underused. Yes, I'm saying Kris Kringle needs supervillains, and yes, I'd like to think that we as a society are willing to address this issue.
La Befana is a benevolent character who is extremely popular in certain parts of Italy. She brings children gifts and candy (or lumps of coal if they're nasty), much like Santa would. The major difference is that she flies on a broom, dresses in tattered clothing, and generally looks like your average evil fairy tale witch.
Note: This painting is just supposed to depict a woman on a broom. If you see the Yule Cat
anywhere in this painting, your computer is haunted.
Sure, there are tons of hot witches running around the media field, but a classic, warty witch-on-a-broom character is pretty hard to find these days. Even when a wicked witch scores a visible role in modern culture, she's generally played by Mila Kunis or some other striking beauty. People just don't appreciate the crone character anymore. Even La Befana herself isn't above this -- these days, many Italians apparently like to depict her like this:
This is precisely why the inclusion of the original La Befana in holiday lore would bring much needed gravity to the ugly witch character. Plus, it would be fun seeing the kids' faces when their $400 gaming console is delivered by a creepy old enchanter in a tattered dress instead of the usual jovial figure in red.
All Sorts of Goat Monsters
In America, goats are generally not associated with Christmas. Europe, however, is a different beast: In one way or another, the horned omnivores are present in many countries' holiday traditions. Longtime Cracked readers may remember Krampus, the merry Austrian Christmas devil who hangs out with Santa and, oh yeah, abducts naughty kids and carries them to hell.
Even the girl who WASN'T naughty gets the total shit-gift of apples.
However, he's just one of the many traditional holiday hellbeasts roaming the old country. Scandinavian countries have the Yule Goat, an oddly dressed character that travels to houses along with other Christmas characters, frightening children and generally looking creepy as fuck. In Norway, groups of Yule Goats have traditionally indulged in a practice called julebukking, running around in costume imitating animal behavior, wreaking havoc, and scaring the snot out of children.
Inside that costume, there is a creature that used to be a man.
Finland ups the ante with a wonderfully crazy fringe character called Nuuttipukki -- a full-on horror movie monster who goes from house to house after the holidays, emptying the larder and drinking all the beer. If you don't get him drunk enough, a curse will fall on your house and the whole year will be a conga line of ridiculously bad luck. Nuuttipukki usually turns up as late as Jan. 13, thus turning the first weeks of a new year into a nonstop orgy of panicked waiting.
"Gimme all your beer, it's for the holidays. C'mon, don't make this weird."
Because they're awesome, that's why. These guys would essentially give us the option of turning Christmas into a second Halloween, only we could replace trick-or-treating with gift-giving, Christmas-style, and rampant drinking, Nuuttipukki-style. I don't know about you, but "Halloween with gifts and even more booze" sure seems like the best idea in human history to me.
This prospect has not gone entirely unnoticed. Krampus parties are already a thing in America and, of course, the character makes regular appearances in Austrian Christmas celebrations. And dressing up as creepy horn-beasts is just scratching the surface of the goat theme's full potential: For instance, the Swedish town of Gavle builds a giant, $30,000 Christmas straw goat every year. Once the Gavle Goat is up, half the townspeople rampantly protect it, while the other half apparently conspire to burn it down.
Sure, they could just build two of them every year, but it's way more fun this way.
You know what? Let's bring that tradition in as well. This season, let's all just say fuck it to regular Christmas, drink some beer, wear weird goat costumes, and build great big things out of straw. Because if there is a more badass way to celebrate the spirit of the holidays than a horde of drunken Nuuttipukkis playing a city-wide game of arson tag, I have no idea what it could be.
As 2013 draws to a close, be sure to check out Cracked's year in review because, well, we know you don't remember it half as well as you think.