Which Country Has the Scariest Christmas Folklore?

Santa Claus might keep a list of which children have been naughty and which have been nice, but even the bad ones don't have to worry about Father Christmas turning them into supper. The same can't be said about those unfortunate little ones in Iceland.

A figure of Grýla the Christmas witch, displayed next to her ogre husband, Leppalúði, on an Icelandic street.
A figure of Grýla the Christmas witch, displayed next to her ogre husband, Leppalúði, on an Icelandic street.

According to Icelandic folklore, an enormous and hideous witch named Grýla lives in the mountains, and during Christmas she descends upon towns in search of misbehaving kids. Those she catches get tossed into a bag and brought back home with her. Grýla either devours them as they are or mixes them into her favorite stew -- and legend holds that she always has plenty of stew to eat.

The story of Grýla dates back to at least the 13th century, when she was written about in Norse mythology, but she wasn't associated with Yuletide until centuries later. Terry Gunnell, who leads the Folkloristics Department at the University of Iceland, says Grýla has been one of the most popular characters in Icelandic folklore for ages. "You don't mess with Grýla," Gunnell said. "She ate one of her husbands when she got bored with him. In some ways, she’s the first feminist in Iceland."

Some other spooky Christmas traditions:

  • South African children are told of a bad boy who ate all of Santa's cookies; his grandma murdered him, and now his ghost haunts houses during Christmas.

  • In Norway, everyone is expected to hide their brooms on Christmas Eve to prevent evil witches from stealing them.

  • In Belgium, France, and Switzerland, Santa is rumored to be followed around by an evil butcher who deals with naughty children.


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