Tis the season…to scare the beejeebus out of people

Next week is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day, or the longest night, depending on your point of view. Across the Northern Hemisphere, cultures have mid-winter festivals – it’s a time of light and glitter (which is evil, btw) to drive away the dark.

To quote Doctor Who (I don’t know which one):

On every world, wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact midpoint, everybody stops, and turns, and hugs, as if to say “Well done. Well done, everyone! We’re halfway out of the dark.”

However, we’re not quite out of the dark yet. As part of our celebrations, we seem to have a love for some scary creatures.

Obviously, there’s Krampus, the half-goat, half-demon, who punishes children who misbehaved. It’s interesting how this myth of Krampus also makes it so St. Nick doesn’t have to be the bad guy, unlike Santa Claus – it’s Krampus who leaves the coal for children, or eats them as the case may be.

Aw, what a cute kitty

By Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez from Santiago de Compostela, Galicia (Flickr)*

I love cats – what monster doesn’t – but there have been a few times, especially walking downstairs, when I felt like they were plotting to eat me.

Which lead to the Yule Cat, or Jólaköttur. A creature of Icelandic legend, it’s anything but cute. Rather, it’s a huge cat that roams the snowy, winter landscape, preying on the lazy. Or rather those who didn’t get new clothes before Christmas, which was what workers were given if they participated in processing the wool in the fall.

A hale and hearty horse

By Andy Dingley (Own work)**

The Mari Lwyd is a wassailing tradition. Wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon “be in good health”, and wassailing was a pre-cursor of caroling, where people go around singing and knocking on doors, in the hopes of being invited in, where they wish the residents well and share food and “beverages”.

Well, this Welsh tradition puts a different spin on it. One of the wassailers gets dressed up with a horse’s skull on a pole. But Though it’s not just a plain horse’s skull – it’s festooned with ribbons. I think it’s the ribbons that make it scary to me.

And then there’s the scariest creature of all: The less said, the better…or is it just me?

What about you? What are your favourite traditions or legends around this time of year?

Regardless of your beliefs (even if you love the elf), peace on earth and to all a good night.

*[CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

**[CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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