The Other Side of Christmas

‘Tis the time of year we’ve all been waiting for—Christmas, our one excuse to be jolly and frolic amid the convivial atmosphere and warm company. However, it doesn’t take much to realise that Christmas isn’t so merry after all—from the mass collusion to deceive children into believing in an omniscient, jolly old man who ‘sees you when you’re sleeping, and knows when you’re awake’, to the coals in stockings that unnecessarily punish misbehaving children into believing that they are morally inferior to their counterparts.

Here are 3 more obscure Christmas traditions that will have you questioning your own interpretation of December 25th.

Krampus Night

Legends have it that Santa occasionally sends out his evil counterpart, the Krampus, to beat up naughty children with a stick. Misbehaving Austrian children are further shoved into a sack and hauled off to strange, remote locations to be gruesomely killed.

Today, drunken men in parts of Europe have decided to reintroduce the horrors of the Krampus by dressing up as a devilish reincarnation of the pagan Horned God with tattered garbs and a head of matted, long hair to terrorise children in the streets for their bad behaviour. Some rattle their rusty chains and bells; others wave fire torch in the otherwise gloomy night sky, enacting a twisted game of cat-and-mouse in hell.

Frau Perchta

Austria holds large processions of Schönperchten and Schiachperchten every winter, drawing large crowds and massive tourist inflows. The former features women in beautiful masks parading through the streets to encourage financial windfalls, while ugly masks are worn in the latter to drive away evil spirits. These are inspired by the Eastern European folklores of Frau Perchta, a Christmas witch with two faces: one dangerously beautiful, the other old and haggard.

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, she would roam the countryside to leave children presents, kind of like Santa, but on steroids. Well-behaved children can look forward to a generous silver coin in their shoes. Those on the naughty list, however, are gifted a slit belly—disembowelled, and filled with straws and pebbles.

Mari Lwyd

Mari Lwyd is basically a grown man’s version of the trick-or-treat. In South Wales, groups of men would walk around the neighbourhood wielding a horse skull on a pole, with which they would knock on doors and request entry with a song. If the horse-party are let in to the house, they could help themselves to the homeowners’ food and ale. To amplify the festivity, the party would also run amok indoors, waving their horse skulls into the faces of terrified children, snapping its jaws, neighing, and essentially creating havoc while the leader pretended to restrain it until they’ve met their quota of destruction. To ensure that that doesn’t happen, homeowners are expected sing a song to repel the horse-party; this ‘song battle’ goes back and forth until one party relents.

So, remember to appreciate your parents’ endorsement of Santa Claus, and not bringing the Pontianak or Banana Spirit into the Singaporean Christmas narrative, because somewhere out there in the world, countless children are shaking in their boots, awaiting their uncertain fates on Christmas Day.

by Jessica Tan