Five Christmas Legends from Around the World

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While us Brits are generally raised believing in Father Christmas and the naughty and nice list, there are a number of alternative  Christmas traditions and legends from around the world. From decorations thought to bring good fortune and protection, to mythical creatures whose purpose is to ensure that children are well behaved throughout the year, these folklores are fascinating.

1. The Legend of Krampus, Austria

In Austria, the legend of Krampus is one that grips Austrian children throughout the year. Krampus is rumoured to be the child of Hel, the Nordic god of the netherworld. Krampus has goat-like characteristics, including horns and hooves but has the body of a tall human. The legend suggests that Krampus watches children throughout the year to determine whether they are naughty or nice, similar to Father Christmas. However, unlike Santa Claus, Krampus goes into villages during the advent season and captures the naughty children in a wooden basket on his back before taking them to the underworld. 

a picture of Krampus' silhouette with flames behind

2. The Yule Lads, Iceland

Instead of the traditional 12 days of Christmas, Icelandic people celebrate 13 days of Christmas. The Yule Lads consist of 13 troll-like men, each of whom visit the homes of children each night for 13 nights in the lead up to Christmas Day. Icelandic children will place their shoes on the windowsills of their bedroom windows before bed each night during this period, and when the Yule Lads visit they will either leave sweets or potatoes in the children’s shoes, depending on if they’ve been good or bad! The original legend calls for rotten potatoes, but most parents ignore that part and use ripe ones!

photo of some felt shoes on the windowsill in front of a snowy town

3. Nisse, Denmark 

In Scandinavia, a nisse is a friendly goblin, pixie or elfin creature that lives in the home of Danish people and protects them from any harm and wrongdoing. During the Christmas season, Danish people will decorate their homes with nisses to bring good luck and protection to their families; these decorations are similar to gonk or gnome decorations that you may own yourself!

photo of a nesse decoration

4. The Christmas Spider, Ukraine

In Ukraine, spiders are believed to be lucky insects. The legend of the Christmas spider stems from a story in which a woman was too poor to afford decorations for her Christmas tree, so a spider living in the tree adorned it with twinkling webs. This legend has sparked a tradition in which Ukrainian people hang a spider or spider’s web decoration on their Christmas trees each year, to bring good fortune and luck to families and individuals. 

picture of a spider in a spider web decoration hanging in a christmas tree

5. Schmutzli, Switzerland 

Swiss people don’t actually believe in Father Christmas, instead they believe in Samichlaus, based on Saint Nicholas. However, Samichlaus is accompanied by a dark, faceless sidekick named Schmutzli, who dresses in a dark robe and carries a broomstick. Much like Krampus, Schmutzli watches over children throughout the year and punishes those who have not been on their best behaviour. This legend is used by parents to ensure that their children are well-behaved all year round.

photo of a cloaked men in the woods