Wishing You A Very Scary ChristmasDecember 13th, 2011
This blog post originally appeared as a feature article I wrote for the October, 2010 issue of the Washington County Historical Society’s “Court Reporter.” I’m posting it here (in a slightly extended edition) as a Christmas gift for all of you. If you’d like to receive the quarterly “Court Reporter” newsletter it’s free with a WCHS member.
“Ghosts and Goblins Aren’t Just for Halloween” or “Spooky Legends of Christmas”
by J. Nathan Couch
The Washington County Historical Society’s gearing up for its most popular events of the year: “The Ghosts of Washington County” and “Christmas At The Old Courthouse Museum.” Christmas and Halloween seem very different, but they have much in common. Everyone knows about Halloween’s creatures and curses, but Christmas has its own spooky legends.
Christmas trees originated in pre-Christian Germany where they were decorated outdoors with offerings for the gods. In addition to Christmas trees, most homes are also decorated with pine boughs. In Europe evergreens were thought to be the home of fairies. Evergreen twigs were hung in homes in hopes gaining the creatures’ protection.
Certain European countries believed to be born on Christmas was a curse. With evil spirits roaming near the Winter Solstice individuals born on Christmas might transform into werewolves on their birthdays.
Italians believe that a person can be cursed by a stare known as machoccio (the “evil eye”). The curative prayer can only be taught to others (always family members, always women) on the night of Christmas eve.
St. Nicholas, the pre-cursor of Santa Claus was said to have subdued a nasty devil or evil spirit that traveled with him as he delivered gifts. St. Nick would leave gifts for good children, while bad children would be punished. St. Nick’s sinister helper varied from country to county. In Luxumberg he was served by an evil butcher named Housecker who during life used to lure lost children into his shop (for obvious, disturbing reasons). In Switzerland he’s accompanied by Schmutzli, who carries naughty children off into the woods to be his supper. In Germany a devil called Krampus would drag bad children off to hell. It is still tradition for men in Alpine Germany to dress as Krampus and prowl the streets scaring children.
For those who love Halloween, perhaps scary stories can now become a new Christmas tradition? Now if only we could figure out a reason to open presents on Halloween…