Everybody knows of the traditional Christmas story, about the baby born in a manger but destined to be king of kings. Over the years this religious festival has joined secular traditions where a jolly man in a red suit rewards good kids with presents.
However, in some countries where people have held fast to ancient traditions, Christmas brings with it unthinkable terrors for young children. For some, Christmas is a season filled with supernatural goings-on, ghosts, witches, magic, and even monsters.
At Christmas in Italy, Russia, and parts of Eastern Europe, there are witches rooted in the fairy tale figure of Mother Holle who doles out punishments for the lazy, and riches for the hard working. In Italy she is known as La Befana and in Russia, Baboushka. Each January 6th, she packs up and sets off on a broomstick to join the three kings who are also seeking Jesus. She searches every house and if she finds a child there, she leaves cookies and gifts behind.
Scandinavian folklore tells of the Tomten, who resembles a gnome and lives among the dead inside burial mounds. He acts as a caretaker, protector, and helper to the household so long as you don’t anger him. The Tomten has quite the temper and is known for driving people insane with his tricks or biting them. The poisonous bites typically lead to death so you would be well advised to leave a gift of food out on Christmas Eve for this little guy.
In some German and Pennsylvania Dutch communities, Belsnickel shows up a couple weeks before Christmas to beat the children who have misbehaved. He dresses in skins or old clothes, his face black with dirt and carrying a bell, a whip, and a pocket full of cakes or nuts. Depending on your behaviour over the year he will either offer you a cake or give you a whipping.
We all grow out of believing in these folk tales but for children in different countries they will always hold a special place in their hearts at this time of year. Although parents dread the day that their child finally stops believing in them, the very fact of learning about them in the first place can have a hugely positive effect.
The world’s most influential cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead insisted that learning about Santa Claus can help give children a sense of the difference between a fact and poetic truth, She believe that man’s feelings about the universe or his fellow men is expressed in the symbol of Santa.
If you’d like to learn more about Christmas beliefs and traditions then contact us and let us help you sort fact from poetic fiction.