Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dark And Disturbing Christmas Legends

There's a traumatic memory in your childhood: Your parents drag you through a line in a crowded store to sit on the red velvet lap of this monstrous stranger. Back then you just knew he lived in a dark, dark world. You spent the rest of your life unlearning this fact. But you were right. Santa and Christmas are surrounded by the kind of messed up legends not even James Ellroy has the balls to write about.

St. Nick And The Pimp. According to The Darkling by Jan Perkowski, the story of St. Nicholas begins with child prostitution. A man crushed by poverty was planning to sell the sexual favors of his three lovely young daughters. That's when Santa intervened, anonymously donating purses of gold so the girls could find good husbands instead. Everyone ended up happy. But that had to have made Christmas dinners awkward for years. There is a French folktale that's even darker, about Santa as a homicide investigator who discovers that a butcher has killed a several children and chopped them up to be salted pork. It's something we covered last December.

Reindeer? No, Werewolves. Sabine Baring-Gould's Book of Werewolves, a 19th century classic on lycanthropy claims that Polish villagers believed Christmas was one of the times during the year when werewolves raged over the countryside. Many people in Germany thought that if you were born on one of the twelve days of Christmas you were actually doomed to become a werewolf. And also for people to forget your birthday.

Coffins For Christmas. St. Stephen is traditionally associated with the holidays and featured in carols like Good King Wenceslas, because his feast day is December 26. But his past is ugly -- because he was the first martyr, killed by stoning, his symbol is a pile of rocks, and he is the patron saint of coffin makers. Maybe if you die around Christmas you can get some sort of discount.

Season's Beatings. Christmas carollers used to be bands of young Clockwork Orange-style thugs who would shake you down and vandalize your house if you didn't ply them with food and drink. And the practice of carolling, or "wassailing" used to involve animal sacrifice. Some folk legends claim the warm beverage or "wassail" that you'd quaff was from the blood of the animal you'd just slaughtered.

Holiday Corpse Hounds. In British folklore, the holiday was said to be the time when a band of spectral hunting dogs with flaming eyes would appear in the sky -- they were known as the Gabriel Rache, or corpse hounds, and those who saw them would soon die.

Christmas Ghosts. There is a rich tradition of ghosts who appear at Christmastime. Anne Boleyn is believed to appear at Haver Castle in Kent every Christmas Eve. And Roos Hall in Suffolk has a legend of a ghostly coach with a headless groom that arrives on the same night.

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