There are various pieces of holiday lore scattered around the world that might seem to fall more in the traditions of Halloween than of the jolly contemporary versions of the winter and Christmas Holidays. But these Winter Holidays have darker historical trappings than most people realize, as there are all manner of grotesque metaphysical beings and beasties that lurk about this time of year. Thus, the children who are generally afraid of sitting on Santa’s lap have far scarier things to worry about than the ominous, immortal toymaker whose elfish minions spend their days shadowing children to see if they are misbehaving.
On the topic of misbehaving children, our first dark helper comes to us from Germany, and is probably the most well known of the Holiday terrors. I speak of Krampus. Sometimes called Knecht Ruprecht, among other names, Krampus is counterpart to the immortal St. Nicholas, but whereas St. Nicholas rewards well behaved children with toys and candies, Krampus, a massive anthropomorphic “Goat-Beast” who some might compare in appearance with what mortals call “The Devil”, seeks out misbehaving children and swats them with his thorny switch every Krampusnacht, or December 5th. Some depictions have him carrying the children away in a knapsack or basket he has hanging from his back.
Another Holiday spook comes to us from France. Hans Trapp, a mortal who was prosecuted for practicing black magic, was banished from his village and became a wandering hermit in the nearby woods where he continued to practice his incantations. He slowly began to lose his mind, started dressing like a scarecrow and developed a craving for the taste of human flesh. He also began seeking out children. Now, every Christmas Eve, parents warn their misbehaving children that Hans Trapp roams the night looking for naughty children to eat.
Now for a story a little closer to home. This was presented to me some years ago by a couple who wish to remain anonymous. The man claims to have seen a strange humanoid roaming across the wetlands of western Orem. It was December 17th, 2017. They were living in a neighborhood that bordered the links at Sleepy Ridge Golf Course and decided to go for a 1am walk.
It had been snowing hard all day, and still was. The two of them bundled up and headed toward the golf course. As they set out, the snow began falling harder. Pushing their way through the snow, they could see the far west edge of the golf course that led to the marshes that border Utah Lake. That’s when they noticed a thick fog bank coming towards them from the west. It was roughly forty-feet high and moving at a quick pace even though there wasn’t a strong wind that night, just falling snow.
The young woman became uneasy and wanted to leave the area immediately, but the man wanted a closer look, so he continued to walk toward the fog until he reached the edge of the wetland, about twenty yards away from the fog. From time to time there were random breaks in the fog where he could see into it. He claims that as he peered into the fog, he saw an “eight or nine foot tall white armless creature with long skinny legs and a thick block-like head walking north at the edge of the fog bank.” The man said he watched it for only a “brief moment, maybe thirty seconds at most”, before it disappeared back into the fog. After seeing this, he quickly rushed back to his girlfriend, took her by the arm and said, “Let’s get out of here!” When she asked him why, his response was … “You don’t want to know.”
What could this have been? Was it a figment of “foggy” imagination, or was it some kind of holiday specter on the prowl for a naughty child? We may never know.
Danny B. Stewart is a local folklorist and tradition bearer who has often been mistaken for a miserable old miser, but he is kind to small animals.