The Scary Santas of Europe

Sandra Benlian


Almost everyone believes this season of December to be “the most wonderful time of the year”. It is filled with dazzling lights, cozy hot chocolate, tasty cookies, but most notably, the beloved Santa Claus. For those who celebrate Christmas, Santa Claus is known as the man who soars through the air on his sled pulled by flying reindeer, and the man who comes down your chimney to leave all your favorite gifts under the tree and in your stocking. But Santa also keeps a list of all the good and bad children, so if you are one of the latter, you’ll have to face the punishment of coal in your stocking.


However, for some children in Europe, this is the least dire of the consequences they’ll face for their misbehavior. Instead, there are countless “anti-clauses” waiting for them to make their next wrong move. Starting in Belgium and the Netherlands, Black Peter, known as Zwarte Piet in those countries, has the job of stuffing naughty children into his sack and taking them away to Spain. He happens to be a controversial figure, because of his modern-day depiction. Not long ago, those dressing up as Black Peter would sport black-face, along with colorful renaissance attire and bright lipstick, as he was said to be a Moor from Spain. There are very clear issues with this depiction, yet his idea still remains present in some homes.

Whipfather and Belsnickel reside in France and Germany, carrying whips and sticks to beat misbehaving children. Belsnickel roughly translates to “Nicholas in fur,” which is representative of the iconic large fur coat he is typically pictured wearing, along with a set of antlers on his head. In fact, if you are a fan of the show “The Office”, you might recall Dwight dressing as him for the Christmas special, as its tradition is kept alive in Pennsylvania Dutch communities as well. Additionally, during the episode, he has to call off his friend who was coming dressed as Black Peter because of the criticism he receives from his colleagues about the character’s controversial nature. 

Last but certainly not least, the Austrian demon of Christmas, called Krampus, is said to drag children away to hell for their punishment, and in Iceland, Gryla, the evil ogress, is known for eating the naughty children. So, if you are ever considering taking a trip to Europe during the holiday season, you might want to rethink your decision if you’ve got some skeletons in your closet, before you become one yourself..