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You Don't Know Jack (Frost)

Hello everyone, and welcome to LukeLore. A quick deep dive into a folklore topic, where I share some of the stories from around the world that have piqued my interest. You know what’s wild to me? I had to double, and triple, check this and I’m still not quite believing it… This is my 5th annual episode about folklore monsters from around Christmastime. 2019 was an episode simply about Krampusnacht, then there was The Krampusnacht Special that branched the concept out in 2020. 2021 was Rap Battles with the Christmas Horse, then 2022 was Oops! All Christmas Monsters. So yeah, this is the 5th year of Christmas monsters. And do you know what’s even wilder? I haven’t run out of them yet! We have seasonal spirits, the occasional demon, and some out of control goblins this year as the Yule Tidings beneath the commercial veneer wait to be unearthed once more. The darkest days remain spooky, with their own things that go bump in the night that are no innocent reindeer alighting upon the roof. Stoke up your hearth, because Santa has ways around the fire worse things do not, and let’s see what’s waiting out in the cold. SECTION BREAK – Elemental Art There’s a classic seasonal entity I’ve managed to overlook… I don’t think I took them too seriously, it just wasn’t much more than passing a footnote for myself growing up. Then there’s how twee they are in a lot of pop culture depictions in recent years. But he IS a classic, and there’s more to him than I first gave credit. This entity being Jack Frost. Jack Frost finds himself in something of a strange spot in folklore. Go back two hundred years or so, and he’s a loose collection of anecdotes. Get to the modern era, and while he’s present in plenty of places across fiction Jack Frost has fallen out of oral tradition for one simple factor: He’s been defeated by double glazing. It was the interesting fern-like patterns of frost on glass windows that would be attributed to Jack Frost, children would be told these fascinating pieces of natural art crafted from tiny ice crystals are his handiwork. A stark and very present sign of winter being here, which is now something that most people aren’t as likely to see any more with improved housing materials. He’s no Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, or Father Christmas; but despite missing a holiday dedicated to them basically everyone will have heard of him anyway. When the frosts come in, Jack Frost has been about. When your nose has gone numb, Jack Frost has got it. It’s the innocent stuff that his name will be chalked up to, you don’t tend to see people dying of exposure referred to as being murdered by Jack Frost. Appearing off and on in English Literature starting in the 1700s he doesn’t seem all that old as his Jack Frost incarnation, but there are a whole load of “Old Man Winter” spirits that he seems to fit the bill for. The Old Man Winter archetype is prevalent in any culture the cold times of winter can be anthropomorphised. Gods such as Boreas in Ancient Greece who are the masculine deity of the season and Beira, the Gaelic Cailleach, gives us an Old Woman Winter. A Crone personification of the dead time of the year ahead of rebirth in Spring, the final stage of the Triple Goddess. Jack Frost seems to buck the trend by regularly being depicted as young. Or at least not old, depending on which Jack Frost you come across. Quite often more a fae creature, a seasonal sprite, leaning more into mischief and wonder. Again, you don’t see people dying of exposure being linked to Jack Frost as his victims, he’s much more a graffiti artist using the world as his canvas with the cold as his paint. He isn’t usually bundled up warm, winter is his element and he doesn’t need to ward it off, plus you can find depictions of him with a paintbrush – the tool with which he paints his designs on old windowpanes and covers the ground in a coat of white. He’s invoked when freezing weather hits. Something I’m feeling right now round my way, despite my sasquatch-esque physique being built for the cold even I’m feeling it now. That’s how I know it’s getting bad! Everyone else begins complaining when I’m still roaming about the place with my jacket open, if I’m starting to shiver everyone else needs to take cover. The occasional horror movie of dubious quality aside, Jack Frost is a figure of whimsy. I’m almost sad I don’t get to wake up to frost ferns on my windows, not that superior insulation is a bad thing. But having looked into the weird little guy, I can’t help but feel Jack Frost deserves a little more of the holiday limelight. I’ll be sparing the frosty sprite more of a thought going forwards, when the air catches my breath and the morning dew has become a coat of white paint everywhere. Up until I slip on a patch of ice, anyway. Then I’ll probably be cursing him out. SECTION BREAK – Demon Frost Wizard Santa Some form or other of Father Christmas has always stretched across all of Europe, back before the modern era when everything got everywhere thanks to the world getting smaller. Lots of Saint Nicholas variations, but also weirder pagan traditions that Christianity would gradually swallow up. The season at its darkest point generally had some form of celebration of life, and gift giving was a ritual a fair few cultures included as a part of that. This extended into Slavic Eurasia, where winter really meant business, and that gave what is now known as Russia the figure known as Ded Moroz. Ded Moroz has a literal translation of Grandfather Frost, being another version of the Old Man Winter trope like Jack Frost. But he’s interesting in that he seems to be a Father Christmas like figure who is independent of the Christianised version who spread across the world, that still aligns really well with the contemporary Santa in several ways. The big white beard is very on brand, although not a surprise on a wise grandfather figure. The giant fur coat can look pretty familiar to St Nicholas fans too, though. Ded Moroz appears to have settled on a blue version, more aligned with a winter pallet, but he can also be depicted in a red robe with a white trim that is a look famously, or infamously, made popular by the Coca-Cola company ensuring Santa as we all now know him was brand friendly. Although now I sit with pictures of Ded Moroz open, I wonder if that was more opportunistic than plotted in a boardroom, as the colour scheme for a Santa-ish figure was right there all along to replace Saint Nicholas’s traditional evergreens. But we’re not looking at a simple colour swapped Claus here. Ded Moroz predates Christianity, a winter wizard wielding a magic staff who was referred to as a snow demon back before being a “demon” had an entirely negative connotation. While being the demon snow wizard embodiment of Slavic winters is enough to be a total badass, Ded Moroz also got in on the gift giving of a pagan proto-Santa like the shamanic Germanic and Norse goat figures of the Joulupukki, who I talked about on a previous year’s Rap Battles With The Mari Lwyd episode of Christmas monsters. Ded Moroz would travel across the snow blasted North in December, probably around the Winter equinox in line with similar traditions, meeting with well-mannered children to reward them with presents for being good. There was a second round of secret gift giving too, in the New Year. Staying good during the holidays was a chance for double the rewards. As the tradition went even further East, the tale took on an extra twist that’s not really seen anywhere else. Ded Moroz gets a helper for giving gifts and spreading cheer in the dead of winter. Not elves, or even a goat demon buddy. His granddaughter the Snow Maiden Snegurochka joins him in similar long robes of silver blue, sometimes with a crown of snowflakes. This is interesting not just because the Santa analogue has an old mythological familial female counterpart, something unique among these midwinter myths, but where exactly she may have come from is intriguing. Snegurochka is everywhere in Russian literature through the 1800s, although is most likely an older figure of folklore who moved into literary traditions. She could be a snow doll who was wished into life, but sometimes is also directly the child of Ded Moroz and another anthropomorphised season Spring the Beauty – at which point her calling Ded Moroz “grandfather” is a form of address given to father who had a child while much older than usual. Snegurochka has an unfortunate habit of tragically melting in her tales, whichever origin story she got. She can meet other children who decide to leap over a fire, causing her to dissolve into vapour when she joins in, or she learns true love and her now warm heart melts her down to nothingness. When getting too close to warm blooded mortals she is ephemeral and slips away. When she’s with her grandfather she fares better, keeping humans at a friendly distance but participating in the gift giving. Ded Moroz and Snegurochka have had a rocky recent history in their homelands. Christianity tried to subsume Ded Moroz into being an avatar of St Nicholas at intervals, and the Russian Revolution leading to a rejection of Christianity along with wider ideas of religion nearly got him erased from the other direction. Both figures managed to hang in there thanks to their association with New Year, as well as from people cherishing the stories they grew up with even if a State mandated ban is attempted. As the USSR gave way to the Russian Federation, and a return of State religion in the country, Ded Moroz and his granddaughter have had a revival. The colour of Grandfather Winter’s warm wizardly robes will vary as he either gets mixed up with the Western Father Christmas or else gets his icy blue robes as a push back against the invading mythology, but people will dress up as him or Snegurochka around Christmas and New Year as well as there being festive decorations of the two being wildly available. The harsher winters do seem to have given the world a cooler version of Santa though. I mean, come on! Snow demon wizard, and his snow golem granddaughter. That’s just awesome. SECTION BREAK – A Mix of Naughty and Nice There are three European Santa adjacent mostly human figures who I haven’t covered as yet, and I thought I would roll them into one section to box them off before we get to the Christmas goblins. One from Germany, one from France, and an awkward one from the Netherlands. Now, the regions in and around modern day Germany are pretty Christmas creature dense. We’re crossing over with both Krampus and Frau Perchta in places. This unusual figure is called Belsnickel, which I can indeed confirm to fans of the US version of TV show The Office actually is a real figure of folklore. He’s one of a subset of companions for Saint Nicholas in regional legends, but he doesn’t travel directly with him as a part of the gift giving. There’s some gender weirdness going on with Belsnickel as he can be referred to as “the Christmas Woman” while also remaining masculine in nature, something reflected in the women’s clothes he wears. He will generally have a grotesque mask and a long tongue, giving him a bit of a Krampus vibe. Belsnickel will turn up a few weeks early to check up on children ahead of a visit following up on The Nice List. He would begin by tapping on the windows with a switch he carried, before coming into the household. Children would be asked questions, or demanded to give a certain song. Passing these tests would result in sweets and nuts being scattered on the floor, but this itself was a final test. If the children were too quick, greedy, or ill-mannered going for the treats they may end up with a smack off of Belsnickel’s switch. I think they still got to keep the treats even if they fail though, which was nice. This was all part of a Christmas vetting process ahead of Santa coming to town, an extra bonus for the good children and a last chance to get their act together for the bad. The focus of Belsnickel does seem to be the vetting of the naughty children more than confirmation of the nice, he’s a figure of folklore that leans into the negative. Coming from the North German Palatinate region, immigrants brought Belsnickel with them to Pennsylvania where he was popular throughout the 1800s. He seems to die off somewhat in the 20th century, which the more I read up the more it seems to be a century of traditions being killed off, but modern revivals are reclaiming Belsnickel. One to two weeks before Christmas suggests he’s active from the 11th to the 18th, and if you bundle him together with Krampus December becomes a perilous time to be naughty as the goat demon is out and about on the 5th before that. It does also make it a month of redemption for children, you get multiple chances to stop misbehaving so you don’t miss out on the main gift giving at the end of the month. I mean, you could just be good all the time, so you neither get a sack based thrashing off Krampus nor a whack off Belsnickel’s switch. But these meaner figures ranging ahead of Santa give you clear moral guidance should you need the extra incentive. Over in France, there is a similar counterpart again in Père Fouettard. France has the weirdest attitude towards Christmas figures, last year we had the flesh eating scarecrow Hans Trapp. Père Fouettard, or “Old Man Whipper”, also has a murderous origin that is directly tied into Saint Nicholas. Either a butcher or an innkeeper, he spots three rich looking children travelling in the winter. For whatever demented reason he drugs the kids then slits their throats to kill them, chops them up, and stews them in a barrel. Now, this is directly linked to the Christian traditions around Christmas, as this was one of pre-Saint Nicholas’s miracles. Currently-just-Nicholas discovered the crime, and resurrected the poor children. The total git Père Fouettard is then cursed to become a Christmastime assistant of Saint Nicholas as punishment for his terrible misdeeds. Père Fouettard is active on Saint Nicholas Day, the 6th of December, filling in for Krampus in French speaking regions, parts of Switzerland and Belgium as well as France itself. The “Whipping Father” would beat children on the naughty list, and/or give out coal instead of presents should you not be good for goodness sake. This gave Saint Nicholas clean hands as the Good Cop of Christmas, since Père Fouettard would do the dirty work. We have one last humanlike festive figure to box off, and this is the awkward one from the Netherlands. It’s Zwarte Piet, translated directly as Black Peter. Zwarte Piet is active around the Feast of Saint Nicholas, so the night of the 5th of December or the day of the 6th. The day of the 6th seems to be where he will be seen in modern celebrations. He will scatter Sinterklaas Strooigoed about the place for good children. A mix of tangerines, speculoss cinnamon biscuits, pepernoten Dutch biscuits, and the kruidnoten hard cookies that are associated with Sinterklaas in the region. All of which sounds incredibly whimsical! So, how is Zwarte Piet the problematic entry when stacked up with Père Fouettard and Belsnickel? It’s the black face. Black Peter has what can very generously be called a “traditional depiction”. It’s not good. At all. He very nearly got a total cultural purge, and has been put fully on blast in recent years by various figures around the world. He has managed to bounce back a bit, though. People tried to excuse the depiction of Zwarte Piet as it being an association with chimneys and getting dirty that way, but that really doesn’t hold up when you see what those depictions are. You can check them out online, but probably shouldn’t where someone else can see you doing it. But this has led to a rebranding into Roetveegpiet, or Sooty Piet. Actors dressing as Sooty Piet will use their natural skin tone, and apply soot marks. Not… the other thing. With the total covering of dark make up. And the big red lips. It really is quite terrible. Let’s move on to the comparatively innocent monsters that want to destroy the world instead. SECTION BREAK – Christmas Goblins Okay, these little monsters are pretty interesting. Spanning Greece, Turkey, Serbia, and a grab bag of other Asia Minor countries we have the Kallikantzaros. These are underground dwelling monsters, usually small although with the occasional giant one thrown in the mix, who cannot come out in the sunlight. Their depictions can vary wildly but they’re generally humanoid with a mixture of animal features thrown in, in any such combination the vibe they go for is small black devil-like creatures with burning red eyes - which are cool looking in the dark but nearly blind. Despite going for the tiny devil aesthetic, the Kallikantzaros are not generally considered evil. More mischievous agents of chaos, as well as little dumbasses. Most of the year round they’re happy to get on with their job underground, eating bugs and trying to saw through the trunk of the tree that holds up the Earth, collapsing it and the Earth above it, which would be directly on top of them should they ever succeed. I repeat that the Kallikantzaros are considered more dumb little imps in nature than malicious. But as they near the end of their goal, something magical happens. It becomes the twelve days of Christmas, the Winter equinox allows them to come to the surface to mess with humans. It isn’t until the days begin to lengthen again on January 6th, the Epiphany, that they retreat back underground. Their fun over, they pick their tools back up to continue their work of dropping the world on to their heads, only while they have been making a mess aboveground a Christmas miracles has occurred below: The world tree has healed itself while the Kallikantzaros have had their holiday fun of annoying humans. This way the Earth stays in balance, and the Christmas Goblins only have a short window to make nuisances of themselves in the human realm. They mostly just want to wreck stuff when they’re free to roam the world above them, but they do seem to really enjoy messing with people directly. This is especially present in the Serbian versions of the folklore, where the little buggers are a bit more demonic – yet their focus is on tormenting the sinful. Known as karakondžula in this region, they have a favourite victim! Anyone attempting to commit adultery at Christmas. They would sit on the doorframes of houses with an adulterer intending to sneak out on their family to either cheat, or visit a prostitute, at which point they would dive on their head to claw, scratch, and beat with a stick to drive the unwisely horny offender into the forest - where they would ride them around until daybreak when the goblin would have to retreat back underground. This is something the creatures would be known to do to anyone they catch roaming about at night, but adulterers got actively sought out for the treatment. Not quite the tumble they were expecting that night, as a hollering Christmas Goblin landed on their head to play sinner jockey. As they go on their mischief rampages they can be distracted in a few ways. They’re pretty bad at counting, but are easily lured into attempting it anyway. One way of doing so is to leave a colander out on your back step, which will then leave them attempting to count all the holes until dawn when they will have to flee the sunlight. Their attempts at counting can be further confounded in some variations of their folklore in which they cannot count above the number two, as three is a holy number and if they should ever count to it they would explode. Bless their dumb mischievous hearts that they would still give every hole on a colander a go, when they have to stop at two every time but give it a try anyway. They also like loukoumades, a sort of syrup filled doughnut, as well as any sausages going spare. Throwing them on to your roof as a distraction will set them off looking for someone else to bother since you fed them treats. In some traditions you need to accompany the festive food yeeting with a special song, plus you’re just moving the problem along this way and potentially causing goblin rage when they move on to a house that doesn’t feed them. Being extremely Christmas themed, their favourite point of ingress to trash a house is via the chimney. You can keep them at bay by keeping a fire burning overnight, so in this way places that observe a Yule log to keep burning for twelve days gets bonus Kallikantzaros proofing. You can also burn old shoes to drive them away with the smell, burn incense for a more pleasant smelling alternative ward, and you can also use ash from the fireplace to draw a black cross on your doors as a deterrent at Christmas Eve - when the little mayhem merchants will be at their most active. Legends hold that any child born on one of the twelve days of Christmas is in danger of transforming into a new Kallikantzaros at Christmastime. So watch out for Christmas babies, they may be goblins waiting to happen! You can purify a baby with special clothing mixing garlic and/or straw, or when they’re older you can singe a child’s toenails to ward off the transformation. LukeLore does not condone the singing of any part of a child, even if they are really annoying around the holidays, so the one time baby purification is recommended if you’re really worried about offspring going Literal Goblin Mode. Just having a happy home at the holidays, plus taking care should you go out at night, seems to be enough to ward off the Christmas Goblins. Although if you do spot the little monsters out on the holiday warpath, breaking out the countable kitchenware and sparing some pigs in blankets as roof distractions may be wise. The difference between getting your house trashed out of mischief or malice is pretty moot if the Kallikantzaros pile in down your chimney. SECTION BREAK That’s all for this year of Christmas monsters, I’m a little worried I’m close to tapped out now. I’ve got a whole year to try and find more, though, so I hope pull it off yet. There’s definitely a benevolent Christmas Giant I haven’t done, there’s Mother Gryla’s husband, and I could come back to Beira or Boreas for some winter deities. I could also pivot into more general winter monsters… I’ll work something out, finding more creepy Christmas folklore is too fun not to! I’m confident I’ve got at least one more of these in me, and I may yet surprise myself. I honestly didn’t expect to find as many festive monsters as I have, and discovering even more has become an annual highlight for me on my journey as a folklorist. LukeLore is a Ghost Story Guys production.

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