From easily angered gnomes to child-eating giants, European folklore reveals a darker side to Christmas
In the northern hemisphere where naughty children are kept in line with frightening tales, receiving a lump of coal is the least of their worries
It is that time of year when we settle down with a glass of mulled wine and our thoughts turn to all things Christmas. While we all enjoy the merriment and the baubles, trimmings and greenery of the Christmas tree, there is a side to the season that can easily bring a sudden chill. In several cultures in the northern hemisphere, the yuletide winter solstice has brought considerable trepidation. For centuries, communities throughout Europe were mainly rural and thus at the mercy of nature, so it isn’t surprising that people felt themselves to be the governed by supernatural forces.
In Iceland at this time of year, when daylight only lasts around four to five hours, the medieval Icelanders believed it was a time when ghosts would roam the land. One Iceland saga called the Eyrbyggja includes the story of a farmer who invites his neighbours to a Christmas feast, only to have ghosts accompany them. He advises them to shake the mud off of their clothes and spray the other guests with it. Those who try to stop them fall sick and die.