Creepmas Yule Monsters: Gryla

Creepmas Yule Monsters: Gryla

Creepmas Yule Monsters: Gryla

By Derek Newman-Stille

 

People think of Yule and the Christmas holiday as a time of joy and wonderment, a celebration of light, but there has always been a darker side to the holiday season, after all, it is at the Winter Solstice that we experience the darkest day of the year. 

 

In Iceland, one of the most famous Christmas Monsters is Gryla, an ogress, Troll, or giantess who gathers the naughty children up into a sack and brings them home to eat. 
There are many different descriptions of Gryla and some suggest that she has 15 tails, others that she has 300 heads and 3 eyes on each head, that she has goat horns, eyes in the back of her head, or dangling ears that are attached to her nose  (https://guidetoiceland.is/connect-with-locals/regina/gryla-and-leppaludi-the-parents-of-the-icelandic-yule-lads).
Her husband was the troll Lappaluthi, and her children were the Yule Lads, 13 tricksters with names like Spoon Licker (whose role was to lick spoons), Pot Scraper (who would steal unwashed pots and lick them), and Door Slammer (who slams doors to keep everyone awake) (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/meet-the-thirteen-yule-lads-icelands-own-mischievous-santa-clauses-180948162/). The National Museum of Iceland notes: “Dozens of different names for the Yule Lads appear in different folk tales and stories. A popular poem about the Yule Lads by the late Jóhannes úr Kötlum, which first appeared in the book Jólin koma (Christmas is Coming) in 1932, served to make their names and number much better known. The names of the 13 Yule Lads that most Icelanders know today are all derived from that poem.” (https://www.thjodminjasafn.is/)
Gryla owns the Yule Cat, who eats any children who do not get new clothing for Christmas. An image of the Yule Cat is even brought through the streets of Rekyavic near Christmas (https://guidetoiceland.is/connect-with-locals/regina/gryla-and-leppaludi-the-parents-of-the-icelandic-yule-lads)
For some reason, Gryla was featured on 2018’s Yule special of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, but was instead depicted as a witch who had lost her children and sought to kidnap children.
The story of Gryla in Iceland dates back to the 13th century (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/why-icelands-christmas-witch-much-cooler-and-scarier-krampus-180967605/). She is said to live in caves in Iceland.
One poem about Gryla reads:
 “Here comes Grýla, down in the field, 
with fifteen tails on her,”
 
Another poem reads:
 
 “Down comes Grýla from the outer fields
With forty tails 
A bag on her back, a sword/knife in her hand,
Coming to carve out the stomachs of the children
Who cry for meat during Lent.”
According to Terry Gunnell from the Folkloristics Department at the University of Iceland Yule in Iceland’s history had been a time of the return of dead relatives and also all manner of magical creatures like trolls and elves (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/why-icelands-christmas-witch-much-cooler-and-scarier-krampus-180967605/).
Gryla’s name translates as “Growler”, a rather appropriate name for a cannibalistic troll!!
Thank you to Amy Jane Vosper for the term “Creepmas”

Father Christmas’ Childhood

Father Christmas’ Childhood

Father Christmas’ Childhood

A review of Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2015).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Matt Haig’s adorable children’s book A Boy Called Christmas sets out to fill in the details of holiday tradition and fill in gaps in the folklore and mythology of Father Christmas (the British name for Santa Claus), and specifically to fill in details that would be relevant to his target audience by asking the question “What would Santa Claus’ youth be like?” The story starts with an 11 year old boy living in poverty who has been nicknamed Christmas because his birthday fell on Christmas and takes him on a magical quest fuelled by his belief and his desire to see his father who had gone to the North. Like many magical quest narratives, he undergoes the traditional fantasy narrative of picking up helpers along the way. These helpers allow him to encounter the “Other” and learn from those experiences, becoming changed by the animals and supernatural characters he brings along with him on his voyage.

Haig follows the tradition of writing Santa’s life as a fantasy tale that was established by L. Frank Baum in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. He provides details to his tale, specifying where each of Father Christmas’ traditions come from as he battles the monstrous and spreads joy. Most tales have tended toward leaving gaps in knowledge and leaving it up to the reader’s imagination, rather than setting down specific origins for Santa’s behaviour as Baum and Haig have done. Haig’s tale details how Father Christmas first gets his red hat, why he first begins putting toys in stockings, how he comes to acquire toys from elves, how he begins to use his distinctive laugh, and, perhaps most importantly, what motivates him to believe that he needs to spread joy through gift-giving.

Yet, A Boy Called Christmas isn’t just a detailled mythology. In choosing a boy living in poverty with only a turnip carved like a doll as a toy, he brings attention to issues of poverty and how they affect children, while also bringing attention to the fact that many human “naughty” behaviours have come from living under constant oppression. His character, Father Christmas, uses his knowledge of human nature to begin searching for ways to increase human happiness and decrease misery and he situates expressions of joy and caring as the central feature for a better society (one that shares resources and takes time to enjoy life).

Haig initially portrays the elves in this narrative as people who have become xenophobic and joyless as a result of fear mongering by the elf newspaper and explores the power of overthrowing regimes that are based on isolationist policies and racism. As much as this is a story about Christmas, it is also a tale about revolution and calling into question hate-based and fear-based discourse.

This is a book of enlightenment – not just because of the happy, joyful content, but because it reminds readers that they have the power to stop being afraid and make positive changes. It is a book about growing up as an individual, but also growing up as a society.

To discover more about Matt Haig, go to http://www.matthaig.com

To find out more about A Boy Called Christmas, go to http://www.matthaig.com/a-boy-called-christmas/

A Krampus-fur Dress for Cinderella

A Krampus-fur Dress for Cinderella

A Krampus-fur Dress for Cinderella

A review of Steven Grimm’s “Villainess Ascending” in He Sees You When He’s Creepin’: Tales of Krampus (World Weaver Press, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Folklore and fairy tale collide in Steven Grimm’s “Villainess Ascending”, a tale that adds a monstrous twist to the tale of Cinderella. Grimm begins his story with the mythology that there have been multiple past Cinderellas and this one has gone through the same things as the others – a dead devoted mother, a remarried father, a stepmother and two stepsisters and like the other Cinderellas, this one doesn’t want a life of domestic servitude. Yet, Grimm adds a twist to the tale, setting the Prince’s ball near Krampusnacht, a time when the Austrian devil of Christmas, Krampus, is out prowling the world for people in need of punishment.

Krampus and Cinderella have something in common. They both want justice… and the punishment of those they view as wicked and Grimm intertwines their narratives in a way that adds nuance to both the folklore of Krampus and the fairy tale of Cinderella. Grimm’s tale draws on other figures from Austrian holiday legends as well, bringing in Frau Holle and Frau Perchta. Frau Holle (about whom the Grimm Brothers have also written a fairy tale) is able to bring on snowfall by shaking out her bedding and her tales generally revolve around rewarding people for hard work and punishing people for laziness. Frau Perchta has a more sinister presence in Austrian folklore and is generally portrayed as having two faces – one kind and gentle and the other demonic. During the yule holidays, she shows her good face to good children and gives them treats… but shows her demonic face to naughty children to punish them. Frequently she is portrayed slitting open the bellies of children, removing their organs, and filling their bodies with pebbles and straw. Steven Grimm’s Perchta isn’t quite as terrifying though she is connected to Krampus. Instead, she is a force of nature with otherworldly magical powers and an interest in seeing humanity become good rather than corrupt.

“Villainess Ascending” is a tale about the damage that patriarchy does to humanity. It is a story about the way that patriarchy has taken away rights from women and has often only allowed women success in the world through marriage rather than through their own skills and abilities. Steven Grimm’s story focusses on the messages in the Cinderella tale about beauty meaning success, about the only way for women to rescue themselves from poverty is through marriage to a rich man, and about the intentional toxicity of the prince’s ball and generating jealousy between women.

Grimm subverts the simple idea of the punishment of the wicked by pointing out that “wickedness” has social roots and is created by social structures that damage people in oppressed groups.

To find out more about He Sees You When He’s Creepin’: Tales of Krampus, visit https://www.worldweaverpress.com/store/p121/He_Sees_You_When_He%27s_Creepin%27%3A_Tales_of_Krampus.html