Tuesday, December 17, 2019


Posted by: Dani Harper, Author
Ghost Horses, Giant Cats, Demons and Werewolves – the Christmas season is both magical and strange. If you thought scary things only came out at Halloween, keep reading!


In parts of Wales, a horse skull is mounted on a pole and decorated with flowers and ribbons and bells. Eyes are often added to the empty sockets. A cape, a curtain or a sheet is draped around it to hide the person holding the pole, and the horse's jaws are made to open and close so it can “talk”. This is the Mari Lwyd.

Pronounced mah-ri loo-id, "lwyd" is the Welsh word for gray. After that, no one seems to agree on what the name truly means: Gray Mare or Gray Mary or even Blessed Mary, depending who you ask. 
This skeleton horse is thought to have pre-Christian origins but for the last couple of centuries, the Mari Lwyd has been part of a wassailing tradition. Merrymakers take her from house to house like a giant puppet. 

When you answer the door, the Mari Lwyd recites a poem to you or sings a song. She might even insult you! If you’re clever, you can respond with another poem or insult, and the battle of wits is on! Eventually, the Mari Lwyd and her entourage will win their way inside for drinks and treats. When they leave, they pronounce a blessing on your house and good fortune to you for the coming year.

So, as scary and strange as the Mari Lwyd may appear, the worst outcome is that you’ll be out of beer and cake. But other Christmas creatures are not so benevolent…


When I was a kid, getting socks for Christmas was boring. But it wouldn’t be if I’d grown up in Iceland. That’s because Jólakötturinn, the giant Yule cat, prowled the snowy countryside and ATE anyone who hadn’t received an item of clothing for Christmas!

The story was allegedly used by farmers to “encourage” their workers to finish processing the year’s harvest of wool. Those who worked hard to do so received a gift of – you guessed it – brand new clothing. Those who didn’t help went without AND they became fair game for the demonic cat!


Grýla was not just a witch but a giant ogre who lived in a cave with her lazy husband Leppaludi, her monster cat (yup, the one we just talked about) and their many troll-like sons. She was often described as having up to 15 tails, and some old poems gave her multiple heads as well! Whatever she looked like, her favorite food was always disobedient children. 

Once a year at Christmastime, Grýla was said to come down from her cave and wander through the towns and villages at night to steal away the naughty. Eventually she’d return to the cave with bulging bags of children, and boil them alive to make enough stew to last until next Christmas!

The sons of Grýla and Leppaludi grew up to be just as nasty as their parents. Although they’ve been sanitized over the years into good-hearted pranksters who leave gifts for children, “the Yule Lads” were once monsters who terrorized mortals. And there were nearly 100 of them, not the 13 celebrated today. While Snow White’s dwarfs were named for fairly benign attributes, the Yule Lads were named for the things they stole and the trouble they caused.

So frightening were the original Yule Lads that in 1746 the government of Iceland intervened! They actually banned parents from scaring their children into good behavior with stories about these giants.


Our North American Santa Claus is loosely based on the European Saint Nicholas, a kind, gift-giving fellow traditionally portrayed in long bishop’s robes instead of a red suit. 

But in Austria, Hungary, Bavaria and other Alpine countries, St. Nick’s assistant wasn't a cute little elf but an enslaved demon. Yup, that’s right, a D-E-M-O-N. This cloven-hoofed creature with horns and hair goes by many names, but most commonly is known as Krampus. And his appearance isn’t the scariest part: Krampus is a specific type of demon known as an incubus, which sexually preys on sleeping humans. (Santa hangs out with a predator???)

So while St. Nicholas got all the positive press by delivering gifts and treats to “good” boys and girls, Krampus was right by his side to dish out punishment to the “bad” children. In many places, the jolly old saint was accompanied by several demons – his own personal gang of enforcers!

If you weren't saying your prayers, doing your chores and being properly respectful to elders, Krampus was armed with chains, a bag or basket and bundles of switches. If you were lucky, Krampus only took all your presents for himself. More often, you’d be spanked or even beaten. 

Really naughty kids were allegedly shackled with chains or stuffed in a bag or basket, and carried off to Hell to burn forever – at least, that’s what children were told. In Switzerland, where Krampus is called Schmutzli, children were routinely threatened with being carried off to the dark forest by the demon or tied in his sack to be thrown in the river and drowned!


Wait, what? Believe it or not, werewolves have been associated with Christmas for a very long time. 

In parts of Poland, it was believed they could only assume their furry shapes twice a year: on Midsummer Day and on Christmas. In Slovenia, the Twelve Days of Christmas were also known as "Wolf Days". The original story was that the Wolf-Shepherd, or Master of Wolves, was active during that time and could cause his subjects to do the most damage then.

Anyone could end up as a werewolf simply by having the “wrong” birth day. In Italy, being born on the winter solstice (December 20-21) was a surefire way to become a shapeshifter. In Poland and many other European countries, it was once assumed that children born on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day automatically became werewolves when they grew up. The curse was thought to be divine punishment because the hapless baby was somehow competing with the Christ child! 

In 14th century Normandy, the varouage was someone who had been excommunicated from the Church. They were cursed by a priest to become a werewolf between Christmas and Candlemas or during Advent. 

On a positive note, some traditions claimed that the sheer holiness of the Christmas season would suppress a werewolf’s ability to transform, enabling him to walk freely among men without fear of his animal nature getting the better of him.



(Haunted Holiday Book 1) 
by Dani Harper
  • “An excellent combination of sizzle and emotion.” NIGHT OWL REVIEWS
  • " Absolutely one of the most memorable stories I've read.." JUST LOVE MY BOOKS
  • "Action, adventure, and a whole lot of love inside." REDZ WORLD
  • “One of my top ten holiday romances ever.” READING BETWEEN THE WINES
  • Named a Book of the Week by BOOKWORKS
Available in ebook or paperback at


  1. Growing up in the 40s, my father says they were terrified of Black Peter/Krampus. When Santa Claus came to their school his naughty brother was actually put in a sack by the person playing Krampus. Really mean!

  2. As I read through the traditions, I honestly wondered how anyone managed to grow up without being scarred for life!


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