Arts·Art 101

Art 101: Krampus and more soul-eating Christmas demons

Professor Lise (not really a professor) takes us through some festive demonology.

Professor Lise (not really a professor) takes us through some festive demonology

(Getty Images/Jure Makovec)

Ah, Christmas. The time of year when carolers come to your door, stockings hang under the tree...AND A DEMON EATS YOUR ETERNAL SOUL.

I'm Professor Lise (not really a professor) and this is Art 101 (not really a class). We're here to go on a deep dive on an idea, an artwork or a story from the arts world that's controversial, inexplicable or just plain weird. Today, we're exploring the culture of Christmas and why some people have turned to the dark side, using evil, fear and like way too much latex to make Christmas the horrible holiday it was always meant to be.

Watch the video:

Art 101: Krampus and more soul-eating Christmas demons

4 years ago
Duration 3:19
Christmas is known as a time of joy and light but these demons make Christmas into the horrible holiday it was always meant to be.

So who is our first festive demon?

Krampus showed up in central Europe probably during the age of paganism. He's an alluring creature, adorned with horns, and he's stuck around in Austria.

He's half-goat, half-demon — and around Christmastime, he goes looking for bad children. He has a sort of whip made of birch branches and he'll put your awful kid in a sack, take them away, beat them and eat them later. 

If he doesn't drown them.

Feel uncomfortable? 


From Iceland, this dark lord is called Jólakötturinn, the Christmas Cat. He's probably been around since the medieval age and he's here to ruin your damned day.

Jólakötturinn as depicted by CBC Arts's Leah Collins (Leah Collins)

He's not looking for kids who behave badly — no, that would be too simple for this kitten. He's out for all the kids who don't have a new outfit for Christmas. Let me just repeat that. He is an evil cat who will eat your kids because they are not dressed well.

(I'm in love with this cat.)

(National Library of Norway )

And because Iceland is just plain weird (don't you say anything to me, Bjork — we all know it), they also have this lovely gang of ruffians who are here to destroy the holidays for you forever. They're called the Yule Lads!

(National Library of Norway)

They visit on the 13 nights before Christmas and every single time, they make your life a little worse than it was before. Kids leave their shoes on the windowsill and the Yule Lads can tell by the shoe whether they've been good or bad. Punishments include stealing your food, slamming all your doors and stealing your candles

Listen, these lads are no Krampus, but I feel like theft and door slamming is a nice break from all the murder that comes with other Icelandic Christmas fun.

Oh, and before you decide Iceland is so far away — how could this possibly apply to my life? — check out your little innocent Elf on the Shelf.

First of all, he's hella creepy and you know it. But also, he happens to be a descendent of a terrorizing figure from Germany named Belsnickel, who hangs out with St. Nicholas, wears furs and carries a switch to beat kids with.

And he always knows which kid is the worst.

These beasts from the pit of hell are not necessarily here just to scare you. They have social purpose. Krampus might be pretty obvious: he's what happens when Santa's "naughty list" is just way out of control. For Iceland's nightmare Christmas Cat, it may have been a way to keep people at work late sewing or knitting furiously, being productive members of society trying not to be eaten. And all of our new Christmas friends are trying to scare your children into being good people.

If they survive the holidays.

See you next time for more Art 101 if I'm still alive.


Lise Hosein is a producer at CBC Arts. Before that, she was an arts reporter at JazzFM 91, an interview producer at George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight and a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto. When she's not at her CBC Arts desk she's sometimes an art history instructor and is always quite terrified of bees.