Winter’s many stories

Ainsley Freeman, Staff Writer

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Every story begins with the words ‘once upon a time.’ Once upon a time, there was an evil Santa. Once upon a time, there was a kind old lady who gave presents to children in Italy. Winter is a time for storytelling, so here are a collection of winter myths and legends.

Winter solstice celebration began in ancient Egypt, when people celebrated the rebirth of the bird-headed god, Horus. For 4,000 years, people have celebrated the winter solstice with elaborate and meaningful traditions, and the stories they tell are as beautiful as their celebrations.

The Feast of Epiphany, a celebration mostly in Europe, is about the moment the Three Wise Men learned about Jesus. In Italy, the tale goes that an old woman, Befana lived by herself. The Three Wise Men stopped by and asked her for directions to Jesus. Though she did not know, she offered them a place to stay. The Wise Men offered her a place in their journey, but Befana turned them down. Later, she realized she wanted to go on an adventure, but by the time she had gathered her presents, the Three Wise Men had already left. Befana nonetheless went house to house, following the same star the Wise Men chased on Jan. 6, the Feast of Epiphany, leaving presents for all the children on her journey, likely because the load of presents hurt her back.

In modern context, Santa Claus is a jolly old man in a flying sleigh who gives out presents to nice children and the coal to naughty ones. 400 years ago, there was no Santa Claus. Instead, children were terrified of the repercussions of their wrongdoings in fear of Krampus. It is said Krampus would throw a sack over their heads and take them to the underworld. Luckily, legend says he might let a child go if offered an alcoholic beverage. Krampus simply is an alcoholic devil Santa, with his own devil horns and night, Dec. 5, where people beg to not be carted to the underworld by this rude version of Santa.

The terrifying nature of winter creatures spans across the world, not just the European devil-Santas. In Japanese folklore, there are stories of a creepy spirit known as a Yuki-onna. It is said that Yuki-onna would use her beauty and lure men out into the winter to her. Once there, she would either leave them into the cold. They would subsequently die, or she would kill them. The strangest thing is that she just leaves them there afterwards. Some tales say that she has no feet, and leaves no footprints in the snow, rather floating eerily above the ground. The no-feet thing also is a thing with most Japanese spirits.

Japanese is not the only culture with strange winter beings. On the other side of the Eurasian landmass and the Atlantic Ocean, Iceland has its fair share of winter monsters. One of the more interesting ones is their cat. Jólakötturinn, or the Yule Cat, is said to roam the snowy country on Christmas Eve and eat those who did not receive new clothes to wear for the holiday. It is thought the tale was invented to combat laziness. Seamstresses would work to give everyone clothes to wear, and farm workers would be sure to get work done so they could receive their new clothes and not be devoured by the evil monster cat. Moral of the story: wear new clothes and do your homework.

Winter is a time for fun and joy, and telling these stories might turn a fun family gathering into either a discussion on the viability of foot-less ghosts or your cat being a man-eating Icelandic monster. Just don’t talk about Krampus with your grandma, she might think you are learning about Satan. If you do, make sure to mention that Krampus is not the devil, but an evil, child-abducting monster with devil horns. Not the actual devil.