How to Make Your Children Behave This Holiday Season: A Fear-Based Approach

Posted by Andrew Shaffer

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

The holidays are cancelled, and so are in-person classes in most of the country. It’s going to be a long winter, with many parents also working from home. So how can you keep children from misbehaving?

It used to be enough to tell them St. Nick was watching, so unless they wanted a stocking full of coal, they better shape up. That threat won’t cut it this year, when they know damn well Santa Claus’s gift-giving is likely to be curbed by your governor’s COVID restrictions.

Thankfully, our European brothers and sisters have you covered. They’ve had many more centuries of experience when it comes to keeping kids in line. Especially around Christmas. Here are seven terrifying characters drawn from European folklore that will have your children thinking twice about misbehaving this December.


Image by GLady from Pixabay

Krampus (Germany)

The devilish-looking Krampus has exploded in popularity in recent years. These German demons—there are multiple Krampus—beat naughty children into submission with a bundle of birch sticks. Particularly terrible kids may be bound in chains and dragged to Hell. Bye Felicia!


Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Hans Trapp (France)

In life, Hans Trapp was a cannibalistic Satanist. In death, he’s…a scarecrow who frightens children at Christmas, but doesn’t hurt them? Talk about a demotion. Don’t let your kids know he’s figuratively toothless.


Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Gryla and the Yule Lads (Iceland)

Gryla eats naughty children. What, without whipping them first? Gross. Her own kids—thirteen boys known as the Yule Lads—also make the rounds this time of year, leaving gifts for the good kids and…potatoes in the shoes of the bad ones. Nobody wants to feel those weird potato warts between their toes.


Photo by Lorenzo Campregher on Unsplash

Belsnickel (Germany)

You may remember this character from NBC’s The Office. Yes, The Office. Like the Krampus, the Belsnickel dispenses justice with a bundle of sticks. If a child’s been especially bad, he may drown them. Depends on how his day is going.


Image by ClaudiaWollesen from Pixabay

Jólakötturinn the Yule Cat (Iceland)

Every Christmas Eve, this large cat visits children who haven’t received new clothes to wear for Christmas Day…AND EATS THEM. It’s hardly a kid’s fault if they don’t get a new sweater one year. This policy seems to disproportionately affect the poor and disadvantaged. Try telling that to Jólakötturinn, though, as he’s licking the blood off his paws.


Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Père Fouettard (France)

This freak’s nickname is “Old Man Whipper” (or, in some circles, “Father Flog”). Yes, it’s yet another Christmas figure who delights in swatting children with sticks. And, like Hans Trapp, he was at one time a cannibal. He’s reformed, now—he doesn’t eat children anymore, although he does, on occasion, slice some little brat’s tongue out.


Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

Frau Perchta (Germany and Austria)

The “Christmas Witch” uses a long knife to slice the bellies of misbehaving children. Then she removes their insides and fills their hollow little bodies with straw. Perchta does not play around. Her followers, the horned Perchten, likely inspired the look of the modern Krampus—and they also have a central role in my new holiday horror novel, Secret Santa (available in bookstores everywhere).



Andrew Shaffer is the New York Times bestselling author of Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery and, most recently, Secret Santa: A Horror for the Holidays Novel. He lives in Louisville with his wife and cats. They do not have children, which is probably a good thing if this list is the kind of stuff they would fill their heads with.