Unusual Christmas characters and creatures


Father Christmas, his elves and Rudolph the reindeer are recognised around the world.

But did you know that many countries have other Christmas characters, both naughty and nice? Here’s the busuu  round-up, from the friendliest to the creepiest!


Befana (Italy)

Befana is a smiling, kind, old witch who gives presents to children on 5 January. She flies on a broomstick, wearing a shawl, and is covered in soot because she comes down the chimney.

Another similarity with Father Christmas is that Befana gives good children nice things and leaves a lump of coal (or a stick, onions or garlic) for naughty ones.


Spider (Ukraine)

Ukrainians add a fake spider and web to their Christmas trees to bring good luck. It’s based on the tale of a woman who was too poor to decorate her tree.

She woke up on Christmas morning to find that a spider had spun a beautiful web on the tree’s branches. When the sunlight hit the web, it turned to silver and gold.


Yule Goat (Scandinavia)

Known as Julebukk in Norway, Julbock in Sweden and Joulupukki in Finland, the Yule Goat is thought to be linked to Thor, the Norse god whose chariot was pulled by goats.

It is typically represented by a straw model, whether as a Christmas decoration or a sculpture. The Swedish town of Gävle builds a giant straw goat, which someone tries to burn down every year.


Caganer (Spain)

The Caganer is a character specific to Catalonia in Spain. He’s found with his trousers around his ankles as he goes to the loo in otherwise serene nativity scenes!

And keeping to the theme, the Tió de Nadal is a ‘pooing log’ who’s fed with sweets that are hidden under its blanket. On Christmas Eve, the log is beaten with sticks to give up the treats.


Nisser (Denmark)

A nisse is an elf (sometimes mischievous) with a long white beard and a brightly coloured pointy hat. Nisser also exist in Norway, Sweden (tomte) and Finland (tonttu).

Traditionally, nisser protect farmsteads from bad luck if treated well and thanked with bowls of porridge. But if you annoy them (they have a short temper) they play tricks or steal presents!


Kallikantzaroi (Southeast Europe)

The kallikantzaroi are naughty (sometimes evil) underground goblins who emerge during the 12 days of Christmas to wreak havoc across Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Turkey.

They were generally believed to appear during darkness; people could protect themselves by staying indoors, leaving the fireplace lit all night or burning incense.


Yule Cat (Iceland)

Called Jólakötturinn or Jólaköttur, the Yule Cat is a big, vicious feline who stalks the snowy Icelandic hills. It eats people (or, less scarily, their food) who’ve not received new clothes before Christmas Eve.

They say that farmers used to use the threat of the Yule Cat to encourage workers to finish their tasks before Christmas. Their reward would be new clothing; those who failed would be eaten!


Krampus (Austria)

In Alpine areas, Krampus is a hairy, horned creature who punishes naughty children by beating them with a birch. He appears on 5 December, which is called Krampus Night (Krampusnacht).

Every Christmas, there are Krampus runs (Krampuslaufen) where people dress up as this mean character. Greetings cards featuring Krampus (Krampuskarten) often have funny rhymes and images.


Who’s your favourite Christmas character?

Which characters, naughty or nice, appear during Christmas time in your country?

What do they look like and what do they do?

Do they like special things to eat or drink? Let us know in the comments!

See you on busuu

Anna is one of Busuu’s German Language Experts. She is from Potsdam in Germany where she studied German Linguistics and Sociology. She loves writing short stories and anything related to art and design. Her favourite food is cheese!