Long before COVID came and Grinched our holiday parties, the seasonal routine was already tired, predictable, and out of step. Oh, look, an Evite to an ugly sweater party. How ironic. Wait, what’s this? A classy, glitter-encrusted card inviting us to a soiree featuring cheeses with names we can’t pronounce to be consumed while sweating in a wool turtleneck by a fire? Quelle surprise!
Worst of all is the cookie swap, which is the holiday equivalent of getting picked last in gym class. You watch people circle and gingerly gather up all the prettiest-looking cookies while yours sit forgotten, slowly going stale. And why? Because your gingerbread men look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame? Perhaps a few tufts of cat fur landed on the icing?
Forget all that. It’s a new era. A somewhat terrifying new pandemic-ish, politically uncertain era, and we should have traditions that reflect the times. Rudolph, hit the showers. Bing Crosby, please pipe down. My friends, it’s time to have yourself a scary little Christmas.
This year, center your holiday parties around some of the old pagan creatures that somehow weaseled their way into holiday traditions around the world but are too terrifying or bizarre to have Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated specials made about them. You know Krampus (more on him later), but have you met his Alpine lady friend, Frau Perchta?
Frau Perchta, a crone who has the misfortune of possessing one goose foot and one human foot, is known in Austria and Germany for her love of breaking into people’s homes during the holidays to reward them for being good. However, her skill set really shines when she punishes rule breakers. She’s known as the Belly Slitter for her love of slicing abdomens, ripping out organs, and replacing them with straw and other detritus. It wasn’t just naughty, lazy kids who had to fear hearing a single webbed foot on the floorboards — she was happy to reward and punish all as she saw fit. She was the ultimate yuletide vigilante.
If you’re hosting a holiday party, call up the spirit of Frau Perchta and her merry band of ghosts. I’m not suggesting disemboweling anyone, but perhaps dress as a crone and give your election-denying friends sweetbreads while offering other guests your delicious gingerbread Humpbacks of Notre Dame. Punish and reward the night away. Mushroom caps stuffed with ghost peppers or stale fruitcake for naughty friends, while nice friends get candy cane martinis. Let your imagination run wild.
Thankfully, these pagan creatures weren’t all about doling out medieval justice. Some just wanted to have a good time. In Finland, Nuuttipukki is a tipsy goat-man who would stumble around villages ransacking homes for leftover holiday food and, especially, booze. To throw a Nuuttipukki celebration, do nothing. Fashion some paper horns for your guests, and tell them to search your house for their party foods, Nuuttipukki-style.
A Nuuttipukki-fest is the ultimate inflation-busting soiree. No money for decorations? No problem. Your guests will be so busy foraging past the Miracle Whip in your fridge for something edible that they won’t notice your Christmas tree is actually an old floor lamp you spray-painted green. There is a twist: If you run out of provisions, your guests are allowed to prank you. But the beauty of this party is that you don’t have to do anything to prepare. Let the ransacking begin!
Iceland’s terrifying winter tradition has everything: cannibalism, family dysfunction, and a monstrous killer cat. For a party with the kids, take a page from Iceland and get rid of that construction-paper snowflake Santa from your routine. Instead, tell the kids the tale of Grýla, the giant ogress with a horned tail who throws naughty children in her bag and cooks them up into a tasty stew. Forget gifts — good behavior was a matter of life or death. Explain to your ankle biters or moody teens that they’re only getting socks and underwear this year because Grýla’s pet, the Yule Cat, eats children who don’t have new clothes.
There is a payout. If they survive the ogress and the cat, Grýla’s 13 sons might leave a gift in shoes placed on windowsills, but if the kids continue to misbehave, they’ll get rotten potatoes. Pro tip: Start dumpster diving now for those rotten potatoes. It will be worth it to see the looks of confusion on Christmas morning.
Another fun ancient party tradition is the Catalan celebration of Tió de Nadal (very roughly translated from Catalan to “Christmas log”). On December 8, paint a face on a log, give it a red beret and a blanket, and tell the kids they need to take care of it. That means keeping it warm, feeding it, and ensuring it’s happy. Think of it as a Spanish separatist Tamagotchi. On Christmas Eve, or whenever you tire of the kids asking what to feed a log, tradition states that everyone whack Tió de Nadal with a stick, sing songs, and then demand that the log defecate gifts. That’s right. You coddle a log for the month, then beat it silly and tell it to poop presents. It even has a cute nickname: Caga Tió, which means exactly what you think it does.
For adult parties, have each guest create their own Tió de Nadal, the more elaborate, the better. Judge them, and whack the winning log first because no one likes a show-off. It’s the perfect way to foster fun conversations and work out holiday aggressions. At adult parties, the log should defecate a proper reward, such as spiked eggnog. Cheers!
Purists who have a hard time abandoning traditional holiday celebrations may not be keen on a party focused around a bloodthirsty Icelandic cat or a Spanish log with magical gastrointestinal issues, so for these folks, I recommend a good old-fashioned Krampusnacht. That’s right, a night that pays homage to the Christmas goat-devil Krampus, who has gained significant traction since his eponymous 2015 movie. These parties have become increasingly popular, although they generally consist of drunk bros dressed as demonic goats running through the streets.
It may sound tricky to replicate at home, but re-creating the fear that Krampusnacht brings can be easily achieved by hosting a cookie swap, demanding guests wear turtlenecks or ugly Christmas sweaters, and then opening up the floor to political conversations and COVID predictions. Actually, let’s stick with the Krampus party. The Christmas goat-devil sounds far less terrifying than real life.
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther and Instagram @chris_muther.