In central Europe, tonight is Krampusnacht, the night when the goat-demon Krampus, a terrifying figure, wanders abroad dragging his chains to whip misbehaving children with a bundle of birch twigs, stuff them in a sack and take them away (to hell, presumably, in the Christianized version of this probably pre-Christian tradition).
You can’t escape Krampus if it is after you. The best you can do is offer it schnapps and hope that it will let you go.
Krampus has experienced a bit of a Renaissance in recent years, mostly as an amusing and quaint throwback. While small children may be frightened at Krampus parades, adults are all smiles. And displayed everywhere, of course, there is the ubiquitous St. Nicholas to make everything all right again when Krampus is gone.
But it was only a few centuries ago that the long nights of winter were full of monsters, and people ignored them at their peril. Cold, famine, disease, and the madness that can come from being locked indoors for months on end took their tolls in every community, every winter. Once harvests and livestock culls were complete, all one could do is watch the food stores dwindle and hope that spring would come in time.
Meanwhile, out in the dark, still-wild forests, real-world monsters such as wolves roamed. Strange and uncanny things were rumored. Simply going into the woods to cut firewood during the daytime became a fearful task.
I like Krampus. I like the reminder that the Dark is filled with scary possibilities. I think we gather our loved ones near precisely because of the monsters that lurk at our doors at this time of year.
May you and yours be safe, and warm, and well-fed at this time when darkness reigns and monsters are abroad. Happy Krampusnacht!