Category Archives: Irish
Also Known As: Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, Santa (Santy in Hiberno-English), Mikulás (Hungary), Weihnachtsmann “Christmas man” (German)
That’s right, the jolly, big man in red who brings presents to all of the good boys & girls around the world on Christmas Eve or December 24th for Christmas Day.
The American Santa Claus that many have come to know and love, is often shown as a jolly, stout or portly man with a white beard who wears a red coat and pants with white trim, black boots and belt with a large sack of gifts ready to pass out for children. This imagery of Santa Claus became ingrained in the American psyche with Clement Clark Moore’s poem: “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”
But how did we get here to this beloved holiday figure?
A Santa By Any Other Name….
The mythos of Santa that we have all come to know and love is ultimately a composite and influenced by many numerous cultures, especially those found throughout Europe.
Amu Nowruz – This was the most interesting one to learn about. The figure of Amu Nowruz is a familiar one in Iranian and other Middle Eastern cultures for their celebrations of the New Year that coincides with the official start of Spring. In Iranian tradition, Amu Nowruz appears every year at the start of Spring along with his companion Haji Firuz. Their appearance marks the beginning of Nowruz, the New Year. Amu Nowruz is often depicted as an elderly, silver or white-haired man wearing a felt hat, long blue clock, sash, pants, sandals, and carrying a walking stick. Amu Nowruz’s role is to pass on the story of Nowruz to the young.
I mention bring up Amu Nowruz because of the timing for the Christmas celebrations and how close it is to the European celebrations of the New Year. Anyone who looks at Christmas as the celebration of the birth of Christ, knows that shepherds guard their flocks in the springtime, when its lambing season. If you study the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, you know that the date for the start of the New Year was altered.
Father Christmas – The British Santa who dates to 16th century England during King Henry VIII’s reign. Father Christmas is depicted as a large man dressed in green or scarlet robes lined with fur and is seen as the spirit of good cheer during Christmas, bringing joy, food, drink and revelry much like the Spirit of Christmas Present in Dickenson’s “A Christmas Carol.” By this time, England no longer observed Saint Nicholas’ Day on December 6th. The Victorian revival of Christmas, has Father Christmas as a symbol of “good cheer.” Along with the Dutch Sinterklaas, Father Christmas is a major influence on the imagery of the American Santa Claus.
Saint Nicholas – The historical Santa Claus that many love to point out. Saint Nicholas was a 4th century Greek bishop from Myra, Turkey. Saint Nicholas is a Catholic Bishop who rides on his white horse, Amerigo as he travels. He is the patron saint of children, archers, pawnbrokers, sailors and the cities of Amsterdam and Moscow. There are stories of Saint Nicholas leaving gifts in choir boys’ shoes and throwing money down chimneys to pay for a girl’s dowry that have contributed to the modern celebrations of Saint Nicholas’ Day and Christmas. Saint Nicholas’ Day is celebrated on the 6th of December by many instead of having him come on the 24th and 25th. Martin Luther suggested the Christ kind or Christ Child is who brings presents on Christmas Day.
Sinterklaas – A figure from the Netherlands and Belgium who is a tall, stern figure known for handing out gifts to good children and switches to the naughty ones. Sinterklass rides a horse named Amerigo or Slecht Weer Vandaag. Next to Saint Nicholas, Sinterklass is another prominent figure whom many point to as the most likely progenitor to Santa Claus. In the Netherlands, Santa Claus is known as de Kerstman, “the Christmas man.” In French, Santa Claus is known as Père Noël or “Father Christmas.” Sinterklass is most noted too for his assistant(s) known as Zwarte Pieten or Pères Fouettard in French. Sinterklaas has a strong connection and influence with Saint Nicholas and his festival in Myra, Turkey. Santa Claus’ name has been pointed out as an easy phonetic spelling from the Dutch into English when Dutch immigrants in the 17th & 18th century brought their Christmas traditions and thus Sinterklaas with them to America.
Woden – Or Odin, is a Germanic god. Before the Christianization of Europe, the Germanic peoples celebrated a midwinter holiday known as Yule. Many of the Yule traditions have easily found themselves incorporated into the modern celebrations of Christmas. Yule was also a time for when the Wild Hunt would ride throughout the land. Other supernatural and ghostly happenings were to occur as well. The leader of this hunt would be Woden. Additionally, it has been pointed out, that Woden is a god of poetry and wisdom. He is also the god who brought and introduced runes, the writing system. This is seen in the Dutch traditions of singing songs, writing poems and the passing out of pepernoten which are chocolate letters, what used to be runes that Woden would pass out to men. It has been theorized by many that Woden has influenced the imagery associated with Saint Nicholas as seen with the white beard and the horse he rides.
Other Pagan Figures – There are a number of other pagan deities such as the Roman god Saturn and his celebration of Saturnalia, the Greek god Cronos, the Holly King of Celtic mythology who signifies the dying year, the Norse god Frey, even Thor who all have some influence into the modern portrayal of Santa Claus and Christmas time celebrations.
Codifying A Legend
It’s generally agreed by many that the figures of Saint Nicholas, Sinterklass and Father Christmas all play a part in merging together to create the American Santa Claus, with a few remembering Woden’s part in it too. After all, the name Santa Claus can be pointed out as a variant spelling and pronunciation to Sinterklass. The first real mention of “Santa Claus” is in 1773 in any American publications.
History of New York – A book by Washington Irving, writing in 1809, intended as a satire of the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas, he is pictured as being a thick-bellied Dutch sailor with a pipe wearing a green winter coat.
A New-Year’s Present – A book published in 1821 for children, it has the poem: “Old Santeclaus with Much Delight” written by an anonymous author. Here, Santeclaus is described as riding a reindeer pulled sleigh as he brings gifts for children.
A Visit From St. Nicholas – Better known as “The Night Before Christmas” written by Clement Clark Moore in 1823. There’s a bit of dispute, that a Henry Livingston, Jr. who passed away nine years earlier is the actual author. This book really codified and made much of Santa’s appearance lore surrounding him cannon. Here, Santa or St. Nick is described as: “chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf” with a round belly. He is also assumed to be small in stature given the description of his sleigh as miniature and being pulled by tiny reindeer. This story also gives us the names for the eight reindeer who pull Santa’s sleigh: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. It should be noted that Donner and Blitzen names mean thunder and lightning in German. Additionally, their names had been the Dutch variations of Dunder and Blixem before getting changed.
William Gilley – A friend and neighbor to Clement Clark Moore. Gilley wrote a poem in 1821 titled Sancte Claus that also describes a Santa Claus who drives a reindeer pulled sleigh and delivers gifts by going down a chimney.
Kris Kringle – By 1845, Santa was also known by the name of Kris Kringle. Some places in the U.S. such as Pennsylvania, Santa was known as Krishkinkle.
Thomas Nast – An American cartoonist who defined the image of the American Santa as being large and heavy set. Nast did an illustration for Harper’s Weekly on January 3rd of 1863 where Santa is dressed in an American flag and a puppet by the name of “Jeff.” This was a reflection of that publication’s Civil War articles. Nast is likely the source for the part of Christmas lore that Santa lives at the North Pole with his illustration on December 29th, 1866 captioned Santa Clausville along with several other illustrations showing Santa in his workshop. Nast’s influence is been so great, that later songs, children’s books, movies, T.V. specials and even advertising continue to use it.
George P. Webster – In the same 1869 Harper Weekly publication, Webster had a poem appearing alongside some of Nast’s illustrations where Santa is described living near the North Pole, to the point, that this bit of lore has become well established in the Holiday Mythos surrounding Christmas time.
Coca-Cola Santa! – Another change to Santa’s image came in the 1930’s with Haddon Sundblom’s depiction of Santa. This of course, has led many to jump a band wagon conspiracy theory that the Coca-Cola Company invented Santa as the colors of red & white that Santa wears are the same colors as the Coca-Cola brand.
To put this conspiracy to rest, Coca-Cola is not the first soft drink company to use Santa in his familiar red & white get up to promote their products. White Rock Beverages did so in 1915 for their mineral water and then later in 1923 for ginger ale. In addition, Puck magazines used a red & white garbed Santa on their covers for the first few years of the 20th century.
He’s Making A List!
One of the things Santa is known for is maintaining a list of who all the good children are and who the naughty ones are. The good children of course get presents and the naughty ones get coal.
Letters To Santa
This is one of many traditions done by children at Christmas time. Frequently this letter is a wish list of what they hope that Santa will bring them. Wise children will know to keep the list short and not to get too greedy with their wants. Many children will also assure Santa that they’ve been doing their best to be good. Many different post offices and services will accept the letters that children have written for Santa.
The Spirit Of Giving
The very image of Santa as a gift giver has been strongly tied to many charity organizations such as Salvation Army and the number of people who seek during the holiday season to help out others. Department Store Santas and just about anyone dressed as Santa to bring gifts or to aid in fundraising efforts for those in need. In this respect, Santa Claus keeps strong connections to Father Christmas and Saint Nicholas with promoting goodwill and people being more giving and caring during this time of the year.
Whether it’s Yule or Christmas, it goes without saying, we should always be showing goodwill, giving and caring about others all year long. Since the Christmas celebrations take place in Winter, it’s especially important to remember those in need. Which is where Santa’s role as a patron Saint of Children comes into play: giving to those in need and helping to keep the magic of wonder, belief, innocence, giving and love. Life gets rough and it can get hard during the dark, cold winter months.
Coming Down The Chimney – The idea of Santa coming down the chimney to deliver his gifts, clearly connects him to his older European roots with those like Odin who would come down the chimneys on the winter solstice or the stories of Saint Nicholas where he tosses down bags of coins through a window or down a chimney to pay for a daughter’s dowry if she came from a poor family. In much of ancient European folklore, the hearth or fire place is a sacred place where the guardian spirit or fairies of a household would bring their gifts.
Stockings Hung By The Chimney With Care
Many families who celebrate Christmas have some sort of tradition with leaving stockings hung up by the fire place or laid out. This naturally references back to Saint Nicholas who was known for leaving gifts in children’s socks or shoes.
Lumps Of Coal – If a child has been particularly naughty, he or she may receive lumps of coal or a switch instead. Granted that doesn’t usually happen and is more of a warning for children to always do their best to be good.
Cookies For Santa
An offering of cookies and milk Santa Claus when he visits is fairly standard among many American families. Some will leave a carrot or two for the reindeer too.
Just what is left or offered can vary too by country.
Australia & Britain – Sherry or Beer along with mince pies are left out.
Canada & United States – Milk and Cookies are the norm.
Denmark, Norway & Sweden – Rice porridge with cinnamon sugar is left out.
Ireland – Guinness or Milk along with Christmas pudding or mince pies.
“Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Christmas” is perhaps the most iconic saying associated with Santa Claus. No just any laugh, but a deep belly laugh that is associated with happiness. Anything less, just isn’t Santa. The imagery of Santa Claus be rather rotund is seen as an important attribute of his and immortalized in Clement’s iconic poem: “A Visit from St. Nicholas” for the classic lines:
“. . . a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly”
The North Pole
The north pole is where Santa is said to reside, far away from much of the world so he and especially his elves can craft toys to be delivered. The idea of Santa living at the North Pole likely originated with the artist Thomas Nast and author George P. Webster. This locality has grown up from a simple House and Workshop to a full-blown village where Santa and his helpers live.
Canada – According to the Canadian Post, Santa Claus’ postal code is H0H 0H0, as in his traditional “Ho, Ho, Ho” laugh that Santa is well known for. In 2008, Santa Claus was awarded Canadian citizenship by the Canadian minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney. This way, after Santa Claus finishes his annual, nightly rounds, he can return straight home to Canada and the North Pole without hassle.
Kyrgyzstan – There is a mountain peak named for Santa Claus. A Swedish company suggested that this mountain was more likely to be a better place for Santa to launch is gift-giving campaign from to all over the world. In 2007, a Santa Claus Festival was held in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital. 2008 was declared the Year of Santa Claus.
Lapland – A region in Finland. It was pointed out in 1925 that Santa couldn’t possibly live at the North Pole as his reindeer would nowhere to graze. Radio Host “Uncle Markus” Rautio for the Finnish radio show the “Children’s Hour” revealed that Santa lives in Lapland’s Korvatunturi, meaning “Ear Fell.” It makes sense as the whole of Lapland has been pointed out to be shaped like a rabbit’s ear and it would enable to Santa to be able to hear the Christmas wishes of children the world over.
Nordic Claims – Several Nordic countries claim that Santa lives within their borders. Norway for example says that Santa lives in Drøbak. Meanwhile, Denmark claims that Santa lives in Greenland. In Finland, Korvatunturi is claimed as Santa’s home.
At first, early depictions of Santa show him making his gifts by hand in a workshop. Later, Santa is shown with a number of helpers in his annual, nightly task. After all, Santa can’t be everywhere, though he’ll do his best.
Babouschka – In Russia, Babouschka is an elderly woman who misled the Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem. Later, she regretted the decision and unable to find the Wise Men, Babouschka has since then, visited the homes of Russian children, hoping that one of them is the baby Jesus when she leaves her gifts.
Belsnickel – A figure who follows Santa Claus in some regions of Europe such as Germany and Austria, he is similar to Krampus in that he will punish naughty children.
Christkind – Or Kris Kringle is known to deliver gifts to children to Switzerland and Germany. Christkind, meaning “Christ child” is an angelic being who helps Santa.
Ded Moroz and the Snow Maiden – Ded Moroz or Grandfather Frost is accompanied by his granddaughter, Snegurochka the Snow Maiden in the Slavic countries. Ded Moroz was once an evil wizard who kidnapped children. Ded Moroz and his granddaughter arrive on the New Year’s Eve or Day bringing gifts as he tries to atone for his one evil ways.
Elves – To make all of the toys that Santa gives out on Christmas Eve, he has the aid of a number of elves who work in his workshop. As time went on and moved into the industrial era, the means by which the elves craft and then manufacture the toys has changed.
Fake Santas! – No! That can’t be! Yet, inevitably, some bright and clever child will point out that the Mall Santa isn’t really Santa Claus. As a wise adult will point out and counter, that is because Santa Claus can’t be everywhere and that the adult dressed as Santa is just one of many, numerous helpers throughout a busy and chaotic holiday season. Many young children will generally except this explanation without question. Though older children do seem more prone to skepticism.
Father Christmas – Father Christmas, however similar to Santa he is, it is Father Christmas who comes filling stockings in Britain.
Jultomten – If you’re in Scandinavia, an elf by the name of Jultomten who brings in a sleigh drawn by goats.
Krampus – German for “claw,” the figure of Krampus hails from the Alpine countries in Austria and Germany. Krampus has seen a revival in more recent years as a dark figure and companion to Santa Claus where he scares or beats naughty children into behaving.
La Befana – The Italian Christmas Witch, La Befana is very similar to Babouschka as she too searches for the baby Jesus and delivers gifts to children on January 6th, the Epiphany.
La Pere Fouettard – “The Whipping Father,” Pere Fouettard accompanies the French Pere Noel on his nightly visit of December 5th where like Belsnickel, Krampus and Zwarte Piete, he will punish naughty children.
Pere Noel – Or Papa Noel, is a figure like Father Christmas and Santa, he is who comes bringing gifts to children in France. Instead of reindeer, Pere Noel rides a donkey named Gui, meaning “mistletoe.”
Reindeer – And not just any reindeer, eight of them that help pull Santa’s sleigh and fly through the night delivering gifts. The eight reindeer are as follows: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. It should be noted that Donner and Blitzen names mean thunder and lightning in German. Further, only female reindeer keep their antlers in winter.
Rudolph – The ninth reindeer who has a glowing nose. Rudolph entered the Santa Claus mythos in 1939 when Robert L. May wrote the story for the Montgomery Ward department store to help drive up holiday traffic and sales. May used a similar rhyme like Moore’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to tell Rudolph’s story. Later, one of May’s friends, Johnny Marks turn Rudolph’s story into the well familiar song. The rest is history as there are television specials and books featuring Rudolph and his adventures.
Tomte – Hailing from the Scandinavian countries, the Tomte or Nisse as small gnome-like characters who bring gifts.
Zwarte Piete – A helper and companion to the Dutch Sinterklaas. Early depictions of Zwarte Piete show him as a punisher while later depictions have tried to soften the image.
What About Mrs. Claus?
As this seems to have been a thing that weighs on some people’s minds, many authors have written, saying that yes, Santa Claus is married.
Just what does she do? Besides stay home and take care of the house and all of the elves? I personally imagine her being La Befana, the Italian Christmas Witch. Hey, not everyone believes in Santa and there’s other Christmas time figures who all likely deliver gifts to their respective areas and those who believe in them.
Tracking Santa On His Nightly Runs
With the arrival of the internet age, there have come many websites and even a few T.V. programs that will track Santa Claus on his nightly run during Christmas. Many of these sites have come and gone over the years. The most amusing origin of one such site, NORAD came about when in 1955, a Sears ad misprinted the phone number that had children calling the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) instead on Christmas Eve. When Colonel Harry Shoup, the then Director of Operations received the first phone call, he told children that there were indeed signs of Santa heading south. This kicked off a whole tradition of tracking Santa with NORAD when later in 1958, Canada and the United States created the North American Air Defense Command.
Many parents will use the websites as a means of enforcing a bedtime. That Santa can’t come if you’re still awake.
The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus
Written by L. Frank Baum who also wrote the Wizard of Oz series, “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus” was written in 1902 before much of the lore surrounding Santa Claus became cannon. It tells of Santa, then known as Neclaus, meaning “Necile’s Little One” how he was raised among the immortal fairy and would latter take on the role of Santa Claus after Ak, the Master Woodsman shows Neclaus the misery and poverty that other humans know.
There has been a Rankin/Bass Stop-Motion animation adaptation of this story as well as a traditionally animated adaptation of this story. Since so much of the lore surrounding Santa Claus seems pretty well set and known, “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus” often provides an alternative spin and take on the Santa legend. To me, it’s rather satisfactory in answering how Santa got his start and became the well-known, beloved Holiday figure he is today.
With the strong connections to Wodin/Odin in the mythology behind Santa Claus, many have pointed out the more pagan origins of Christmas, of which there are indeed a lot. With Santa Claus, they will point that his garb is reminiscent of what Shamans would wear.
It was true way back then, when the colonists, mainly Puritans arrived in North American during the 17th century and first founded the American Colonies; that would later become the United States, that Santa Claus wasn’t welcomed and even banned. For the Puritans, the image of Santa Claus was too pagan, too much a part of the Roman Catholic Church and took away from the celebration of Christmas, focusing on the birth of Jesus Christ. Hell, Christmas celebrations were even banned at first. The celebrations at this time involved a lot of riotous, drunkenness and public displays of disorder. Christmas as it would be known today, didn’t exist.
At this time, with the harvest season clearly over, many of the lower class laborers coming in from the fields now had plenty of leisure time. Workers and Servants alike sought to take the upper hand with the higher ups, demanding largess in the way of money and food. Industrialists in America were all too willing to increase the work hours and fewer holidays than in Europe.
I get it, Christmas got started in the first place with the Roman Catholic Church trying to appease and convert Pagans to Christianity. Many pagan holidays got replaced with those of Christian ones, the imagery from Pagan ones replaced with Christian ones. So you clearly get a Pagan and Christian side to the celebration of Christmas. One that can get some strongly devout followers trying to denounce the more pagan overtones, of which, Santa Claus is just one of may holiday symbols caught in the crossfire of a millennia old religious and holiday feud. Combined with the riotous drunken revelries, its easy to see why early devout Puritans and Calvinists didn’t want to observe Christmas.
Not until after the Revolutionary War did Christmas start being celebrated, this time they included Santa Claus. We can thank all the later immigrants who brought their Christmas traditions and brought Father Christmas and Sinterklaas who would blend together to become the familiar, beloved Santa Claus. Otherwise, Christmas as many in the U.S. would come to know it, wouldn’t exist.
The 19th century saw a cultural change. There was getting to be more focus on family home life and seeing childhood as a precious time to be protected. Part of this saw Christmas become “tamed” and the image of Santa Claus as a friend and protector of children become prominent.
Even today, the controversy continues, you still have those who feel that Santa Claus’ presence takes away from the focus of the season, that he’s too pagan. It didn’t stop some like Reverend Nedergaard, from Copenhagen, Denmark in 1958 calling Santa a “pagan goblin.” Really?
You have those, rightfully so, who feel the holiday has gotten far too commercialized and materialistic. You can’t blame them as many retailers do take advantage of the holiday as a time to boost and market sales. So yes, you can reclaim the holiday by making sure to give others and charity, spending time with family and spend less on pricey gifts so that they are more meaningful.
Then you get into those clergy and parents who feel you shouldn’t lie to children about Santa Claus being real. Which is hard, because, you can certainly point towards the historical Saint Nicholas of Myra, Turkey. He was real and lived. If you’re Christian, he became a Saint for his actions, a patron saint of children.
In a twist of irony, while some Churches still try to stamp out Santa Claus, others have found that having Santa there along with a Christmas tree and gifts actually gets people coming in. Go figure.
Childhood should be a time of wonder and hope. Yes, this is the time when many beliefs and conceptions about the world will be formed. Many children will figure out the reality of Santa Claus on their own. It should be a parent who decides to inform their child or not. Not some random stranger with a grudge who must go out of their way to destroy someone else’s fun, festivities and celebrations by enforcing their views.
In theater, we have the “Suspension of Disbelief.” You can at least do that before destroying someone else’s holiday good cheer. Go take over and live in the Grinch’s cave if you’re going to have to bah humbug the holiday season.
Also known as: Apollo Moritasgus
Possible Etymology: “Great Badger” or “Sea Badger”
There’s a lot of Celtic mythology, stories and deities that’s not very well known. Much of it hasn’t survived the test of time with various conquests by the Ancient Romans as they expanded their empire and the later spread and influence of Christianity.
The god Moritasgus is known from four inscriptions found at the site in Alesia. In two of the inscriptions, Moritasgus is identified with the Greco-Roman god Apollo.
From the scant inscriptions, the only known family is his wife, a cow goddess by the name of Damona.
Shrine In Alesia
The site of Alesia, was an oppidum, a type of a defended settlement dating from the Iron Age. The group of ancient Celtics, the Mandubii founded it in the area of present day Burgundy, France.
The shrine located here was near a curative spring where many sick and afflicted people would come to bathe in its waters. The shrine and it’s spring were located near the eastern gate, just outside of the city walls. The shrine was an impressive temple with baths and porticoes where people would likely sleep, hoping for prophetic visions and healing.
A number of votive objects modeled after people showing different afflicted parts of their body have been found. All of these were dedicated to Moritasgus. Further, surgeon’s tools have been found at the site, suggesting that the priests located at the shrine may have also been surgeons.
Medicinal Uses Of Badgers?
Odd as that sounds, in Gaulish medicines and even later medival European medicines, the fat of the European badger was used. This likely serves as the connection to a healing god and badgers.
Specifically, the ingredient, taxea or adeps taxonina, “badger fat” was seen as a potent medical ingredient that the ancient Germanic and Celtic people traded with the Greeks and Romans. Taxea is a secretion the subcaudal glands of the European Badger. This secretion from the glands is a pale-yellow fatty substance with a gentle musky scent. This taxea incidentally is similar to the castoreum from the scent glands of beavers.
The main use of taxea was for treating impotency. The Gaulish word tasgos, has a root meaning of “peg” or “stake” and it has been argued that because the badger’s nose is pointed, there might be a phallic meaning to the use of the word taxea. Which could mean then that the use of taxea for treating impotence, could have a connection to any ancient Celtic use with sympathetic magic.
A fourth century medical writer, Marcellus includes the use of badger fat in his book “De Medicaments.” Another short treatise from the fifth century, “De Taxones,” discusses the magical-medicinal properties of badgers and has various incantations to speak while dissecting this animal.
The Irish Saint, Molaise in myth is believed to have descended into hell dressed in badger skins in order to rescue a leper.
Others Named Moritasgus
There are a few people who have shared the same name. Most notable is an ancient ruler of Senones from the first century B.C.E.
Also known and spelled as: boogerman, boogeyman, boogieman, boogie man, boogyman and bogyman
Pronounced – boo g-ee-man, boh-gee-, boo-
The term or name bogeyman is often used to describe an entity or monster that causes an irrational source of fear. The bogeyman’s appearance is frequently nebulous and vague, leaving much to the imagination. This has led some people to believe that it may be a shape shifter that can reflect what a person most fears.
Stories of the Bogeyman vary by culture and even from home to the next as it is a creature often used by parents to keep children from misbehaving. For many children, that irrational fear of the unknown, that unknown terror under the bed, in the closet, lurking just outside a window, coming through unlocked doors and down chimneys is very real. Even if parents didn’t tell stories to frighten children, there would still be this irrational fear of the unknown for many. Many though, outgrow this irrational fear as they grow up and often find there truly is nothing to fear.
Possible Historical Connections
Tracing the name and origins of the name bogeyman is a bit murky and there have been many ideas and theories put forward.
A few sources place the appearance of the word bogeyman in the English language from the Scottish word bogle, which means “ghost” or “hobgoblin” which dates to around 1505. Other sources will place the word bogeyman to around 1836 as another name for the Devil. It certainly seems to have become popular with the works of Scottish poets such as Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott.
Another idea is that the word comes from the Middle English word bugge, meaning a “frightening specter.” Other similar words to this are boggard, bogy, bugbear, the Welsh bwg, the Scots Gaelic bòcan and the German word bögge; all of these words refer to a goblin or frightening creatures.
This idea is a rather interesting source for the Bogeyman as a “boggy man.” Bog men can be found periodically preserved in peat bogs. In these stories, the bog men arise from the dead much like zombies to attack the living.
The name bogeyman may come from the Bugis people who were pirates from Indonesia and Malaysia. Its likely that English and French sailor brought home stories of the bugis where it becomes anglicized to bogeymen. They would tell their children “if you’re bad, the bugisman will come and get you!” Eventually, the word bugis changes into the word bogey. Etymologists tend to disagree on the Bugis being the source for the Bogeyman as the word and term had been in use long before the Europeons started exploring and colonizing Southeast Asia.
There’s a claim that Bogeyman is a reference to Napoleon Bonaparte who had been nicknamed “Boney” by the British. He was used as a threat for British children of the time and that somewhere along the line, Boney becomes Boneyman and further becomes Bogeyman.
Snot Your Friend
The most interesting connection of the bogey man is the relationship of its name as a slang term for snot and boogers.
A Monster By Any Other Name….
Nearly every culture around the world has its own version of the bogeyman. Some faceless monster used to keep unruly children in line and from misbehaving.
There’s a long list of them that can be given too.
Afghanistan – The Bala or Newanay Mama, which means “The Monster or Crazy Person”, is used to scare children when they won’t sleep or take their medicine.
Albania – In South Albania, there is the Katallani “the Catalan” a monster which relies on the historical Catalan occupation of the region centuries ago used to scare children. In South Italy, there is the Gogoli, “the Mongol” another historical use of the Golden Horde that is used to frighten children into behaving.
Algeria – The H’awouahoua is a chimerical monster made up of many different animal parts with eyes that are blobs of flaming spit and a coat made from the clothes of those children it eats.
Azerbaijan – A monster called Khokhan (“xoxan”) is used for scaring children into behaving.
Bahamas – The “small man” is the name given to an entity who rides in a cart that pulls itself. He picks up any child found outside after sundown. Anyone taken by the small man becomes a small person and rides with the small man forever. The term “rollin’ cart” has been used to scare children into behaving themselves.
Belgium – Oude Rode Ogen (Old Red Eyes) is known throughout the Flanders region, it is believed to have originated in Mechelen and is a cannibalistic shape-shifter that is able to change from a human to a black dog. Oude Rode Ogen later becomes a children’s story in the 1900’s called “The Nikker” who eats children that stay up past their bedtimes.
Belize – The Tata Duende is a small wrinkled goblin with a beard, no thumbs and backwards feet who wears a large brimmed hat. He is described as a protector of the forests and animals who scares children from going out to play at night or in the jungle.
Bosnia, Croatia, Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia – In these countries, the Bogeyman is called Babaroga. Baba means “old woman” and rogovi means “horns.” So the name literally means “old woman with horns.” The specifics of Babroga vary from household to household. In one household, Babaroga will take children and put them in her sack where she will take them to her cave to eat. In another household, she will take children, pulling them up through small holes in the ceiling.
Brazil – The “Bag Man,” called “homem do saco” in Portuguese, “hombre de la bolsa,” “hombre del costal” or “del saco” in Spanish is one such monster or man-like creature who is known for carrying off misbehaving children in a sack. There is also another very similar creature the “Bicho Papão” or Eating Beast who will carry off children. Bicho Papão is also known as Sarronco, the “Deep-Voiced Man”. Another monster is the Cuca, a female humanoid with an alligator head. Parents will sing a lullaby to their children at night about how Cuca will come take them away if they don’t go to sleep. Cuca appears as a character in Monteiro Lobato’s Sítio do Picapau Amarelo book series that uses a lot of Brazilian folklore. The difference between Bicho Papão and the Bag Man is that the Bag Man comes during the day and Bicho Papão comes during the night.
Bulgaria – The Torbalan or “Man-with-a-sack” is the name of the local bogeyman. In some places, a dark, hairy ghost-like creature called a Talasam who lives in the shadows of barns or in attics is what will come to scare children into behaving.
Czech Republican – A creature known as the Bubak, a scarecrow is used to frighten children into behaving. It will hide along riverbanks, making a crying noise like an infant to draw victims to it.
Congo – The Dongola Miso or “Creature with Scary Eyes” is used to scare children into going to bed on time. It is also used to warn children and adults alike about the dangers of dealing with and speaking to strangers.
China – The Ou-Wu is a witch or scary looking woman who kidnaps children that misbehave. She is popular in the southern regions of China and Hong Kong. The term is the origin for “monster” and has become used as a synonym for ugly or hideous.
Cyprus – In the Cypriot dialect, Bogeyman is known asd Kkullas.
Denmark – Here, the Bogey Man is known as busseman or Bøhman and is known for hiding under the bed where it grabs children who won’t sleep. Much like in the English language, the name has become a slang term for snot or nasal mucus.
England – In Yorkshire, children are warned that if they steal from orchards, they might get eaten by a fairy in the form of a giant caterpillar known as Awd Goggie. Another similar monster is “The Gooseberry Wife” who guards gooseberries on The Isle of Wight.
Egypt – The Abu Rigl Maslukha, “Man With Burnt/Skinned Leg,” is a particularly scary story told by parents to children who misbehave. The Abu Rigl Maslukha is a monster who got burnt as a child as he wouldn’t listen to his parents. He will grab children and cook them to eat.
Finland – Here, the Bogeyman is known as Mörkö. In the Moomin stories, the Mörkö or Groke is a frightening, dark blue and big ghost like creature.
France – Here the Bogeyman is called “le croque-mitaine” which means “The mitten-biter.” Another translation of the name is “the hand-cruncher.”
Georgia – In addition to a “Bag Man,” there is also the “Bua” used by parents to scare children who have misbehaved. No real description of Bua is given and its suspected there’s a link between it and the the Georgian word bu which means owl.
Germany – There is the black man or Der schwarze, called so for his preference to hiding in dark places like closets, under the bed or out in the forests. There is a children’s game called Wer hat Angst vorm schwarzen Mann (Who is afraid of the Bogey Man). There is also an old traditional folk song “Es tanzt ein Bi-Ba-Butzemann in unserm Haus herum” that translates as: A Bi-Ba-Bogeyman dances around in our house. Another name for the Bogeyman is Buhmann or Butzemann. And finally there is also the Grossman.
Greece – The Baboulas is said to hide under the bed, though parents will tell stories of this creature in other ways to frighten children into behaving.
Guyana – The Jumbi is the name for the Bogeyman and like many other variations, it too lives in the dark, staying in closets and under the bed. It is used to scare children to eat their food so that they can defend themselves against him.
Haiti – A tall man, with legs two floors high is believed to walk around the towns at midnight, catching and eating those people who stay outside. He called Mètminwi which seems to be a contraction of the French “maître,” for master and minwi, the French word minuit” for midnight. So his name translates to “Master of Midnight.” There is also Tonton Macoute or Uncle Gunnysack who would trap misbehaving children and eat them for breakfast. The MVSN, a secret police force in Haiti used this myth as a form of control as many so called Tonton Macoutes were followers of Voodoo.
Hejaz, Saudi Arabia – The Dojairah and Umna al Ghola, which means “Our mother the Monster” is used to scare children when they misbehave or outside alone at night.
Hungary – Stories of the Mumus is used to scare children. There is also the Zsákos Ember, a man with a sack. A final monster is the Rézfaszú bagoly or “Copperpenis Owl” and whose description is that, a giant owl with a copper penis.
Iceland – The Grýla, is a female troll who would take misbehaving children and eat them during Christmas Eve. Fortunately, she has been dead for quite some time. She is the mother of the Yule Lads who are Iceland’s version of Santa Claus.
India – There are a number of different names for the Bogeyman in India. In North India, the Bori Baba who carries a sack is used to frighten children. There is also the Chownki Daar, a night security guard who will come and take children away if they won’t go to sleep. In South India there is the Rettai Kanna (the two-eyed one) or Poochaandi who used to threaten children in the state of Tamil Nadu. There is also the Buchadu or Boochodu is used similarly in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Bihar parents use the demon Bhakolwa for scaring children. In Karnataka, there is the demon Goggayya, the “terrible man,” central Kerala has the Kokkachi who will take away disobedient children. More bogeymen like creatures are the Oochandi of South Kerala, the Gongo of West Coast India, a male ghost called Buva or Bagul Buva among the Marathi speaking people is used for scaring children and finally there is the Kaan Khowa used by Assamese parents who will eat children’s ears if they don’t go to sleep.
Indonesia – The Wewe Gombel is a ghost that kidnaps children who are abused by their parents. She takes them to her nest on top of a palm tree where she cares for the children until the parents realize what it is they have done. If the parents decide to change their ways, the Wewe Gombel will return the children. The Wewe Gombel’s story originated with an event that took place Bukit Gombel, Semarang.
Iran – The Lulu is used in Persian culture to frighten children into behaving. The Lulu is also sometimes called the Lulu-Khorkhore or “bogeyman who eats everything up.”
Iraq – There is the Saalua from ancient folklore. She is a half-witch, half-demon ghoul used by parents to scare their children. Saalua is mentioned in a story found in the 1001 Arabian Nights. She is known too in other Gulf countries.
Italy – The “L’uomo Nero” or The Black Man is used, he is a tall man wearing a heavy black coat and either a black hood or hat to hide his face. Alternately, he is a ghost with no legs. Parents are known for knocking under the table and pretending someone knocked on the door as they say: “Here comes l’uomo nero! He must know that there’s a child here who doesn’t want to drink his soup!” Unlike other monsters, L’uomo Nero doesn’t actually harm or eat children, he just take them away to a strange, frightening place. There is a lullaby used with L’uomo Nero who keeps a child with him for a whole month. Black is also used as a pun in politics in Italy as the color is associated with fascism. Unfortunately it also has negative, derogatory racial puns and slurs associated with the color black. Other places in Italy, the name babau is used for the Bogeyman.
Japan – The Namahage are demons that warn children not to be lazy or cry. During the Namahage Sedo Matsuri or “Demon Mask Festival,” villages wear demon masks pretending to be these spirits.
Korea – The Dokebi is a monster used against misbehaving children. Other variations to Dokebi are the Mangtae Younggam, an old man who carries a mesh sack to carry away kidnapped children in. Other places they have the Mangtae Halmum, an old woman with a mesh sack.
Macedonia – Aside from the Babroga, there is also the Strasilo (the “frightener”) who comes out at night, hides under beds, in forests, caves and basements. It is said to grab and eat children.
Mexico – El Cucuy is an evil monster that hides under children’s beds at night. He will kidnap and eat any child who disobeys their parents. He is described as being a small humanoid with glowing red eyes. Sometimes he is believed to have been a child who was a victim of violence that has come back to life.
Myanmar – The Pashu Gaung Phyat is used to threaten children with. The name means Malayu Headhunter. In Burmese, the Malays were called “Pashu,” which may have come from Bajau or Bugis. Many ethnic groups in Eastern Malaysia were notorious for being headhunters right up until the 1970’s with the Wa tribe.
Nepal – There is the “Hau-Guji” in Nepali. The Newars tell of an ape-like monster called Gurumapa who enjoys eating children. There is a story told of this creature found at Itum Bahal in the inner temple of Kathmandu.
Netherlands – The bogeyman is known by many names, some of these names are: Boeman, Boezeman, Boezehappert, Jan Haak, Mannetje met de haak, Bullebak, Boevent, Beukèl, Haantje Pik, Tenensnijder, Boelekerel, Nekker, Krolleman, Heintje Pik, Okkerman and so on. Many of these are known for hiding in the water. As Boeman, it is depicted as a creature that resembles a human, dressed all in black with sharp claws and fangs and will hide under the bed or in closets. It too will take those children who have misbehaved and won’t go to sleep and lock them away in his basement for a period of time.
Norway – The Bogeyman is called Busemannen, much like the Boeman of the Netherlands, it is depicted as a creature that resembles a human, dressed all in black with sharp claws and fangs and will hide under the bed or in closets. It too will take those children who have misbehaved and won’t go to sleep and lock them away in his basement for a period of time.
Pakistan – The Bhoot or Jin Baba is used by parents to scare children into behaving. This creature is a ghost Djinn. In other places it is known as Kathu Ki Maa.
Philippines – There are a number of different bogey man like monsters. The Pugot, Sipay, Mamu and Mumu. Among the Kapampangan people, there is the Mánguang Anak or Child-Snatcher.
Poland – Places like Silesia or Great Poland use the bebok (babok or bobok) to scare children into behaving. Another creature is the Hastrman, a scarecrow that much like the Czech Republican Babuk also hides along riverbanks, making noises like an infant to draw people to their doom.
Portugal – The Portuguese brought Bicho Papão (the Eating Beast) or Sarronco (Deep-Voiced Man) to Brazil. They also have an “homen do saco” or Bag Man. The difference between Bicho Papão and the Bag Man is that the Bag Man comes during the day and Bicho Papão comes during the night.
Quebec – In this province of Canada, the “Bonhomme Sept-Heures” or 7 O’clock Man is used to scare children into behaving if they won’t go to bed or else he takes them to his cave to eat them.
Romania – The Bau-Bau is used by parents to scare children into behaving.
Russia – The Babay is said to hide under the bed. The Babay is described as an old man with a bag or a monster who will come take them away if they misbehave. Similarly spelled, is the Babayka who comes at night for misbehaving children.
Serbia – The Bauk is an animal-like creature from Serbian mythology, it is described as hiding in dark places such as holes or abandoned houses where it waits to grab and carry of its victim to eat. It can be scared away with light and noise. It is known for having a clumsy gait.
Singapore – The local bogey man stories here are of Ah Bu Neh Neh or Matah who will snatch up misbehaving children. Matah is a variation off the Malay word Mata-Mata which means spy or spies and is used as a nickname for the police.
Spain – El Cuco, El Coco or El Bolo, a shapeless figure or hairy monster who eats children that misbehave when they won’t go to bed is used in place of the Bogeyman. Parent will sing lullabies or tell rhymes to their children about the dangers of refusing to go to sleep or else El Coco will come eat them. The nursery rhyme for El Coco is thought to have originated in the 17th century and has since changed over the years. El Coco has also traveled overseas to the Spanish-speaking Latin American countries. There is also the El roba-chicos or child-stealer who is used in many Spanish speaking countries. Incidentally, Coconuts received their name from El Cuco due their resemblance to the Spanish bogeyman. Another shapeless monster is El Ogro or Ogre that is also described as being hairy and will hide in closets and under beds where it will eat misbehaving children if they don’t go to bed. There is also the El Sacamantecas or “Fat Extractor” who is used for scaring children into good behavior by killing people to take their fat.
Sri Lanka – The Sinhalese people tell stories of the Gonibilla, “the sack-kidnapper” who will come day or night to carry off misbehaving children.
Sweden – The Bogey man is known as the Monstret under sängen or “Monster under the bed.”
Switzerland – The Bogeyman is called Böllima or Böögg and is an important figure in Springtime ceremonies as he or it symbolizes winter and death. In the Sechseläuten ceremony held in the city of Zürich, the effigies of Böögg are burnt.
Trinidad and Tobago – Many use folklore as a means of scaring misbehaving children into obey. The most common word used is the Jumbie. Many of their “Jumbies” are the Soucouyant, Lagahoo, La Diables and Papa Bois to name a few. The name Bogeyman will also be used in many urban areas. It can also be called “The Babooman.”
Turkey – The Gulyabani is a gigantic and strange monster that scares both children and adults alike.
Ukraine – The Babay is also present here just as it is in Russia.
United Arab Emirates – The Om Al- Khadar wa Alleef, meaning Mother of green and leef “bark” is used to scare children. She take the appearance of a tall woman who long hair flows in the wind. She is often used by parents as a means of getting children to stay indoor after sunset and go to bed. What’s interesting is that the Palm tree is used as the inspiration for this figure due to the scary sounds it can make when the wind blows, its height and how in the dark, it can resemble a woman.
United States – Aside from the classic Bogeyman, there is also the Jersey Devil used to scare travelers and the old British stories of Bloody Bones or Rawhead and even Tommy Rawhead told in the U.S. South. During the Cherokee Corn Festival, young men will wear caricature masks making fun of politicians and using them to scare children or chase after young women. This was known as a Booger Dance and the dancers are referred to as Booger Man. In areas of the Pacific Northwest, the bogey man will appear as a green fog. Other places the Bogeyman will scratch at windows, hide in closets or carry them off in a sack. Warts in some children’s stories are said to be transmitted to someone by the Bogeyman. Among the Pennsylvania Dutch, the term “der Butzemann” is used for male scarecrows and female scarecrows are Butzefrau.
Yukon – In this province of Canada, the Quankus take and puts misbehaving children into a large sock, carrying them away at night. Quankus too is used by many parents to scare children into going to bed.
Etymology – Scottish & Irish – “a boorish old man”, Modern Scottish Gaelic – “old man”
In the Scottish Gaelic language, the word breaks down to “bod”, meaning “penis” and its suffix “’ –ach”, that translates to mean “someone who has a penis.”
Pronunciation: ˈbōdək, ˈbäd-
Historically, the word and name Bodach comes from the Scottish Gaelic term for an “old man” referring to a mature person. It had once been used as a derogatory term to refer to peasants and farmers (bothach) by the warrior class of the Scots. In more modern times, the term is used more affectionately then its former derogatory intent.
In Irish, the word bodach also means a churl or clown, referring to someone who was an old or churlish person, serf or peasant. There are some children’s stories where the word bodach is translated as curmudgeon or the name Nod is used in its place.
In time, the word bodach found its way into the English language by the British, who used the word to refer to a mythological being or spirit much like a goblin, bugbear or bogeyman. Here the bodaich is used as a cautionary story for keeping misbehaving children in line. Behave or else the bodach will come down the chimney to take you away!
There are certain regions of Wales and Scotland where the term bodach is used for a type of imp or fairy. Frequently, this is one of the more mischievous, shape-shifting types.
Omen Of Death
In Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814), a much more formidable form of the bodach as the bodach glas (the Dark Grey Man) is a harbinger of death.
While not used very often, bodaich do appear from time to time in literature. The bodach has altered a bit of its appearance into modern literature. In Dungeons &Dragons, the name has a minor spelling change to bodak and becomes an undead entity, largely black in color. The same description of black, shadowy creatures is used in Dean Koontz Odd series where they appear at different sites just before a disaster takes place. The same type of shadowy creatures appears in the movie “The Eye.” Even W. B. Yeats make mention of a bodach in his prose The Hour-Glass where a bodach appears to the character, the Fool and attempts to trick him out his money with a riddle.
Also known as: The King o’ the Cats
The King of the Cats is a folk tale that comes from Britain. The earliest version of this story was found written in a letter by Thomas Lyttelton, the 2nd Baron Lyttelton. The story was first published in 1782 by Walter Scott who reported it as being a well known nursery tale from the Scottish Highlands. The story “The King of the Cats” continues to be seen and used in many places of modern references, from William Shakespeare to video games and even in comic books such as Batman where Catwoman’s brother is referred to as The King of the Cats.
The Basic Story
One winter night, a man comes bursting home through his door calling out to his wife and startling the family cat: “Who’s Tommy Tildrum!?!”
Startled, the man’s wife asks him what the matter is and who this Tommy Tildrum is.
The man proceeds to tell his wife how he was working in the cemetery digging a new grave when he had fallen asleep. He woke up hearing a cat’s meow and when he looked out over the edge of the grave hole, he saw a group of nine black cats all carrying a small coffin with a gold crown laid upon it. That at every third step the cats took, they’d all meow again in unison. Eventually the group of cats made their way towards the man. One of the cats stood before the man and said: “Tell Tom Tildrum that Tim Toldrum is dead.”
With that, the family cat burst out with: “Old Tom’s dead! Then I’m the King of the Cats!” as he rushed up the chimney, never to be seen again.
Variations of the Story
A variation of this story from Ireland has a man selling a calf at the November fair in Macroom, County Cork. After he’s sold the calf, he leaves the fair late in the evening and on his way, passes by the Inchigeelagh graveyard where a cat puts its head through the railings and tells the man: “Tell Balgeary that Balgury is dead.” The rest of the story pretty much follows its English counter-part with the family cat running out on the door once the man returns home to tell his story.
Continuing the Irish Connection
A king or lord of cats is also found in a couple of early Irish stories. In some versions of the Imtheacht na Tromdhaimhe (The Proceedings of the Great Bardic Institution) in which there is a dispute between the bard Senchán Torpéist and the king Guaire Aidne mac Colmáin of Connacht. The dispute led to Senchán cursing all mice with a dozen of them being killed in shame. This in turn led to the death of several cats that were responsible for keeping the mice population in check. In retaliation, the king of the cats, Irusan son of Arusan tracked Senchán down with the intention of killing the bard. However, Irusan was killed by Saint Kieran instead.
This story was later rewritten and published in Lady Jane Wilde’s book Ancient Legends of Ireland as “Seanchan the Bard and the King of the Cats” in 1866. Fame poet and author W.B. Yeats republished it in 1892 in his book Irish Fairy Tales. The story is also retold again as “the King of the Cats Came to King Connal’s Dominion” in Padraic Colum’s The King of Ireland’s Son published in 1916.
In the original story, the family cat Tom and the cats seen in the grave yard are described as being black cats with a spot of white. In Celtic fairy lore, the Cat Sith is a fairy creature described as being a large black cat with a spot of white on its chest.