Five Christmas Ladies Who Can Supplant Santa This Holiday Season

by Sarah C. Epstein

If you’re like me, then you want hibernate through the entire holiday season and avoid images of burly men with white beards at all costs. With Christmas right around the corner, however, and in honor de-emphasizing men in our holiday iconography, here’s a list of women that you may consider celebrating (or hiding from) instead of St. Nick: 

La Befana 4ab8b Photo via Pexel

1. La Befana

Similar to Santa, but way better because she’s a woman, La Befana is an Italian Christmas witch. During the Feast of the Epiphany — the celebration commemorating the Magi’s visit with baby Jesus — on January 6th, La Befana zips around Italy on her broomstick, bestowing gifts on good children and coal on naughty ones. Way better than dinky cookies, and with the added bonus of being gluten free, Italian families leave out glass of wine and a plate of sausage for her. If you want to ditch the fruitcake and incendiary conversations with your uncle Milton this year in favor of drinking wine and celebrating a boss lady, La Befana may just be the witch for you.


babushka 0a5ea Photo via The Babushka’s of Chernobyl 

2. Babushka

Babushka is the La Befana of Russian folklore. As the legend goes, on their way to the nativity, the Three Kings stayed at Babushka’s house on Christmas Eve. She initially declined their invitation to accompany them to visit the infant Christ, but later decided to join them. However, she had no luck in catching up to them and never made it to the manger. Legend has it that she wanders the world still, leaving gifts for the children in each house she visits on her quest to find baby Jesus. Babushka is a good alternative to Santa for those who want to eradicate Santa, but still celebrate a present-heavy Christmas in a more sober, kid-friendly fashion.


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Photo via The Feather Fairy

3. Frau Holle

Not technically a Christmas story, Frau Holle — literally “Mother Holda” — appears in the Brother’s Grimm Children’s and Household Tales. She creates the first snow of the year by shaking out her down feather bedding. Originating from oral lore, Frau Holle is probably a Christian version of the Germanic Goddess of Winter, Holda, who was celebrated during Yule time. If you’re looking to go back to Christmas’ thinly veiled pagan roots, consider ditching Santa for a mighty woman who controls the weather.


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Photo via The Witches

4. Frau Perchta

Another figure originating in Germanic Paganism, Frau Perchta is the flip side to Holda. Perchta, who looks like a crone, wears a beak made of iron and hides a long knife under her dress, isn’t a witch to mess with. On the 12th night of Christmas, January 6th, she soars through the air on a broomstick, flanked by her army of ghoulish looking lost-souls. If you’ve failed to spin enough fiber, or have a messy house, she’s likely to disembowel you while you sleep, replacing your organs with rocks and straw. If you want to avoid dampening your holiday spirit with a gory demise, you’d do well to set out a bowl of porridge before you go to bed. Who knows, once she balances her blood sugars she might just take pity on you, overlooking the fact that you neglected your laundry for the last 3 weeks, opting to put a piece of silver in your smelly shoe anyway.


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Photo via The Princess and The Goblins

5. Gryla

For those who really hate all things merry and revel in all-things-Krampus, you might choose to set your sights on a quite terrifying Christmas monster, Gryla. According to Icelandic lore pre-dating Christianity, Gryla is a giant troll with hooves for feet and 13 tails. Oh, and, she also has an insatiable appetite for human children (Gryla used to feed on her husbands, but found men to be too tedious, so now she eats children instead). It’s fabled that on Christmas Eve Gryla lumbers down from her mountain abode to round up bad children for her stew. Her troll sons, the Yule Lads, pull pranks on the 13 days leading up to Christmas, eating the last yogurt in the fridge and drinking milk straight from the carton.

 Published December 18, 2017

Top Photo via Pexels

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