The 12 Days of Christmas begins on Christmas Day and continues through Epiphany, aka Twelfth Night, January 6th. In Europe, these days are packed with magic and the paranormal. Here are 12 paranormal beings of the holidays:
1. Anne Boleyn’s Ghost: Poor Anne Boleyn – hers is one of the more active ghosts, with sightings in multiple spots around England. One of her happier haunts is her childhood home, Rochford Hall, where she’s been spotted in a white dress wandering the park during the Twelve Days of Christmas.
2. Perchta. Though Percthentag (Perchta’s Day) comes but once a year, on January 6th, this evil gut-slitting witch has been known to be active throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas. Originally a Nordic goddess who oversaw spinning, Perchta devolved into a vengeful demon, punishing those who didn’t properly celebrate her day by cutting open their stomachs, removing the food, and refilling their stomachs with twigs. Ouch.
3. Elves. According to Icelandic belief, elves are on the move during the 12 Days of Christmas, and the most likely day to catch an elf is New Year’s Eve. If you can catch them, they may tell your future.
4. The Wild Hunt. A ghostly rider leading a pack of baying hounds and the ancient dead, the Wild Huntsman is likely derived from the Norse Odin, god of the dead, shamanism, magic, and the hunt. But beware. If you respond to their hunting cry or stop to chat, you may become an unwilling and permanent member of the hunt yourself. The Wild Hunt takes place from November through Epiphany. (My favorite urban fantasy hero, Harry Dresden, has several encounters with the Wild Hunt in the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher).
5. Werewolves. In Germany, werewolves transform into wolves by day and men by night during the Twelve Days of Christmas, and during this period, don’t say the word “wolf” or you might attract the baddies. Other parts of Europe extend the days of the wolf from Martinmas in November through Twelfth Night.
6. Raunächte. Between the winter solstice and January 6th are the Alpine grim or smoky nights (the exact definition is unclear). This is a time of spiritual cleansing and divination. Fire crackers are shot off to frighten away evil spirits. Homes are smudged with incense. Young women use divination to determine the type of husband they’ll find. And yes, if you plan to make some noise on New Years, that tradition is an old method of scaring off evil spirits. [Tweet this!]
7. Yulebock. In Nordic countries, a goat substitutes for Santa Claus, delivering gifts on Christmas. He makes a reappearance on January 5th, the eve of Epiphany. The goat may be connected to the Norse god Thor, who sailed across the sky in a chariot pulled by two goats. The goat also has some satanic overtones, and it isn’t always well-behaved. Though perhaps the most famous Yule goat today is the Gävlebocken, a giant goat of straw built by the town of Gävle and destroyed by vandals nearly every year. The poor 40-foot goat seems to inspire bad behavior, but I’m not sure we can blame the devil for that.
8. The Laare Vane. On the Isle of Man, a white-painted horse’s head is paraded through homes on New Year’s Eve to represent the fae Yule Horse.
9. Gloso. Another Swedish phantasm is the Gloso, or ghost pig. The spirit of an animal sacrificed on church grounds (or merely the pork you had for dinner), the Gloso looks like a ferocious wild boar, with spines on its back, glowing red eyes, and tusks protruding from its mouth. It has a predeliction for eating corpses, but you’re not off the hook if you’re alive, as it may take up residence under your table. The Gloso can be found year round, but is most active during the Twelve Nights of Christmas. That said, the Gloso provides some fortune-telling opportunities if you’re brave enough to risk it. After sunset on New Year’s Eve, just visit four different churches in four different parishes. Walk around each church widdershins (counterclockwise), blowing through the keyhole in each main door. Then look through the keyhole of the fourth church door, and you’ll have a vision of the highlights of your new year.
10. Magical Protection. In Eastern and Central Europe, homeowners chalk a protective symbol over their doors on Epiphany. Just insert the initials of the Three Wise Men, KMB (for Kaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar) in the middle of the year. This year’s protective code: 20KMB14.
11. The White Dog. The Black Dog is a grand English tradition, but the Twelve Days of Christmas have their own version – a spectral white hound who appears on New Year’s Eve as a death omen.
12. La Befana. This Italian witch distributes presents to children on Epiphany, as a sort of voluntary penance for missing her big chance to worship the Christ Child with the Three Wise Men.