As Ambrose notes in the brand new “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” holiday special “A Midwinter’s Tale” (now streaming on Netflix!), “Christmas is the best time for ghost stories,” and indeed scary stories have been linked to the otherwise joyful holiday from the beginning. In particular, there are a handful of terrifying legends that come along with Christmas.
Back in 2016, Trace highlighted 5 Terrifying Christmas Legends for us, a list that naturally kicked off with the demonic “Anti-Claus” known as Krampus. Despite the legend dating back to the 1600s, it wasn’t until 2015 that Krampus was made the star of his own horror film (hat tip to Michael Dougherty), but other Christmas beasts are still left out in the cold.
One of the other terrifying legends on Trace’s list was Grýla, who finally makes her screen debut in the aforementioned “A Midwinter’s Tale”! As explained by Trace…
“Originating in Iceland, Grýla is a giantess who is able to sense misbehaving children all year-round. She keeps a record of those children and eats them as a snack during Christmas time. As you can see in the image above, it wasn’t the cleanest meal, though she would frequently make a stew with the naughty children. Fun fact: in later years the legend had her being the mother of the Yule Lads, mischievous creatures who play pranks on the townspeople.”
Canadian actress Heather Doerksen plays Grýla in the lackluster “A Midwinter’s Tale” (read Meagan’s review), and it’s the character’s inclusion that is the Christmas special’s high point. For the show, the legend of Grýla is heavily tweaked to fit the story being told, but in a fun way that allows for the show’s writers to tie the legends of Grýla and Krampus together.
In “A Midwinter’s Tale,” the unseen Yule Lads invade the Spellman home and the family summons Grýla to collect them and bring them back to her home. Grýla is presented as a very dangerous witch, but contrary to the legend that “Chilling Adventures” pulls from, the series’ take on Grýla is that she protects children rather than viciously consumes them.
Zelda details her story…
“During the famine, she and another woman from her coven made a pact: they would eat their own children to survive. They cooked and devoured Grýla’s son first, her only child, and then the other witch broke their pact. Devastated, Grýla has spent the last 1,000 years trying to replace her lost babe. She’s forever adding children, particularly orphans, to her so-called family.”
One of the episode’s other storylines sees a version of Krampus kidnap Susie Putnam with the intention of turning her into a wax statue, and the episode culminates with the Spellmans once again summoning Grýla for help. Grýla, whose main purpose within the show’s own unique mythology is to protect children, kills Krampus, freeing Susie and saving the day.
Granted, those who know of Grýla as a child-eater were surely disappointed to see her cast in this heroic light by “Chilling Adventures,” but I personally loved the way that the show mashed together two similar Christmas creatures in a way that put them at odds with one another: Krampus as the child killer, and Grýla as the protector of lost children.
That said, we’re long overdue for a truly vicious incarnation of Grýla on our screens…