In the first half of the program, author and lecturer Jeff Belanger joined host Dave Schrader (email) to discuss the origins of various Christmas traditions, the legend of the Christmas devil, Krampus, as well as other creatures and dark holiday legends. "Fear has always been associated with this time of the year and we've gotten away from that only in the last few decades," he said, noting how as recently as the 1950s women's magazines still printed ghost stories at Christmastime.
Belanger traced the modern celebration of Christmas to Saturnalia, an ancient Roman festival of merrymaking held from December 17-23. Saturnalia eventually spread to Viking regions and became Yule, which is where many of our traditions originate, such as adorning evergreen trees, he explained. "The Jesus part of the narrative is really one of the most minor parts of the Christmas story," Belanger suggested, adding how Jesus and December 24-25 only became associated with Saturnalia (and thus Christmas) after a decree by the Christian Emperor Constantine in the 4th century.
Belanger provided history on the real St. Nicholas, who was born in AD 270 in what is now Turkey and is celebrated on December 6, the day of his death. Nicolas was known for gift-giving, such as putting money in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and became the model for Santa Claus, Belanger continued. The German legend of Krampus gained popularity and became part of the story of St. Nick. On December 5, Krampus would abduct naughty children, take them back to his lair, and eat all them, Belanger revealed. This left only the good children for St. Nick to visit, he noted. Belanger also spoke about the Belsnickel, who would beat bad children ahead St. Nick's visit, as well as how commercialism and the Coca-Cola Company have sanitized the Santa Claus story.
During the second half, author and researcher Laurie Glenn Norris shared details from the story of eighteen-year-old Esther Cox, who in 1878 moved into a house that was plagued by unexplained occurrences—something (or someone) knocked on the walls, moved furniture around, and set fires. Norris examined whether Cox was the victim of paranormal powers or the troubled mind behind a series of elaborate hoaxes.
According to Norris, Esther led a fairly normal life until one night in September 1878, when a box moved by itself across her bedroom floor. Esther's sister also witnessed the event and the two thought a mouse may have been to blame for the inexplicable locomotion. Other things would move around on their own, such as bed clothes, and Esther soon became the focus of the manifestations, Norris reported. Esther was plagued by fever, swelling, and thoughts of death, as well as claimed to see deceased family members in the house, Norris added.
She became something of a local celebrity and people would come to her bedroom at night to watch for the things she claimed were happening to her, Norris explained. Things moved from one place to another, fires were set in the house, and people outside event reported hearing strange noises and poundings, she continued. Norris suggested an underlying physical problem may have caused her body to do what it did, and stress and anxiety may have played a part as well. The activity lasted for 15 months and Norris believes it was a combination of supernatural and hoax. "I think it started innocently enough but got really blown out of proportion very quickly," she said.