Christmas lore usually comes in the shape of a jolly red-suited man winding a sleigh through the starry night sky with his trusty band of reindeer. There are, however, some holiday figures who are much more ominous—chief among them the belly-slitting, child-abducting, half-woman, half-demon Alpine monster known as Perchta.
According to old Austro-German legend, Perchta is a malevolent pagan goddess who stalks the snowy landscape by night during the Twelve Days of Christmas. Like Italy’s Christmas witch, La Befana, she is also associated with the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January. Perchta’s aim is simple and chilling: to ensure local customs are upheld under the pain of death. In bygone times, this meant no weaving during the holidays, unless you dared to incur Perchta’s wrath—and what a wrath she had.