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Do You Know These Offbeat Characters Of The Christmas Holiday Season?

Move Over, Santa Claus

When it comes to Christmas, we all know Santa Claus, that white-bearded, big-bellied, reindeer-ridin’ gift-giver from the North Pole.

But the holiday hosts a cast of other beloved characters. Some of them may be less familiar or have less name recognition than jolly old Saint Nicholas. Some of them are older than you might guess, with interesting origins. Yet others are far newer than you realize.

And then there are mythical figures, like the Krampus, that would have Santa scrambling back up the chimney! So, without further ado, here are some of the offbeat, lesser-known, or surprising characters of Christmastime.

Krampus

Krampus

Krampus is the horrifying version of Saint Nicholas. He’s one part demon, the other part goat. He’s known to frighten children (or even beat them with birch branches) so they end up on the nice list. But if children are bad, Krampus is happy to pull them down to hell, where he resides.

His name is thought to originate from the German word Krampen, which means “claw.” In the 1600s, as Christian countries celebrated the Feast of Saint Nicholas on December 5 or 6, Krampus made an appearance, serving as a foil to the kind-hearted saint. Although the Catholic Church attempted to ban use of the character of Krampus, he achieved new popularity in the late 1800s.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

When you think of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, you probably think of him leading the pack of Santa’s sleigh with his bright nose. But, what’s the real deal with this lovable Christmas character?

Robert L. May created Rudolph back in 1939 for a storybook the department store Montgomery Ward gave to children on Christmas. May’s brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, composed a song for the character, famously performed by Gene Autry in 1949. Rudolph came to the screen in a 1964, stop-motion Christmas special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The rest is Christmas history.

But, Rudolph could have gone by a different name! May also considered the names Rollo and Reginald. Good choice, Robert.

Frosty the Snowman

Frosty the Snowman

Like Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman is a beloved Christmas character with origins in song and animation. Again, Gene Autry helped make him famous when he recorded the now-classic song, “Frosty the Snowman,” in 1950 (on the heels of his 1949 Rudolph hit).

Frosty literally came to life in a 1969 TV special, when local children put him together and placed a magic hat on his head.

Apparently, Frosty the Snowman wasn’t originally a Christmas song—even though it’s associated with the holiday today. There are no actual lyrics related to Christmas, just wintertime itself. But, the creators of the television show swapped out the last line of the song: “I’ll be back again some day” with “I’ll be back on Christmas day” to give it that festive feel.

Want to decode the meanings of other Christmas carols? Check out our investigation here.

Bumble, the Abominable Snowman

Bumble, the Abominable Snowman

Speaking of snowmen, next up is the Abominable Snowman. Except this mythic snowman, unlike Frosty, isn’t made of snow: it’s a large, hairy, humanoid creature storied to live in the Himalayas.

The Abominable Snowman is also known as the yeti (among other names), from a word for the legendary creature in the Tibetan language of the Sherpas. The phrase Abominable Snowman came to be in 1921 from a bad translation of a Tibetan phrase following a Mount Everest expedition.

The problematic phrase was metoh kangmi, which was misrendered from the Tibetan mi t’om (“man-bear”) and k’ang mi (“snowfield man”). After a 1921 expedition (during which the snowman’s footsteps were allegedly seen), a newspaper mistakenly translated the phrase as metoh (“filthy”) or abominable (“repugnantly hateful; detestable; loathsome”).

Maybe Snowfield Man-bear doesn’t have the same ring as Abominable Snowman, though we here at the dictionary value getting translations right—and love learning about different languages.

You might remember the Abominable Snowman by a different name: Bumble, which Rudolph and friends have to flee in that reindeer’s 1964 stop-motion classic.

Yukon Cornelius

Yukon Cornelius

OK, just one more character from 1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, we promise. The TV special is practically synonymous with Christmas for so many us. Plus, who can resist a name like Yukon Cornelius?

Yukon Cornelius is a big-bearded, pickax-wielding prospector, searching the arctic regions for silver and gold—thus the name Yukon, a territory far to the northwest of Canada known for its Klondike Gold Rush in 1896–99.

In the show, Yukon joins up with Rudolph during his adventures and eventually brings Bumble the Abominable Snowman into the fold. He never does strike gold—but, after such a story like this, who needs it?!

Grinch

Grinch

Dr. Seuss was the mastermind behind the cranky, green-haired character the Grinch. He wrote How the Grinch Stole Christmas in 1957. The Grinch (whose name basically means a total killjoy) is a loner, and a grumpy one at that, living high up on Mount Crumpit away from the others in Whoville. Yet, folks can’t help but love this cranky character with a heart that’s “two sizes too small.”

Over the years, society has labeled one who doesn’t like Christmas (or who isn’t happy during the holiday season) as a grinch, usually spelled with a lowercase G. However, there’s always the chance you’ll help them change their ways—and help their heart grow a bit bigger, too.

Great trivia question! What’s the name of the Grinch’s dog? (See the answer on our next slide.)

Even a grinch would admit Dr. Seuss had a flair for fanciful language. Let’s take a look at some of our favorite examples of Seuss’s magical linguistics, from Glunker Stew to super-zooper-flooper-do.

Buddy the Elf

Buddy the Elf

Buddy the Elf hasn’t been around for too long, but that doesn’t diminish his stature as a holiday icon. The giddy, eager-to-please boy-raised-as-elf was created for the Christmas comedy Elf (2003) and was played by Will Ferrell. Buddy, which means “a comrade or chum,” is the perfect name for this Christmas-obsessed elf-child who brings joy to (almost) everyone he meets in New York City. And an elf is a mythical sprite or fairy, known to cause mischief to humans in folklore.

And, even though Buddy isn’t the elf on the shelf, the book The Elf on the Shelf was written just two years after the movie’s release.

(Answer from previous slide: Max)

Elf on the Shelf

Elf on the Shelf

How about one more elf for good measure? No, we don’t mean Hermey, the dentist-aspiring-elf from the already well-covered 1964 Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReindeerElf on the Shelf is one the newest characters to enter the Christmastime troupe. This elf looks like he’s keeping a secret—and he is. He comes from a 2005 children’s picture book and toy, Elf on the Shelf, that tells how Santa’s elves keep tabs on whether children are naughty or nice by hiding all over the house.

The book was written by Carol Aebersold and one of her daughters based on a family tradition. Now, their tradition has become part of many other families’ traditions.

Baby New Year

Baby New Year

Baby New Year is a rather dapper character, sporting a top hat and sash while symbolizing something new and shiny—like a brand-spanking new year.

The exact origins of Baby New Year aren’t clear, though its symbolism (new year, newborn) is clear. So much so, even the ancient Egyptians and Greeks used babies as a symbol for the new year. In the US, between 1907–43, Joseph Christian Leyendecker illustrated New Year’s babies for more than 300 covers of the Saturday Evening Post. These babies humorously commented on the events of the time and became synonymous with the new year.

Today, we see plenty of Baby New Year references on television, media, and at parties, when some adults dress in diapers and sashes in hopes of bringing in a fruitful new year.

Ready for New Year’s Eve Eve? You have our permission to make more merry with yet another holiday

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Word of the Day

Jul. 3, 2022

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suffrage

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suffrage

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