Wednesday Weirdness: Legends of Christmas Eve

pathway between large, gnarled trees with words "on the path of Wednesday Weirdness" superimposed over imageHi, friends. Given next Wednesday is Christmas, this will be my last Wednesday Weirdness post until we enter the New Year. I love the holidays, and am pretty much a sap the entire month of December. With that in mind, I thought I’d share legends related to Christmas Eve. But be warned—not all are warm and fuzzy.

The celebration of Christmas touches each of us in different ways. For me, it is a religious holiday. Also a time for gathering with family. There is a special magic that occurs at Christmas, an enchantment of being that is spiritual and mystical. The power of believe!

The Eve of Christmas is noted for many old world superstitions and beliefs, among them the idea the veil between worlds grows thin allowing the departed to return to the homes of loved ones.

Old table in front of a hearth laden with bowls of food, lighted chandelier of candles hanging above tableIn Scandinavia, people prepared feasts for the spirits, setting a table laden with holiday fare. They had their own festive celebration first, then before retiring for the night, made certain all the bowls and platters were refilled and heaped with food. Jugs brimmed with Yule ale, and a fire was set in the hearth. Chairs were wiped clean of debris with a white cloth. The following morning the cleaning process was repeated. If a bit of earth was discovered, it was considered proof-positive a visitor from the grave had stayed to enjoy the repast.

Another myth related to Christmas Eve involved animals. At the stroke of midnight many believed animals could speak in human voices. The downside? Whoever overheard an animal talk usually met with an untimely end or some other dreadful circumstance.

In Europe it is said cattle kneeled to worship the new-born King, and that bees came together in great numbers to hum a Christmas hymn.

The creepiest legend I found involved a blacksmith. On Christmas Eve a bell tolled, beckoning all the people of the man’s village to midnight mass, but he ignored the summons and continued to work. Not long after, a stranger arrived. Tall, but stooped over, he asked the blacksmith to add a nail to his scythe. When the blacksmith finished the task, the stranger told him to summon a priest for the work would be his last. The next morning the smitty perished, never realizing he had repaired the scythe of the Grim Reaper.

Are you familiar with any of these legends? Do you have others to share? Let me know in the comments. Whether you discover talking animals, friendly phantoms come to call, or just the good cheer of family and friends, I wish you a blessed and merry Christmas Eve!

Mythical Monday: The Phantom White Wolf of French Creek

When I think of folklore, there are several creatures particularly suited for the mystical and eerie trappings of legends. Owls, cats, crows, and wolves immediately spring to mind. For today’s Mythical Monday, I stumbled over a a fireside tale about a town in West Virginia that was plagued by a mysterious white wolf.

In the mid-1800s an albino wolf began attacking and slaughtering livestock in and around French Creek. The residents hadn’t seen a wolf in years, leading many to believe the creature must be supernatural—especially given its ghost-white appearance. Fear blossomed and spread quickly, fueled by growing rumors.

a white wolfOne local farmer who lost several sheep to the wolf,  claimed he’d shot the beast three times, but the bullets had no effect. (Hmm…perhaps he should have used silver). Later the same month, the wolf was shot at close range, but again bounded away without being harmed. In the meantime, farm animals and pets continued to fall prey to the animal’s nighttime raids.

One of the farmers who lost a cow was a man named Bill Williams. In earlier years, when wolves dominated the countryside, Bill had been renowned for his prowess as a hunter. He’d killed hundreds of wolves, the bounties he’d collected allowing him to retire a wealthy man. Eventually turning from the practice, he took up farming, vowing never to hunt the majestic creatures again.

But the slaughter of his cow drew him from retirement. The townspeople and other farmers were relieved when he said he’d find and kill the albino wolf, putting an end to its reign of terror. Loading his rifle, he headed for an area the wolf was known to haunt. He took a small lamb with him and tied the helpless animal to a stake. Then he sat back and waited for the wolf to arrive, certain he would have an easy kill.

But fate was not kind to Bill.

When he failed to return the next day, several townspeople hiked to the area they knew he’d staked out. They found Bill with his throat mangled, his head nearly ripped from his body. In direct counterpoint to the grisly scene, the lamb was unharmed, still tied to the stake. Even stranger, there were no signs of blood or paw prints anywhere in the vicinity.

People believed the white wolf had exacted vengeance on Bill for breaking his vow to never hunt its kind. Others said the creature was a demon, for surely only a demon could do something so heinous and leave no trace of its passing. But why spare something as innocent as the lamb if that was the case?

A wolf in silhouette howling at the moonIt is unclear whether the white wolf continued to haunt the people of French Creek after Bill’s death, but tales of white wolves still circulate in remote areas of West Virginia.

According to legend, the ghost-like creatures slip from the darkness on nights illuminated by a full moon. They are impossible to catch or kill, and will simply vanish if cornered . . . only to return again when the full moon rises.

It makes you think twice about walking through the woods alone!