Last year, Smithsonian published a slideshow of 24 depictions of Santa Claus that are not the typical Jolly Ol' St. Nick we imagine today when the old feller's name is mentioned.
You could vote as to which was scariest, and we didn't bother to look to see which creepy Santa won. What was far more interesting was that most of the frightening-elf Santas were pre-20th century or rendered by European artists.
That shouldn't be a surprise if you've read even a little bit about the folklore of Santa Claus, or paid attention to traditions still in play in northern Europe, where the Krampus terrorizes kids to let them know the world isn't always going to tussle their hair and give them a piece of hard candy just because.
Here are three of our favorites:
Santa Claus, in this storybook image from the 1870s, looks like a mad badger-man, and he's carrying the switches normally associated with Black Peter and Krampus. Look out kids! (That little punk about to dip into Santa's bag is going to get a right-good beating.)
For the photo below, we'll just quote what Smithsonian had to say:
In the 19th and early 20th century, a popular tradition for Pennsylvania Germans was to go belsnickling on St. Nicholas Day, or December 6. This meant that at least one person in a neighborhood—the “belsnickle”—would dress up, usually in raggedy clothes and a mask, and visit the homes of their neighbors, delivering either candy or coal to the children.
Bellsnicking, sure. St. Nick's cool by us, but is that Cthulhu on the left?
And finally, we give you a detail Will Crawford's illustration of Santa Claus from the cover of a 1912 issue of Puck, a humor magazine.
Crawford's illustration, titled "Hands Up!" has the caption: "As Santa looks to some of us."
Take a good long look at the whole gallery here. And if you have a chimney, consider building a big fire come Christmas Eve.