The Christmas Witch From Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Is Based on a Real, Terrifying Myth

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina holiday special is here! "A Midwinter's Tale" takes us right back to the Spellman household, just in time for the year's shortest day and longest night: the Winter Solstice. Unfortunately, the night does not go without incident for the Spellmans; when the mischievous Miss Wardwell extinguishes their protective burning Yule Fire, they find themselves plagued by devilish, invisible children. Unfortunately, there's only one way to get rid of them: Hilda and Zelda must summon the malevolent Christmas witch who is responsible for them, a woman by the name of Grýla.

Here's what's really cool about Grýla: she's actually based on a real legend! Much like the Germanic Christmas demon known as the Krampus, Grýla doesn't spread Christmas cheer, like Santa Claus and his trusty fleet of reindeer. In fact, the legend of Grýla is very dark and twisted. Luckily, that's the perfect kind of legend for a spooky show like this. Let's compare and contrast how Chilling Adventures of Sabrina brings her to life and what it tweaks.

The Original Myth of Grýla

The Original Myth of Grýla

Listen, Grýla is such a thing in Iceland, she's literally mentioned on the official Iceland website. She's an ogress who, according to the lore, lives in the Icelandic mountains. The small block of text goes on to paint her as a "dreadful character" who is "part troll and part animal." While this site in particular doesn't give any further physical description, an article from Smithsonian magazine has some choice excerpts from historic sagas and poems.

One says: "Here comes Grýla, down in the field / with fifteen tails on her."

Another: "Down comes Grýla from the outer fields / With forty tails / A bag on her back, a knife in her hand / Coming to carve out the stomachs of the children / Who cry for meat during Lent."

I suppose this is a great moment to tell you what Grýla does. According to Iceland's website and Smithsonian, she hunts down naughty children, throws them into her sack, drags them up the mountain, and then boils and eats them. She apparently even killed her first two husbands! Because she was bored!

The Yule Lads and the Christmas Tradition

The Yule Lads and the Christmas Tradition

What's interesting is that Grýla wasn't always a "Christmas witch." Stories of the ogress go all the way back the 13th century, but she didn't become a Christmas staple until the 19th century, according to Smithsonian. She's also been associated with some creature called the Yule Cat, which skulks around and eats people who aren't wearing new clothes.

Here's where the Yule Lads enter the picture. They are the 13 sons of Grýla, and they're very mischievous. According to the sources, the Yule Lads did, at one point, exist separately from Grýla, but eventually they all merged into one big, terrifying family. Wildly enough, each one has a name (translated from Icelandic) and a specific brand of mischief, all outlined on Iceland's official website.

  1. Sheep-Cote Clod: Harasses sheep.
  2. Gully Gawk: Hides in gullies and steals milk from the cowshed.
  3. Stubby: Very short and steals pans.
  4. Spoon-Licker: Yeah. He's very tiny and steals and licks spoons.
  5. Pot-Licker: Steals leftovers from pots.
  6. Bowl-Licker: He hides under beds and steals bowls!
  7. Door-Slammer: Likes to forcefully close doors, especially at night.
  8. Skyr-Gobbler: He just loves skyr, which is like Icelandic yogurt.
  9. Sausage-Swiper: Hides in rafters, nabs unattended sausages.
  10. Window-Peeper: Looks through windows to find things to steal.
  11. Doorway-Sniffer: Has a very large nose that finds traditional Christmas bread.
  12. Meat-Hook: I mean. He steals meat with a hook.
  13. Candle-Stealer: Technically he steals candles, but I think he eats them too?

According to the stories, the Yule Lads start arriving 13 days before Christmas, beginning on Dec. 12, each wreaking their own unique havoc. And that's basically it!

How She's Different on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

How She's Different on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Obviously, the most glaring difference is that Chilling Adventures of Sabrina's Grýla is a witch. In this iteration, she has an origin story. During a terrible famine, she makes a pact with another witch in her coven: they would eat their own children to stay alive. After eating Grýla's only child, the other witch backed out of the pact, leaving Grýla devastated. According to Zelda Spellman, she's been wandering around, heartbroken, for 1,000 years.

So, in this version, Grýla is not an ogress or a demon or a horned creature, merely a woman gone mad. The Yule Lads still come into play; they get in when Miss Wardwell extinguishes the Yule Log's flame. They do have similar modes of troublemaking as well: door slamming, knife stealing, and so on and so forth.

The other major difference is that this Grýla no longer eats the flesh of children. Based on the way she speaks to little baby Letitia, it seems she adds children to her flock to fill the hole in her heart and to protect them. But hey, at least she's keeping some of the dark roots that stem from her origin.