To many of us, The Nightmare Before Christmas seemed amazingly groundbreaking, blending Halloween and Christmas, two holidays with polar opposite themes. However, this blending of holidays is actually quite ancient. One example dates all the way back to ancient Greece: Befana, the Christmas witch. (A Christmas witch is a particularly odd notion, considering how intensely anti-magic and anti-witch Christianity has been known to be.)
Befana is an old witch who, in Italian folklore, is obsessed with cleaning, and goes around on her broom delivering gifts to children. She does this one epiphany eve, January 5th, which is coincidentally very close to Christmas eve in eastern orthodox churches (January 6th). The mythos states that the three wise men visited Befana on their way to the nativity. After initially declining their invitation to accompany them, she later changes her mind but is unable to find either them or the nativity. She continues flying around the world searching though, and gives presents to all the children because “Jesus can be found in all children”.
There are also other old traditions that cross the boundaries between the holidays. For instance, areas such as Austria and Croatia have a fearsome looking character named Krampus who accompanies Santa Claus and punishes the bad children. Meanwhile, Newfoundland has a Christmas tradition similar to trick-or-treating (called mummering), wherein people will dress up in costumes and go to other people’s houses. The mummers will put on a floor show and the residents of the house will try to guess who is under the costumes.