Celebrating Christmas or Yuletide in Scandinavia goes thousands of years back. As the name implies, feasting is a major part of Yuletide traditions and who could blame them to find some lightening as the days became shorter and shorter; December 13 to 24 were days full of traditions that were instituted to insure the “resurrection” of the sun. In Finnish, it is “Joul” while as in Norway, Sweden and Denmark “Jul”. This gives a wide flavours of Christian and pagan histories, traditions and of course folklore. Today I’ll present you to the Yule Nisse or Tomte in Swedish. You may call him Santa Claus, but Nissen has a much longer history. I was at a Christmas market the other day and shoot some pics and hope you’ll get the idea:
History, myth and maybe a bit of facts, says that Yule Nisse is a combination of 4 historical personages:
An Evil Gnome/Ogre:
There is a very old Finnish legend of an evil gnome with god-like powers, named Jouluppukki – originally a really bad guy coming from the north, flying or riding on some beast (possibly a goat or a buck, joulupukki means Yule Buck). He would demand gifts from the people and if these gifts were not satisfactory, Joulupukki would wreak havoc upon the people. There is a similar tradition in Iceland where he was called Jolasveinar.
A Finnish Prince:
There is also a story about a Finnish prince named Lemminkaimen, allegedly the 12th son of Ukko and Akka (the famous grandparents of the Finish race), who was allegedly the sole survivor of the royal family when the so-called Christian Swedes invaded Finland. He was a benevolent prince-king who escaped the Swedes by going to Lapland in northern Finland. He wore red like the modern Santa Claus and rode a goat or buck and got the nickname: Joulupukki.
Thor or Odin:
A man-like god from the Norse mythology, with bright red hair flying through the air in his chariot being drawn by two goats. That would be Thor, a benevolent god who would bestow gifts to humans in return for porridge, especially around winter solstice. He may have worn red, as red is said to be “his” colour, and he is also known as the Yule Elf.
Odin was sometimes recorded, at the native Germanic holiday of Yule, as leading a great hunting party through the sky – riding an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir that could leap great distances, giving rise to comparisons to Santa Claus’s reindeer.
A Catholic Bishop:
There allegedly was a Catholic Bishop named Nicholas, who was stationed in Myra, in present-day Turkey, who was said to have been extremely benevolent to children. After his death he was beatified by the pope and he became the patron saint of children. December 6th is St. Nicholas Day in many countries, including Belgium, Netherlands, & Poland.
Since I grew up in a village or at the countryside (and remember about 50 years back :lol: ), I so much remember another little fellow: The Fjøsnisse or barn gnome:
The Nisse shares many aspects with other Scandinavian wrights such as the Swedish “vättar” (from the Old Norse “landvættir”) or the Norwegian “tusser”. These beings are social, whereas the Nisse is always solitary. Some synonyms of Nisse include “gårdbo” (farm or yard-dweller), “god bonde” (good farmer) or Fjøsnisse (barn gnome). In other European folklore, there are many beings similar to the Nisse, such as the Scots Brownie, English Hob, the German Heinzelmännchen or the Russian Domovoi.
I remember – even if I didn’t grow up on a farm – that we always set out porridge to The Nisse at Christmas Eve (see the porridge bowl at the second picture in front of the cat and the Nisse!). We never actually saw the Nisse, but we saw foot prints in the snow and of course the bowl was empty the day after :-) While writing this, I get the Yule spirit and feel the anticipation for this feast season. This mixed feeling of fare and care for the Nisse and all other myths and traditions connected with the darkest time of the year makes me feel childish – even more, the older I get I think!
So how about you; any myth, traditions or special history connected with this Yuletide and Santa from your childhood?