I wish You all a Good Yule!
I’m writing this on the evening before Christmas eve, or Julafton as we say in Swedish. I have the tv on and they have a so-called uppesittarkväll on the two biggest networks (not together of course 🙂 ). There’s no good translation for uppesittarkväll but it means they will send a show from the same studios all evening in to the night. I have the PBS channel (TV 1) on and that is actually the most popular network here in Sweden. They cook christmas food from different parts of the world but I think they cook some Swedish ones too. Artists sing popular Christmas songs. There are a few really good artists but some are what I call b-artists, from Sweden Idol and similar shows. They try hard but are sort of out of tune most of the time 🙂 The host is jolly and laughs a lot, all the time actually 🙂 There’s also a man showing fun ways to for instance dry a mobile phone that fell in to water and other odd ideas and tricks 🙂
Christmas eve is the big day here in Sweden but I’ve never understood why we have it on Christmas even when almost all others have Christmas day as the big one. There are a few traditions that is a bit more important than others this day, at 3pm Sweden stops because we’re all watching Donald Duck and his friends celebrates Christmas. We have seen the almost exactly same program for over 55 years now. They show short films or snippets from big films and few have anything to do with Christmas to be honest 🙂 When ever they try to show a new film or snippet and removes one of the old ones all hell break loose here. One year they decided to remove Ferdinand the Bull and suddenly someone threatened to put a bomb in the house of Swedish Television 🙂
Most people eat after Disney and we have the same food on our tables no matter what holiday it might be 🙂 but the ham at Christmas is changed to something with eggs at Easter and we have neither on Midsummer which is almost as big as Christmas is here. We tend to have a Christmas smorgasbord, called Julbord, where we place all the food and everyone can pick as much or as little on so desire. The ham is the most important thing but no Julbord without zillion different kinds of pickled herring. I can’t for my life understand how anyone actually can eat it and say it’s delicious because it’s just nasty. Then we have salmon, usually pickled or cold smoked and I eat neither but I do eat warm smoked if they have it. Meatballs, prince sausages, beetroot salad and red cabbage usually stand beside each other making lots of people confused since they don’t always like both 🙂 then we have the regional dishes like here where they often have baked brown beans. For dessert there’s usually risalamande or as we call it ris à la Malta. It’s rice pudding mixed with lots of whipped cream, vanilla sugar and berries and lately I have seen apple pie too with either custard or ice cream.
We don’t have Santa Claus here, we have the Jultomte, Yule Gnome. He looks very much like Santa now days but it was different in the beginning. Before the Yule Gnome however we had the Yule Goat or Yule Buck as we say in Swedish. This goat has its origin way back, most likely from our old pagan past. It is supposed to be one of Thor’s immortal goats that pulled his carriage when he flew up in the sky. A man dressed up like a goat, usually a head made from straw and a goat skin over his shoulders and was the one bringing the presents, we call them julklappar (Yule knocks) because in the beginning it was meant that the giver should stay unknown so they just knocked on the door, opened it up and tossed in the present and then ran away. Good thing they didn’t have good locks back then 🙂 Later on the gnome took over that job but the goat still continued to stay close to the presents because he was the one pulling the carriage or sled with the packages. The poor goat was once again degraded when the horse too his place but we still have him in our homes as straw goats. They also build the worlds biggest straw goat in the city Gävle and almost every year someone burns it down 🙂 🙂 🙂 Some say it’s a shame but to be honest, no one would know it ever existed if they didn’t burn it down, not even here in Sweden 🙂
The Yule Gnome is a mix of the folklore gnome and Santa. Looking at old paintings the first Yule Gnomes were quite small and dressed in grey with a red cap. Later on he grew a lot and suddenly he wore red clothes and had reindeer’s. Now days I’ve seen lots of Yule Gnomes with grey clothes again and I like that, sort of like kicking coca cola in the butt 🙂 The folklore gnome is anything but jolly. He, because there are no female gnomes, is always grumpy and really dislike people. He lives on farms and help with all the work, especially with the animals and the better one treat the animals the more the gnome helps. He is almost always dressed in worn grey clothes and a red cap. He always have a long beard, usually quite white or grey and it can be so long that he can wrap himself in it totally. The gnome is very strong and can if he so see fit kill a human with one blow, if for instance they mistreat their animals. It is important not to give hom new fine clothes because he can start to believe that he can’t work with too fine clothes and decide to leave the farm 🙂 If he would start to really dislike the family who lives at the farm he can burn it down.
The gnome has two close relatives that are more or less extinct now days. One is the Mill Oldster. Back in the days we had loads of mills along most creeks or rivers and the mill oldster helped keeping the place in shape. He had his moments though when he could be extra grumpy, for instance if they had to use the mill at night he just stopped the mill from working. It could be because he thought nights should be calm and quiet so he could play the fiddle and he was almost as good as the water nymph Näcken but he had no intention of drowning anyone though 🙂 or it could be just because he wanted to be nasty. There was a way to bribe him though, Mill Oldsters are big lovers of tobacco, especially snus, snuff. So if one gave him some he allowed them to start the mill anyway. There was another reason he could do things like stopping the mill, it was because he wanted some company so he was a bit more social than the gnome.
The second relative was the Skeppsrå. I can’t find any good name on him in English but we can call him ship gnome. He did much the same job as the gnome but on ships instead. No one knows from where he came, some believe he sort of grew out of the tree other believe that he might be a gnome following the tree from the forest. Sometimes it happened that one grew out from the tree and one came with the tree from the forest and two gnomes can’t live on the same ship, of course :-)If they couldn’t agree on who should stay, which of course they never could, a big fight started. It could become so violent that the entire ship broke and sank to the bottom. One Captain managed to stop one of these fights by letting one stay on the ship and promised the next ship to the other one. The Ship Gnomes lived as long as the ship existed, when it sank the gnome died and since we don’t build that many ships from wood now days most of them are gone now.
The pig is also a very important Christmas symbol here. Most believe it’s because we eat ham every Christmas which most likely is wrong. We haven’t eaten Christmas ham for that long to be honest but it goes way back to our pagan days. It origins from when we had the Norse gods. Up in Valhalla, located in Asgard where Odin and the chaps lived they had a pig, Särimner (I think You call him Sæhrímnir in English-speaking countries and I think that might be Icelandic). He was slaughtered every day to become their dinner and as long as every single bone was saved he resurrected again early next day. Practical but perhaps not that fun for the poor pig 🙂 The pig has always been very important here because they gave a very lot of food for very little input so to speak. They could just let the pigs walk around in the forest and didn’t have to feed them at all, they found enough food just walking around eating what they found on and in the ground. They always slaughtered the pig at Saint Lucia’s day so they had time to make all the sausages and other things they would need during Yule and the rest of the year. In many of the old Christmas cards one can see the yule gnome, the yule buck and the pig and a few presents too of course 🙂
Thank You both Joyce and Dianna!
I wish You all a Good Yule!