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Tue Dec 4, 2018, 09:00 AM

FSogol's 2018 Advent Calendar Day 4: The Yule Goat and Scandinavian Elves

Yesterday, I noted some references to the Christmas Elf, a mostly, British, North American, and Irish tradition about the worker who make Santa’s toys but in Scandinavian Countries, they are different.

Scandinavian elves would be more known as Gnomes to us. Called the Nisse in Danish, Tomte in Swedish, and Tomtenisse in Finnish, they wore red pointed hats, had white beards, and would appear around the Winter solstice. Garden gnomes are based on them. They were spirit guardians and hung around burial mounds. Many people believed they were the personification of a collection of dead ancestors.

According to tradition, the Nisse lives in the houses and barns of the farmstead, and secretly act as their guardian. If treated well, they protect the family and animals from evil and misfortune, and may also aid the chores and farm work. However, they are known to be short tempered, especially when offended. Once insulted, they will usually play tricks, steal items and even maim or kill livestock.


By the 19th Century, the nisse delivered gifts to doors at Christmas time often with the help of the Yule goat (but sometimes a pig.)

This was formalized by an 1881 poem by Viktor Rydberg with the following illustration from Jenny Nystrom.



The Yule goat is another pagan tradition that got wrapped up into Christmas celebrations as Christianity spread. The goat probably had his origins in the Norse god Thor who owned 2 goats.

The function of the Yule goat has differed throughout the ages. In a Scandinavian custom similar to the English tradition of wassailing, held at either Christmas or Epiphany, young men in costumes would walk between houses singing songs, enacting plays and performing pranks. This tradition is known from the 17th century and still continue in certain areas. The group of Christmas characters would often include the Yule goat, a rowdy and sometimes scary creature demanding gifts.

During the 19th century the Yule goat's role all over Scandinavia shifted towards becoming the giver of Christmas gifts, with one of the men in the family dressing up as the Yule goat. In this, there might be a relation to Santa Claus and the Yule goat's origin in the medieval celebrations of Saint Nicholas. The goat was then replaced by the jultomte (Father Christmas/Santa Claus) or julenisse during the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century, although he is still called the Joulupukki (Yule goat) in Finland, and the tradition of the man-sized goat disappeared.


The Yule Goat lives on in Scandinavian both in the form of Julebukking, (similar to the wassailing) as Christmas ornaments, and course in goat Burning Festivals.





Gradually, commercialism has made him look more and more like the American Santa Claus, but the Swedish jultomte, the Norwegian julenisse, the Danish julemand and the Finnish joulupukki (in Finland he is still called the Yule Goat, although his animal features have disappeared) still has features and traditions that are rooted in the local culture. He doesn't live on the North Pole, but perhaps in a forest nearby, or in Denmark he lives on Greenland, and in Finland he lives in Lapland; he doesn’t come down the chimney at night, but through the front door, delivering the presents directly to the children, just like the Yule Goat did; he is not overweight; and even if he nowadays sometimes rides in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, instead of just walking around with his sack, his reindeer don’t fly — and in Sweden, Denmark and Norway some still put out a bowl of porridge for him on Christmas Eve. He is still often pictured on Christmas cards and house and garden decorations as the little man of Jenny Nyström's imagination, often with a horse or cat, or riding on a goat or in a sled pulled by a goat, and for many people the idea of the farm tomte still lives on, if only in the imagination and literature.


Sadly, "commercialism has made him look more and more like the American Santa Claus" a theme across many of these Christmas traditions.

sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yule_Goat
http://mentalfloss.com/article/54262/fiery-history-scandinavias-yule-goat

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Reply FSogol's 2018 Advent Calendar Day 4: The Yule Goat and Scandinavian Elves (Original post)
FSogol Dec 2018 OP
Squinch Dec 2018 #1
FSogol Dec 2018 #2
Docreed2003 Dec 2018 #3
FSogol Dec 2018 #4
The Velveteen Ocelot Dec 2018 #5
FSogol Dec 2018 #6

Response to FSogol (Original post)

Tue Dec 4, 2018, 09:17 AM

1. Now I want to go to a Burning Festival! Thank you!

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Response to Squinch (Reply #1)

Tue Dec 4, 2018, 09:22 AM

2. Yeah, that looks like fun. Might be a tough sell to talk Mrs FSogol into going to Scandinavia in the

Winter.

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Response to FSogol (Original post)

Tue Dec 4, 2018, 09:58 AM

3. Very cool...thank you

Hearing about these traditions that I'm not as familiar with is just fascinating. Thanks for doing this!

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Response to Docreed2003 (Reply #3)

Tue Dec 4, 2018, 11:01 PM

4. Anytime. It has been fun and so far, I haven't run out of ideas. n/t

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Response to FSogol (Original post)

Wed Dec 5, 2018, 01:53 AM

5. Here's one more Scandinavian Christmas legend, the Yule Cat of Iceland.

This is my favorite because it's so weird.

The Yule Cat (Icelandic: Jólakötturinn) is a monster from Icelandic folklore, a huge and vicious cat said to lurk about the snowy countryside during Christmas time and eat people who have not received any new clothes to wear before Christmas Eve. The Yule Cat has become associated with other figures from Icelandic folklore as the house pet of the giantess Grýla and her sons, the Yule Lads.

The threat of being eaten by the Yule Cat was used by farmers as an incentive for their workers to finish processing the autumn wool before Christmas. The ones who took part in the work would be rewarded with new clothes, but those who did not would get nothing and thus would be preyed upon by the monstrous cat....

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yule_Cat

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Response to The Velveteen Ocelot (Reply #5)

Wed Dec 5, 2018, 10:47 AM

6. Thanks! Here is the Yule Cat cartoon by Justin East with music by Danny Elfman

Elfman

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