During the Christmas season it’s difficult for many of us to imagine it without Santa or his elves. What if they were trolls, goblins or gnomes instead of our favorite little folk, would we still think of them as Jolly? In many countries that is actually the case.
In the mountains of Iceland there lives a giant Ogress name Gryla, her small lazy, good for nothing husband (her third) Leppaludi, her seventy-two children and a ferocious cat named the Yule Cat. Gryla was an absolute monster, both in appearance and attitude. In the days leading up to Christmas she would lock her children in a room to starve while she boiled herself a pot full of naughty children that she had caught.
Each year thirteen of her children would manage to escape for thirteen days and cause havoc in the villages, these children became known as the Yule Lads. While their names may not invoke fear, not cleaning your dishes could result in a visit from the lad Pvorusleikir (Spoon Licker), and as the name of the lad Pottasleikir (Pot Scraper) may imply, if you were tardy in cleaning your pots and pans, you could expect him to pay you a visit. While the previous two may not worry you, perhaps the lad Gluggagaegir (Window Peeper) would cause you more concern, he likes to peep through windows looking for anything that sparks his fancy and if something catches his eye, you can be sure he’ll come back to steal it.
The Yule Cat wasn’t simply a house cat, but rather a giant black cat, and even though the cat ate better then the Gryla’s children it would still prowl about Iceland looking for naughty children or even adults to gobble up. The Yule Cat seemingly had a inexplicable taste for those who didn’t receive any new winter clothes and was feared as much as the Ogress herself.
In modern days the Yule Lads and their Ogress mother are no longer mischievous nor cannibals. Gryla now sends the Yule Lads out to spread tidings of joy rather then fear. They hand out toys for the thirteen days leading up to Christmas, leaving a small toy in shoes placed on the window cell if the children are good, though if the children are bad they can expect to find a rotten potato in their shoe.
The Yule Lads have become more like elves and dress more like Santa Clause in classic red and white. In the 1700’s children were so terrified to leave their homes for the month of December the government imposed a law that forbid parents to use stories of Gryla in order to frighten their children into behaving.
Beware of the Yule Cat though, he still continues to sneak around, peeking in windows making sure you received some new winter clothing. Perhaps this is why cats love to lay on nice clean clothes fresh from the drier.
The Kallikantzaros is a skulking goblin like creature in Greece, Serbia, Bosnia and Turkey that would appear for the twelve days of the winter solstice (December 25 to January 6). They live underground shaking the world tree and trying to chop it down, when they are about to make the final strike to the tree the solstice begins and they rush above ground to begin their mischief making. They are particularly smelly creatures and not considered to be very smart as they can’t count above the number two.
To deter these dimwitted creatures, people would leave a colander on their front door step and the smelly goblin would sit there all night trying to count all the holes. When dawn breaks the half blind underground dwellers would scramble to hide in a dark place as sun light hurts them.
Another deterrent to keep these little degenerates out of your home was to keep a yule log burning in the fireplace for twelve days so the Killikantzaros couldn’t climb down the chimney.
In addition to these simple safety measures, it was advised that you not commit any sinful acts, not even the slightest ill will towards another person during the twelve days of the winter solstice as doing so may attract the attention of these little brutes. Once the twelve days were over they scamper back underground to continue their work of cutting down the world tree.
Just one more swing of their axe was all they needed, however while they were busy causing mischief above ground, the magical world tree completely healed itself, so the process of chopping down the tree and destroying the world must start all over again. This happens on a yearly basis, so if just one more chop is all they need, I cant help but wonder if they take the day off during a leap year.
Nisse (Nicholas) and Tomte (Homestead man) are gnome like figures in Norwegian and Switzerland folklore. Similar in size and appearance, they both wear pointed red caps (not to be confused with the violent red capped gnomes) and dress in simple or ragged grey or blue clothes, sporting a long grey beard.
These gnomes look after the household or farm where they live and keep the animals well looked after, especially the horses. They are extremely hard workers and in return only ask for homeowner or farmer’s respect and a bowl of porridge with butter on top.
However, if disrespect is shown these gnomes are force to be reckoned with. One story tells of a farm owner’s daughter hiding the butter at the bottom of the bowl of porridge instead of on top. Believing that this was a sign of disrespect, the gnome walked into to their barn, killed their best cow and then returned to eat his porridge. After finding the butter at the bottom of the bowl he felt awful for what he had done and replaced the cow, with one that he had “acquired” from a neighbor.
It was considered good fortune to have a Nisse or Tomte work and live on a farm, the farm and it’s animals always thrived. It was also known that the Nisse and Tomte would often steal from a neighbor to benefit the farm on which they lived. If one of a farm’s animals wandered onto a neighboring property, the Nisse was often blamed for this relocation.
Much like the Yule Lads, Nisse and Tomte now dress like the typical Santa Claus with a red and white coat, red pants and carrying a red sack full of toys, however these little fellows have at least have kept their pointed red caps.
No matter the morphisms Nisse and Tomte have made, tradition still dictates that if your farm or household have had good luck throughout the year, you had better leave them a large bowl of porridge out in the barn, in the pantry of your home or a quite corner and please don’t forget the heaping spoon full of butter or you just might find yourself missing your best farm animal or your best dishes.
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