...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Deck the halls with tomtar

I am tempted to write more about food, as we've just come back from a Julbord (Christmas buffet) with Mats and Margareta. I have to control myself for a while longer before I write about that though. My blog is really starting to look like a foodie blog now--not that that's a bad thing. Still, it's probably time for a little variation ... a little. Most likely I will write the Julbord entry very soon after this one anyway :-) Hohoho! But in the meantime, since I see a lot of traditional Christmas decor here at Mats and Margareta's place, I'll write about that for now.


Tomte

Tomtar (pl.) are gnomes, which precede Santa Clause as a Christmas symbol in the Scandinavian countries. I first read about these creatures in a book called "Gnomes" that I had since gradeschool. In it was a map that showed Scandinavia as densely populated with gnomes. (This book is really entertaining and recommendable BTW). Apparently this book is translated into many different languages from the original Dutch. I've seen the German and Swedish versions recently.

Gnomes are supposedly small creatures (according to that book 15 cm without their conical hat, which they always wear). They are farmer-like and take care of injured animals, and they live underground in forests or in countryside gardens (an exception is the Finnish gnome, who is said to live in the sauna). Though small, they are immensely strong (7 times as strong as a man), and one should be careful not offend them. "Farm workers swearing, urinating in the barns, or not treating the creatures well" anger the gnomes, who might take their revenge by boxing the offenders in the ears, killing livestock or ruining the farmer's fortune (this is from Wikipedia).

The Christmas tradition is to leave a bowl of porridge (the same kind I wrote about two entries ago) for the garden gnome on Christmas night to please him (or at least prevent him from doing bad things to you). In contrast, Santa Clause as a red-clad, bearded figure is not so popular here in Sweden, and pictures of him are not called by that name but is instead called the Jultomte, the Christmas gnome.



Julbock

So, Santa Clause is not a "local", and therefore neither are his reindeer.Instead of reindeer then, the traditional Christmas animal is the Julbock, a or a Christmas ram, which was a fertility symbol associated with winter solstice (just as roosters, instead of the Easter Bunny, are here symbols for summer solstice.)

Julbock figures out of straw are a very popular Christmas decoration, and in the city of Gävle they make a gigantic one each year (like a trojan horse) on display on a square. In most years, someone or the other succeeds in a prank to burn the city julbock. The city had tried to prevent this by either putting some anti-flammable material on it, or actually hiring security guards to watch over it. Last year's offenders (they succeeded) were dressed as Santa Clause and the Gingerbreadman, and this year, the city has decided to aim a webcamera to the julbock.

Advent candlesticks (Adventsljusstake)

Advent candles have become popular only recently in Sweden (only for the last 10 years or so), although the tradition has been around since the 19th century. The candles are good to light the dark days with, and this is why it has become extremely popular to put in homes and offices (and even in the gym). It is usually put on a windowsill, and this makes a great-looking ambience lighting from outside. Usually there are advent candlesticks with electric lights, but there are also "classic" versions with actual candles, and unlike the "standard" Advent wreath which has only 4 candles, an adventsljusstake can have 5, 7, or more lights.

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