Although our Lapland trips visit the fabled Father Christmas in his magical homeland, there are also some unusual local traditions. Before anyone tucks into their festive dinners in Finland, they make sure they look after the wildlife in their garden, often by tying a sheaf of grain to a post for the birds to feed on! Tradition dictates that they don’t start Christmas dinner until the first star has appeared in the sky. Their Santa Claus is known as Joulupukki, which literally translates as ‘Christmas goat’! He differs to Santa Claus in that he is believed to live in the mountains of Korvatunturi with reindeers who cannot fly, and instead of a secretive overnight visit he simply walks through the front door and exclaims : “Are there any well-behaved children here?” . Joulupukki is often accompanied not by elves, but by dwarflike humans called ‘Tonttu’.
The Swedish also have the ‘Nisse’ in their folklore, known as ‘Tomte’. As in many Scandinavian countries, the onset of the Christian St. Nicholas saw a decline of the ‘Julbock’ (Christmas goat), the previous guardian of yuletide. As a small remembrance though, there are often small ornamental displays of the Julbock, made from hay. Each year, a giant yule goat is erected in the Swedish town of Gavle and has been illegally burned down 24 times since the tradition originated in 1966!
Iceland has a rich folklore surrounding their Christmas time. A horrifying giantess Gryla is used to scare children into being well behaved, because otherwise she would eat them (of course), as would her cat if the children weren’t wearing their customary new item of clothing on Christmas day. Seemingly a man-eater as well as children, Gryla is married to her third husband Leppaludi, and between them they share just the thirteen children, aptly named the ‘Yule Lads’. They’re an interesting bunch, and are celebrated with as much enthusiasm as Santa Claus is in the UK. They leave the mountains and appear one by one over each day of the Christmas period, spanning from the 12th-24th December.
You know that giant Christmas tree you see every year in Trafalgar Square? That comes from Norway! They send one annually as a commemoration of the help that Norwegian people received from us Brits during the Second World War. For farmers in Norway, it is good practice to leave out a bowl of porridge with butter for the ‘Nisse’ (or Gnome) on Christmas eve, a sign of appreciation for him having looked after the livestock all year round. At Christmas, the ‘Nisse’ and the Santa Claus we know and love have become almost indistinguishable today in Norway, and he is celebrated in much the same way. In Norway Carol singing is particularly popular, as is Alf Prøysen’s brilliant: ‘The Mouse Song’.