Thursday, December 17, 2015

Elves at Christmas

The notion of elves being toymakers in the North Pole is a relatively recent one; however, there are much older folkloric beliefs concerning elves and their antics around the Christmas season. Elves might use that night to come to your house and have a party, and they might clear a dance floor if the family is out at church and frolic. They might also help themselves to your holiday feast! To get rid of them you can usually just turn on the lights, but be sure to be kind to them-you don't want to get on the bad side of elves, but they just may give you a gift in exchange for a favor! Some households would either leave porridge outside for the tomten (or elves/gnomes), or even leave a feast out on the table for them on Christmas Eve. This ritual is described more in the Christmas Carol at the end of this post.

In Iceland, New Year's Eve is Moving Day for the elves. It would be best to stay out of their way, but the very brave may try to use that as an opportunity to ask them what the future holds or receive treasures. Although, the ritual involves lying on the ground outside all night without falling asleep or moving, so it is often more dangerous than anything.

Encounters with elves can even be deadly at Christmas time, such as in the folktale of Hildur (who in some versions is a fairy queen but sometimes a Queen of the Elves). At her farm, a shepherd turns up dead every Christmas morning, and the cycle is doomed to continue until someone can break the spell.
Illustrations by Erik Forsman

This Swedish Christmas Carol, "The Gnomes' Christmas night", describes some of the actions of the tomten -from here.

Tomtarnas Julnatt

The Gnomes' Christmas Night

Christmas Carol

Midnight reigns,
It's quiet in the houses,
Quiet in the houses.
Everyone sleeps,
The candles are put out,
Candles put out.

Look, there comes
The gnomes out from the corners,
From the corners,
List'ning, watching,
Sneaking on their toes,
On their toes.

The nice people
Have left the sweet food,
The sweet food,
On the table
For a band of gnomes,
Band of gnomes.

How they frolic,
Skipping between dishes,
Between dishes,
Whisper, murmur¹
"It's good, the Christmas food,
Christmas food."

Porridge, ham,
The little piece of apple,
Piece of apple,
Ah how sweet
It tastes for little Gnomie²,
Little Gnomie².

Now the games!³
Happy laughter sounding,
Laughter sounding,
'Round the tree³
The gang merrily swings,
Merrily swings.

Night is ending.
Soon the friendly gnomes,
Friendly gnomes,
Quickly, neatly,
Putting all in order,
All in order.

Then, back
Into the quiet corners,
Quiet corners,
The gang of gnomes
Sneak on their toes,
On their toes., The Old Magic of Christmas by Linda Raedisch

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