Now that Maple and myself are going to have a little one I’ve been thinking a lot about Holidays and beliefs and the traditions I want to create and foster within my own family. I grew up in a family that was spiritual but not religious in any way. While we went out for brunch on Easter Sunday and celebrated Christmas with stockings and Santa we never went to church and it took me years to figure out that these holidays that I had been celebrating for so long were all based in the Christian faith. The holiday traditions in my family were centered around the family and time spent together. Television was rarely watched (we didn’t have one). Christmas stockings and gifts were staged around three large, home-cooked meals. Gifts, while not entirely made from scratch, were definitely more sentimental than materialistic. I have many happy memories of holidays with my family and I’m excited to pass along the general themes to my children.
I feel that one’s beliefs and spiritual views are deeply personal (which is to say that I will not be sharing mine here) but since I do not really connect to a lot of the faith based Holidays celebrated in the US (especially because a lot of them have become, in my view, increasingly consumerist over the past few decades (“Christmas?? Buy your children new toys!!”, “Thanksgiving?? BUY EVERYTHING HALF OFF AT BEST BUY!!” “Don’t worry about spending time with people or making things from scratch just BUY BUY BUY!!”)) I’ve been researching how other countries celebrate their holidays and the mythical figures that populate other countries’ folklore.
Which brings us to the Tomte.
Full Disclaimer: All this information I have gleaned is from the internet. As we all know there is never misinformation on the internet. However, if you have substantial knowledge of the Tomte and you notice mistakes, please let me know and I’ll fix ’em. Thanks!
In Scandinavian countries there exists the Tomte, who was, in pre-Christian times, a small elderly male sprite who lived on/guarded the farm and would take care of the animals and humans who coexisted with him. No kindly old man was the Tomte, who in stories beats humans almost to death or kills livestock when he has been offended. Considered the farms’ soul he was definitely a spirit that one wanted to be in good standing with, for then he would help you around the farm and make sure the animals were protected.
With the Christianization of Scandinavia the Tomte, like most folkloric characters, was viewed as being akin to the devil and people who adhered to the Tomte traditions were seen as participating in heathen rites.
After the late 1800’s the Tomte was sort of revamped into a Santa Claus-esque figure (though he’s thinner and carries his gifts in a sack on his back (better to keep the weight down)) who gives his gifts directly to the children (no chimneys for him, he uses the front door). Sweetly, the old tradition of leaving a bowl of porridge with a pat of butter on top out for the Tomte on Christmas eve persists in many homes.
I really like the story and ideas behind the Tomte. I love the idea that a well-ordered farm/home is a sign that you are in good standing with the spirits that reside there. I like the idea of teaching a young child to leave a yearly offering to the sprites/souls/god of the farm/home. I love the idea of teaching children to respect and give thanks to spirits/sprites that might not be visible. (There’s a small part of me that also really likes that the Tomte is a vindictive when offended, I feel it makes him more real.) Lastly, since the Tomte is very similar to ol’ Santa Claus I think it will also help young children more easily integrate what they learn at home with what they’re exposed to in the mainstream American culture.
So this Christmas eve I’m starting fresh. I’ll be leaving a bowl of porridge (with a generous pat of butter on top) either in the Chicken Coop or in the Garagehome. I’m also planning on making my own little Tomte to store high up in the Chicken Coop (away from danger) so that he can begin to guard over the animals of our farm.
Are there any new traditions that you’ve started with your families?
Cheers and Love,
Maple and Me