Sunday, December 28, 2008

the norwegian santa; a pagan trickster

in norway, we have two predominant yule characters: santa and the nisse (anyone expecting jesus? sorry!), or rather, the merging of the two into the julenisse. santa claus is, as we know, the american commercialisation of saint nikolaus; the greek bishop who helped the poor in 4th century anatolia (present day turkey). he is said to have passed out gifts to poor children from a big sack around christmas time (which by the way is rather unlikely, as jesus' birth date was probably not yet set in the 4th century. but he might have passed out gifts around solstice). add to this the british father christmas, the germanic pagan god odin, american popular culture, et voilá - modern day santa says hi.

this guy also hit the coast of norway sometime in the early 19th century. but here, he merged with the then predominating yule figure; the creature known today as the nisse. (the name nisse is not the original one; it is a danish derivation of nikolaus, which became niels, which then became nisse). the julenisse was born, who is basically the same as the american santa except for the pagan remnants in the name.

the traditional pagan nisse is about the size of a child, bearded, dressed in knee long grey or brown wool pants and a red pointed hat. he is old but strong as a horse, and a bit ill tempered.
{nisse stealing meat from the store-house}

but the nisse was not a creature specifically linked to yule in the old norse society. he (he was always a he) was a vette, a kind of nature spirit that lived in the out-houses, stables, byres and store-houses at a farm. he guarded the farm, the animals, the houses, and the people living there. he was known as the haugbonde/haugkall (the farmer/man living in the hill), gardvord (the protector of the farm), tomtegubbe (man living on the farmland (the swedish equivalent of the norwegian nisse is called tomte)), godbonde (good farmer), rudkall (the man who cleared the farmland) and more. he helped out with the animals, he protected, but he was also a trickster who could become in a very bad mood if he was not tended to. he needed his food, his milk, and his bed, or else he would make animals sick or make other tragedies hit the farm. come yule, he demanded pudding and ale. norwegian children still places a dish of pudding outside the house or, if living at a farm, in the byre/stable to please the nisse at yuletide (let me get back to the rather irritating and persisting habit of writing yule instead of christmas in a later post). he was, in fact, a very attended kind of house god and a remnant of an older ancestor cult.

this is just an example among many of how strange and funny ways culture evolves in creative, unexpected and - for the most part - unconscious (sometimes even braindead) ways. humans equals culture equals an entity taken on a life on its own. the anatolian bishop + pagan house god = santa is a pretty good one.

a few oddities:
during the national romantic era, the nisse became a strong national symbol for norwegians. in fact, he became so strong, that during the german occupation in world war II, his red hat was banned. yule cards portraying the nisses was already widely popular, and the creative norwegian artists solved the problem in different ways - and often as a silent protest. the hat was omitted:

given a different colour:

or, the opposite, made longer. for this, the artist was imprisoned for two years. it says not only 'good yule', but 'good norwegian yule'.

but the nisse had already a history as a figure of protest. in the 1920's, when alcohol was forbidden, the nisse was made into a smuggler, as this yule card shows. how cute is that? :)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

little red riding hood unveiled

little red riding hood is a widespread and much loved fairytale, told to children today the way the brothers grimm wrote it in 1812. but do you know the truth about this little girl?
neither did i, until a few years back. sit back and enjoy.

once upon a time, there was a woman who had baked some bread. she told her daughter, a young girl, to go to her grandmother with a warm bread and a bottle of milk. the girl left. at a crossroad, she met the wolf, who asked her where she was going. 'i'm going to my grandmother with a warm bread and a bottle of milk'. 'which road will you take? this road, or that road?' asked the wolf. 'i will take this road', the girl answered. 'good, then i will take that one'.

the wolf gets to the grandmother first, kills her, puts some of her flesh in the pantry and a bottle of her blood on a shelf.
enters the girl.
the wolf asks her to eat the flesh and drink the wine (blood), which she does, unknowingly that she cannibalises her own grandmother.
the wolf then asks the girl to undress and get into bed with him. when she asks where to put her clothes, which is mentioned one by one item, she is told to throw them into the fire because she won't be needing them anymore.
well into bed, the girl questions grandma's unusual looks; hairy, broad shouldered. she asks why he has such a big mouth, and he gives the answer we all know; 'to better be able to eat you'.

these elements were more or less standard in the oral versions of this story, as it was told in france and italy up until 1697, when it was written down for the first time by charles perrault. no red hood, no hunter. the hood was added by perrault, the hunter by the brothers grimm. the ending wasn't always the same, though: in some versions, the wolf eats the girl and that's that. end of story. in others, the girl escapes through the woods chased by the wolf, slipping through the door of her own house right before the wolf's long nose.

there has been several attempts of interpretating this story, and they differ widely. some are: puberty ritual, the young girl literally taking up womanhood by cannibalising her grandmother; a warning against wolves (which in some oral versions were a werewolf); a warning against prostitution, as a red cloak was a sign of prostitution in 17th century france. this can not have been the original meaning, though, as the red hood was added in - yes, the 17th century.

even though the tale and it's meaning has varied with the times and places it has been told in, one thing seems to be common ground: the sexual nature of the encounter between the girl and the wolf. and this was also perrault's focus, who turned the story into a story about moral. the full title of his book is even Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals (better known as Tales of Mother Goose). in his version red riding hood was an attractive, well-bred young lady, not an innocent and sweet little girl. here's what he added to the ending:

From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner. I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition — neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!

if we look past the moralising aspect of perrault's version, we are left with a story of awakening sexuality. when we also know that in present day france, the old parable for loosing one's virginity is 'being taken by the wolf', there's really not much doubt, is there?

so. have another look at the picture above again, and keep in mind, the next time you tell your children this fairytale, that someone quite fitting named the story 'the striptease of little red riding hood'. ;)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

heia mamma

...which means: go, mom!

this was a gift for a dear friend of mine, a hard working and great mom, and a Crafter with capital C, i'm just sorry she hasn't got her own blog going yet.
this was the project i enjoyed most making this yule; a card wrap. the envelopes-out-of-old-childrens-books was something i hadn't done since i myself was almost a child. inspired by kimberly at anemone, and it was really fun making.

i made some cards out of left over cutout scraps.

the little black book is for addresses, and the smallest pocket is for stamps. i added a tiny ballpoint pen in the address book pocket. and i made another one for myself:

looking forward to seeing some of your crafty gift projects!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


it's getting really crowded here. my little one fell so in love with this winter garden, she got seriously disappointed every time there weren't any new figures to find in the calender socks. chocolate herts or promises of movies or storytelling wasn't good enough. so she started to put things into the socks herself. more rabbits, a mouse in a walnut shell, etc etc. and when she found the round sun candle and the baby sun (inside that red ball of wool), she chose the display. not exactly how i would have done it (especially considering fire safety), but then again, this is for them and not for me. sort of. (ahem)
but her explanation was good, though. the new baby sun (the new god) is placed in the middle of the black, dying sun (the candle holder aka the old god), rising.

and here's the baby. ready to grow and start shining.
oh, and that grey wool ball with legs?
supposed to be a sheep, but looks like a pitbull.
so; a pitsheep.

Monday, December 15, 2008

the giving

every year, volounteers in my city drive several busloads of yulegifts to needy people in romania. it is called 'the yule gift initiative' and goes like this:

you, and everybody else in your family, gathers and wrappes up a gift for someone the same age, sex and size as yourself. clothes, sweets, toys, whatever, just keeping in mind that the receiver is poor, poor, poor. there's a rule to it that i like: don't buy anything, use what you have and can share. although i did buy new toothbrushes and soaps...

we found clothes and several pairs of good shoes, we packed ginger bread hearts and raided our drawing supplies - 4 stacks of crayons, 10 in each, and we had only taken the new or almost new ones... Toothbrush and paste, soap, and a greeting.

just before we left the house to drop the packages off, a friend came by and named one of the demons that are unevitable hidden in projects like these.

'you realize that this only leads to the men spending less money on gifts and more on booze, don't you?'

he has a girlfriend in moldova, which happens to be just the region these gifts are going to.
even though he might be right, please, just for once, let me be that naive, spoiled, selfrighteous westener that i usually despise, and not think about lacking infrastructures, corruption, moral decay and hundreds of other demons. no more demons. let's just give, now.

and hope for a single mom with two kids.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


today's smoothie:
frozen berries (red and black currants, rasperries, blackberries, blueberries)
alfalfa sprouts
sunflower seeds
udo's opti green
udo's choice oil
coconut fat (not too sure about this one; healthy or not?)
rice milk

today's love: my girl

paper craft

today was almost a nice day; the first in a long time. after 12 a.m. i was free to work on some gifts. finally i was able to enjoy my work and (almost) not think about all the other work that is undone, waiting for me in big chaotic, unstructured piles all over. i was quite happy with the result; simple, but sweet. 3 sketch books for 3 siblings, simple folded paper decorated with cutouts from old childrens books. after the photo was taken, i trimmed the edges so that the white paper wouldn't stick out like it does here.

dec 10th

"i am a sunbeam come to remind you that we're getting closer"

in the window, a gingerbread heart my daughter made.

it is really getting darker here now, and still little or no snow to brighten our days.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

dec 8th

i intended to post pictures of every new addition to the winter garden, but - oh well, i've grown accustomed not sticking to plans anymore. not because i don't want to, but because i'm unable to. so there.
our little calendar has brought forth some chrystals, shells, a hare, a sheep that turned into a calf as my husband denied me to put wool on its back since it was 'so obviously a calf', a gnome, and then some. representatives of all the 'kingdoms' - or at least, we're heading there. animal, vegetable, mineral. ha!

this last addition is a cute snowflake that was new to me. a lot of small stitches, i tell you, on these waldorf figures. but my little one is in ecstacy when she finds one in one of the stockings.
the apple with candle is a remnant from my daughter's advent garden (they walk in an inwards spiral made of evergreens and light their little candle in a big candle in the middle of the spiral - quite moving. we sometimes do it at home as well, on solstice night).

Saturday, December 6, 2008

ginger wonderland

every yule, my city hosts the worlds biggest ginger bread town. we went to see it yesterday, and unfortunately, i forgot my camera. i had to search the internet for photos*, and so you don't get to see the 1,5 meter long replica of our city's oceanic pride; statsraad lehmkuhl. it was, of course, made of ginger bread, floor cut into boards and all, and the sails was made of melted, hardened sugar.

the houses, animals, sledges, bridges, boats, humans and all is mostly made by kindergartens, pre schools, schools and such but also by private contributors. some write their names or glue their photos on to the ginger bread art. it is incredibly charming, and very, very pretty.
*the last 2 photos was taken by robin strand. they're actually from 2005, and more can be found here.

Friday, December 5, 2008

the blue hour...

...occurs twice a day

this is the morning blue

we only have proper daylight between 10 am and 3 pm
only this thin layer on the mountain tops

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

how many times must the piper be paid for his song?

one of my dearest childhood memories, this beautiful, beautiful song.
my father used to play newburys music to me. once he put on 'an american trilogy', put out all the lights and placed himself next to me on the floor in my room, and we just listened. and he wept. strange as it may seem, that memory is so beautiful to me.


my little big girl woke up crying at 5 am this morning.
she said that she'd dreamt that someone at pre school had scraped my nose off.
i wonder if i looked something like this.

that sure would have made me cry too.

Monday, December 1, 2008

dec 1st

December 1st.
A chocolate heart, a note, a small corner cleaned and prepared.
A rhyme (in our language):
"Together we will make a midwinter garden. We start with the very beginning; a stone. Find the biggest!"

...followed by a stone hunt through the house.


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