USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘sweden’
Childhood
Customs
Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Myths
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Santa Claus, Christmas Bok, and Naked Man

So the German tradition of krampus, ah, was brought to Sweden some times during the Dark Ages…and back then, this was before like, Santa Claus came around. And he was only like Saint Nick, or a similar…like before he was actually Santa Claus he was like this Saint guy, right, that was giving gifts away. And the Christmas bok, Julbocken, would accompany him and if you hadn’t been a good child, he would put you in his sack, that he brought with him, and beat you. Uh, and if you’d been really bad he would put you in his sack and take you away. From your family. And how this was celebrated was basically, young University students, would go around to houses, carol singing. Wearing all these, the outfit of the bok – it’s a Swedish word. It’s basically like a goat head with horns. And they were mischievous. So it’s like a mixture of trick-or-treating and carol-singing, into one. And this would be used to threaten children to behave. And that lived for like, forever. Long time.

Is it still going on?

No. Because it’s sort of…that tradition of going around, sort of died off when Santa Claus came around. Basically Santa Claus was different, in Sweden, until Coca-Cola came to Sweden. And then all of a sudden Santa Claus was red. Before that he wasn’t. And Santa Claus…I’ll get back to that thought. The Christmas bok is now, under the Christmas tree you have one out of…what is the uh, horses eat?

Hay?

Hay. Yeah, out of hay, it’s like a figurine made out of hay, that you put under your Christmas tree, as a like a, oh he’s already been here. Because they would leave that, after the visit.

Oh, he would leave a little figurine?

Yeah.

The University students?

Yeah. And usually they got served alcohol, you know, that’s why they were going around. And if you didn’t, then you know, they would do something mischievous.

And the first Santa Clauses weren’t actually Santa Clauses as the way we think of it, basically they were gnomes that cared for the farmhouse. They cared for the whole plot of land where they lived. So they lived under the houses, and they would take care of that. And that was sort of like their gift to, to the people inside. And every year you would have to put out a bowl of oatmeal, outside. Almost like cookies and milk, but a poor version, and outside. So they would continue taking care of the farm. Most of the Swedish stuff has to do with nature. So the gnomes, they were friendly, taking care, making sure that plants grew, all that stuff. And they would come together, for a time period before Santa Claus became Coca-Cola-ized, the Christmas bok and Santa Claus would come together, and Santa Claus would give the good children gifts, and the bok would give them beatings. So they both have sacks – one is empty and one is full of gifts! Cause if you’ve been bad…you end up in the sack and get beaten.

So there was one Santa Claus? Or every house had their own?

No every house had their own, yeah. Houses weren’t close to each other, cause we didn’t have cities obviously, so it was more like a big farm. And each farm had their own, so each little village had several. Yeah. So each plot of land that you owned had their own little gnome taking care of it.

There’s a lot of mythology used to keep children at bay. For instance, in the wintertime, if you go outside the wolf’s gonna eat you.

Did your mom ever tell you that?

Uh, not me. But her generation. Because when I grew up, we were modernized in cities. So I’m too young to have that sort of thing. But if you go back, like at the turn of the century, that was definitely going around. Like that was the way to keep children in. So you had: don’t go into the forest at wintertime, cause the wolf will catch you and eat you; don’t go out in the summertime cause the trolls will take you…and they would trade you for a troll kid. So basically if your kid was misbehaving, it was thought that your actual kid had been taken by trolls, and they had left a troll kid. If you went down to the lake or the spring, the Naked Man would take you.

Naked Man? What’s that?

Naked Man…he plays his violin. Beautifully. So beautifully that you cant withstand it, so you have to walk closer and closer and closer, and once you’re close enough he’ll grab you and pull you into the stream and you’ll drown and die. He’s a naked man, yeah. And his name is, like…Naked Man. Näcken. That’s his name. So that’s sort of like the Elements protection.

 

ANALYSIS:

The above traditions and folk beliefs function not only as lower mythology, for example every household having it’s own spirit or small deity looking after the house and harvest, but also as a way to make children behave and stay out of harm’s way. The rituals and practices of the University students going around to the houses, as well as the figurine, reinforces the threat of the Christmas bok. In addition, the participation of the University students allows them to be involved after their belief in such stories and characters has passed, and they in turn get to have their fun and mischief and alcohol, a part of the transition between being a child who believes these stories but before they have children of their own. As the informant pointed out, these traditions are fading out, mainly because of the urbanization of Sweden – families no longer have their own large plot of land, and instead people live in cities.

Holidays

Valborg

My friend was born in Sweden to a Swedish father and American mother, but moved to the United States as a child, so she sat down with me and told me about the different holidays that are celebrated in Sweden. Some were holidays she had celebrated frequently, while some she hadn’t personally celebrated. Since Valborg is celebrated primarily by college students, she wasn’t old enough to celebrate it when she lived in Sweden, but she was still aware of the customs.

“On April 30th, there’s a celebration called Valborg, which dates back to the Vikings, and basically all of Sweden, they light up bonfires along the coast and it starts in Upsalla and goes all the way up. It’s basically done by all the students and they have boat races and barbecues. It’s basically to celebrate the pagan flower goddess, kind of, it’s all about fertility. You’re supposed to remove your hat at a specific point and people march and stuff and it’s basically the guys who do it and that’s like the start of summer.”

This holiday fits in with the other Swedish holidays in that it marks the beginning of a season. Also, although many Swedes are Lutheran, the holidays are not based on Christian religion, but pagan gods and goddesses.

For more information, see: “Walpurgis Eve.” Sweden. Swedish Institute, 28 Apr. 2014. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.

Holidays

Midsommar

My friend was born in Sweden to a Swedish father and American mother, but moved to the United States as a child, so she sat down with me and told me about the different holidays that are celebrated in Sweden. Some were holidays she had celebrated frequently, while others we less important to her, but she still knew about from her family. Since midsummer includes children in the celebration, she had fond memories of past holidays in Sweden.

“Then we have midsommar, which is midsummers, it’s like the middle and it’s usually the summer solstice and that’s where it’s like the typical maypole, it’s almost like a cross with two rings and kids will have strings and dance around the maypole. And that’s also fertility”

Q: Have you celebrated this?

“I’ve done it ever since I was little. Usually it’s like the entire community gets together and there’s a central maypole for that community. So it’s not like it’s a fair, but everybody comes out and they picnic. And what the girls are supposed to do, is you’re supposed to collect seven different types of wildflowers and you make wreaths, like crowns, that you wear and you wear it all day and the girls usually wear white dresses and you’re supposed to jump over five different fences, and what you usually do is eat strawberries, strawberries and cream are like, in season, so you usually have strawberry cake and stuff like that. And you’re outside and you play games and it’s really, really fun. There’s specific songs and dances that you do while you dance around the Maypole. One of them is små grodorna, which means little frogs, and you jump over people…it’s for kids but it’s really, really cute. But when you get older, it’s like you drink and, but everybody still dresses up and it’s really pretty. But what girls are supposed to do is you put the wreath under your pillow and then you dream about the man you’re going to marry. I really remember actually making the crowns, because my mom was really good at doing it, because you have to like, braid, because they’re like wildflowers, you don’t buy something, you braid the flowers to create these really pretty things. It’s super fun and it lasts throughout the day”

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