Saturday, December 19, 2015

December 19 - The Christmas Gnomes

Last weekend, Frances Garrood posted a photo of a knitted crib. In a comment to her post I mentioned that my mum used to knit little dolls for Christmas fairs in the village where my parents lived in their retirement years. But mum's were not crib figures, but little (Christmas) gnomes (Swedish: sing. tomte/pl. tomtar). 

The 'tomte' of Scandinavian folklore is a small creature reminding of British brownies or hobs. Later on (late 1800s/early 1900s), the old stories about 'tomtar' got blended with St Nicholaous and Father Christmas traditions from Europe, England and America, to become Jultomten. We still sort of live with both kinds, though - both in Christmas decorations and songs and stories. Hard to tell these days really, whether there is just one tomte (with helpers) or many of the same kind; whether they live under the floor, or in cabins deep in the woods, or at the North Pole; and whether they prefer horses or flying reindeer. (I suppose that's part of their magic - to keep us guessing...)

All I know for sure is that this particular little family used to live in a wardrobe in my parents' house (most of the year), and spent their Christmas vacations on my mum's bedside table. Nowadays they live in my storage room in the basement; and spend Christmas on a shelf in my living room. (They're about the size of my hand.)



9 comments:

  1. They're so sweet, I'm not sure I'd be able to put them away each year.

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    1. Janet, I think part of the charm of most Christmas ornaments is that one does not have them around all year! :)

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  2. What a sweet family of Jultomten! As soon as I saw them in the picture, I wanted to build a little house for them, with a kitchen, table and chairs for their family meals, bedroom for the parents and Kinderzimmer for the kids. Of course there will have to be a Christmas tree in their living room.

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    1. Meike, back in childhood I did have a dolls' house that mum made for me too. It was made from cardboard boxes and the furniture was home-made as well, out of cardboard and pieces of fabric etc. So not of all that long-lasting quality. Alas I don't think I even have a photo of it. The inhabitants weren't tomtar but other little people... By the way, did you ever read the Borrowers books by Mary Norton? (link goes to a review on my first blog back in 2009)

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    2. Monica, you won't be surprised to read that I loved, loved, LOVED the "Borrowers" books when I was a child! I even re-read them as an adult, and still loved them :-)

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  3. they are so cute and in such great shape to be as old as they are. I would like to see the house that Librarian would build

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  4. That's interesting. I'm not sure that I've ever heard of a British brownie or hob although I suppose the younger branch of the Girl Guides was called Brownies after them.

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  5. Graham, to me "brownie" (the English word) used to be primarily a chocolate cake/cookie... At some point from films or books I must have picked up the meaning of a girl guide too, but whenever that was, I don't think I knew about the folklore brownies then. I'm not sure I learned about those until I got caught up in the interweb and blogging and trying to explain "tomtar". To confuse things even more - in Sweden, human brownies are blue. Little girl scouts are called "blåvingar" = blue wings = the name of a little blue butterfly. When I (just now) tried Wikipedia to find the English name for that, I found about seventy different varieties in Latin... I give up! :)

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