Thursday, 10 January 2013

Meeting the Tomten on a January evening ....

        Finding a favourite Yuletide decoration, carefully wrapped but hiding, reminded me of buying it in Denmark, at least a couple of decades ago! It once had a pair, but that one sadly fell onto the brick hearth and is no more. 

    It had me thinking about a little folk-lore character who doesn't seem to visit these shores. Unlike us faere-folk, he exists exclusively in the heart of Scandinavia with his red hat and bowls of warming porridge.

   He dwells near hard-working mountain farms,  guarding the children and looking after the animals, especially in the hardest of winters. He can speak to each animal or child in a quiet language that only it can understand. He is endlessly loyal.

He is a Tomte.
    This steadfast little fellow has featured in the Scandinavian psyche for centuries, but his popularity from 19th century onwards can be put down to writer Viktor Rydberg, and in particular his enigmatic poem "Tomten". Here the Tomte ponders on life and time as well his role as unseen family carer.
 Here's the first verse - which is also the last - in its original Swedish and then in English:

Tomten - Viktor Ryberg 1881
"Midvinternattens köld är hård, stjärnorna gnistra och glimma. Alla sova i enslig gård djupt under midnattstimma. Månen vandrar sin tysta ban, snön lyser vit på fur och gran, snön lyser vit på taken. Endast tomten är vaken."
"In Midwinter cold and hard,The stars glitter and sparkle Everyone is asleep on this lonely farm, Deep in the winter night. The silver moon is a wanderer, Snow gleams white on pine and fir,Snow gleams white on the roofs. The Tomten alone is awake. "
Find the whole poem here - or read an adaptation of the story "The Tomten"
    Ryberg  wrote another  rhyming tale for children featuring the Tomte in wintertime called   "Lille Viggs äventyr på julafton" or "Vigg’s Christmas Eve Adventure"

   In their turn, these poems inspired the amazing Swedish nature artist Harald Wiberg to produce some of the best loved and evocative illustrations from Swedish literature, much bleaker in tone than the earlier work of Jenny Nystrom. Working with writer Astrid Lindgren he created  illustrations for "The Tomten"  and then "The Tomten and the Fox" as well as an adaptation of the original "Christmas Eve Adventure".

Harald Wyberg 1908 - 1986
photo: Harald Borgstrom
Below is an enchanting video with Wiberg "Tomte" illustrations, original Rydberg words and  simply delicious music specially written by Göran M Hägg. I do hope you love it as much as do!
Happy New Year
     If you're interested in old English customs and traditions, you might like to read a little about a Twelfth Night celebration held on the banks of the Thames,
complete with the wintery and holly'd Green Man.    Find it on Muddypond's main website.


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