Swedish survival guide: Father Christmas is Swedish
A common misconception around the holiday season is that ‘Jultomten’, or Father Christmas, lives in the North Pole. Some say that he lives in Finland. This is all wrong. He lives in Sweden, and let me tell you why.
Sweden has a rich folklore, which not only includes a naked fiddler sitting in a brook luring children down to drown, or a beautiful woman with the tail of a fox singing to attract men to get lost in the vast dark Scandinavian forests; it also includes house and garden gnomes, who, if you treat them well, help you with the hard work around the cottage or farm. These gnomes are believed to have pointy hats and long beards, just like modern ceramic garden gnomes
you see all over the world today, and just like the modern Father Christmas, whose appearance slowly began to merge with the American Santa Claus about 100 years ago. Even the Swedish word ‘Jultomte’ reveals where I’m going with this: this is a compound word consisting of ‘jul’ (Christmas or yule) and ‘tomte’ (gnome) but which, if you
look further back, comes from the Swedish word for back garden, ‘tomt’.
In the 19th century, a Swedish artist named Jenny Nyström drew Christmas cards and illustrations to go with some Christmas poems by Viktor Rydberg. The illustrations were inspired by what people thought those mythical garden gnomes looked like and helped start the transformation of the new gift bringer on Christmas, Saint Nicholas,
borrowed in from Germany, to resemble a Swedish gnome. Other artists developed the idea further and in America, where Saint Nicholas also was the gift bringer at Christmas, this new concept began to merge with the old one. With some help from the Swedish-Finnish advertisement artist Haddon Sundblom, he also got his red clothes and eventually the modern Santa Claus was born. The Americanisation around the 1950s then brought back this semi-new character to Europe.
Joakim Andersson is a Swedish musician, YouTuber, podcaster, and entrepeneur who calls himself an enjoyer of life. He is the founder of Say It In Swedish, which is a podcast, web and mobile app, and YouTube channel that teaches modern Swedish in a fun and easy-going way for free.
Check it out at www.sayitinswedish.com
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