TOMTEN

Do you think you know him?

The stories about the little grey "tomte" are very, very old and traceable to the scandinan and Celtic mythologies. In old times there was a common belief that every farm and house had its own guardianspirit. To this genius you should pay tribute.

Accordingly gifts were presented to the Hustomte, especially at Christmas time. Food, beer, milk and sometimes even brännvin (aquavit) was much to his liking. In later times people also put out "sötegröt" (rice pudding) and it was important not to forget a big butter-knob or honey to top the pudding. This thoughtfulness demonstrated to Tomten that he was held in high regard and that people wanted him to stay. The butter-knob was called yellow- or-sun-eye. This usage of rice pudding as a gift to Tomten still survives, and it may very well be a relic from heathen times when you sacrificed to the gods for favors and protection.

The jultome (jul = Christmas) of today has very little in common with the old Gårdstomte from the farmyards who is described in the following manner: An old man, short of stature, in grey, rough clothes. On his head a grey or red knitted cap. His beard was long,  mostly snow-white or wolf grey. The face wrinkled, resembles extremely ancient, crackling-dry leather. To be a distributor of Christmas presents was unthinkable for our Tomte in the old times. He had other, more essential things to do, than running around to children with presents in a big sack.

 

SANTA CLAUS

Gårdstomten was therefore very unlike our modern, smiling Ho-ho-ho-tomte with all his Christmas presents. The latter is surely a Christian immigrant and heir to Sankt Nikolaus, this most generous saint, who is called Santa Claus in Anglo-America countries. Despite his laughing, jovial appeaeance the modern tomte is rather symbol of abundance in our time, while the grey gårdstomte is connected with rough work and poverty in the past.

Tomten in the modern version, arived to sweden around 1860, chiefly through Christmas-pspers and Christmas-card. Two decades later the famous artist Jenny Nystroem began to draw her jultomtar which gave their popularity and celebrity an enomous boost. In Nystroems portrayal you could find characteristics both from Nikolaus and the old Tomten, but only externally because the latter could not smile with such ingratiating as the commercial world wanted him to do.

 

"TOMT", "TOMTEN" and "TOMTEGUBBE"

The word "tomten" (tomten=The tomte) is an abbreviation of "tomtegubbe" and originates from the swedish word "tomt" which in this case means the farmyard where tomten is wielding his power. Likewise in the neighbour-countries of sweden there are tales of tomten under different names. In Norway they speak of the "gardebonde" and in Danmark of the "gardbo" or "goenisse". In Finland he is cald "tonttu", in Germany "kobold" and in British islands you hear the names "puck" or "brownie". But none of these terms comes upexactly to the signification of the swedish word "tomte" , nor to his behaviour.


"Tomten" is related to "vättarna", small gnomelike but friendly creatures which are being described in the same way concerning looks. In the contrast to the lonely tomten they lived in families and races, often in the wild nature but also in the farms. They choose dwelling-places under ground, beneath stones, hills or trees. Many persons claim that tomten or vättarna lived in or under the biggest or most beutiful tree on the farm, in Swedish called "vårdaträd", to which the farm peoples fortune was thought to be attached. "Vård", generally meaning "care" in swedish, should here be understood as "soul" or "spirit". The idea that the farms guardian spirit had his abode in the tree is very old. The tree could be called "tomtaträd" since it was the tomtes habitation.

 

TOMTEN with CHILDREN

The children were closest to tomten and they also saw him more often than what grow-up people did. Unlike trolls, giants and the Siren of the woods tomten was regarde as freindly disposed. The other creatures could kidnap the children while tomten even would serve as babysitter. But should the small boys and girls make too much noise tomten could be onrushing to calm them down by a bit of scare. Possibly is this the reason why tomten still is asking in christmas time: "Are there any good children here?"

When twilight sets in and in the darkness of night tomten is most active. His favourite companion is the cat, also a night creature, who gladly follows him when he makes his rounds on the farm to check that everythink is in order. Finally I vant to strike a blow for the old grey tomten who with his rich personalety really is worth remembering. He is one of the most remakable creations we knew fron the old-culture of our ancestors. It may surely do us good to make a break now and then whis our rational world picture in favour of a day- dream-trip to the wonderful world of fantasy.