In traditional Scandinavian folklore, the tomte or nisse was small supernatural figure, not unlike the English brownie or hob. Like the brownie, he tended to care for the farmstead and all of its animals, and like a brownie he could have a terrible temper if insulted or slighted. In the 1840's in Sweden the bringer of Christmas gifts became the nisse, and was the called the Yule Nisse, or Julenisse. In 1881 Swedish poet Viktor Rydberg published a poem called Tomten, accompanied by a picture by Jenny Nystrom, showing a red-capped friendly figure contemplating life alone on a cold snowy Christmas Eve. This solidified the image in the Scandinavian imagination, much as Clement Moore's poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" did to Santa Claus in America; it is the figure perpetuated in the book Gnomes (Tomten in the authors' original language). The Julenisse is often shown accompanied by the Yule Goat, another traditional figure. Over time, of course, the Juelenisse has become influenced by popular concepts of Santa Claus. But the influence could go both ways: the tomten might have contributed to the concept of Santa's Christmas elves.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Perhaps I'm not perfectly qualified to be a completely unbiased judge on this matter; perhaps I view all of this through a warm, magic haze of nostalgia. But all these "vintage" decorations all seem to me to be vastly superior to most modern versions of Christmas cardboard. Most card decorations of today have flat colors and are "cartoony" in the worst possible sense of the word. These old decorations have gleams and glints and shades of color, and, while they are far from realistic, they are "cartoony" in the best sense of the word. Cute without being cutesy; simple, but not simplistic. Full of character while remaining iconic. Why can't they just keep running these, or do they do so somewhere more blessed that around here?
Monday, December 13, 2010
A Weihnachtsmann (tr. German: Christmas-man) is a figure developed by Protestants in Germanic countries to replace the Christkindl (tr: Christ Child; this term devolved in the U. S. A. into Kris Kringle) as a Christmas gift-bringer. Christkindl himself had been a replacement for the all-too-Catholic St. Nicholas, but it came to be felt that the role of present deliverer was beneath the dignity of the Messiah. The Weihnachtsmann took over many of the attributes of St. Nicholas: he was a thin old man with a long white beard, his stick replaced the saint's staff, and his pointed hat or hood the bishop's miter. He was often pictured as trudging through the dark and snow with a pack on his back and his stick in hand; as such he rather resembled the itinerant peddlers of the time, and one can imagine parents pretending and children mistaking such a one as "Santa" (in fact, in the old Shirley Temple film Heidi this happens to the Grandfather when he visits town around Christmas). His coat and hat were often trimmed in fur (usually brown) and he could be rather stern of countenance, because he also brought whips to punish the naughty and sometimes even a tail if they had been beastly! The image of the Weihnachtsmann became widespread around 1900 with the predominance of the German lithographic industry and the imagery they employed; much of the "Victorian Santa" pictures come from this era. With the advent of World War One, of course, this popularity dropped off. As time has passed the Weihnachtsmann has gained more and more of the attributes of the American Santa Claus, so that now there seems to be little difference visually between the two. But there are plenty of people who still enjoy the more traditional figure of the Weihnachtsmann as being more distanced from the commercially worn icon of Santa Claus.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
These cardboard die-cuts (most of them by Dennison) are the sort that used to hang in classrooms when I was a kid, and this is how I picture Santa: a robust rather than obese character, jolly, hale, ruddy, and just a little intimidating in an energetic, larger-than-life manner. This image is, I expect, very influenced by the famous Coca-Cola ad Santas. I like a Santa with a touch of green, whether it be a sprig of holly or a pair of mittens: it softens the rather severe red and white.