Swedish Santa is a cross between St. Nicholas and the Swedish “farm-tomte,” a gnome, a imagined miniature spirit who used to help out on the farms in the old days.
St. Nicholas was a Turk. At least, that is where a modem map places his native Patara, where he first saw the light of day in 270. Patara at that time was a Greek trading town. Today only ruins remain. After studying in Egypt and Nicholas eventually became ordained priest, then bishop of the city of Myra, just south of his native town which today also remains only as ruins.
During his lifetime, and after his death, Nicholas performed many miracles, such as stilling the waves of the sea to rescue ships in distress. He soon became the patron saint of sailors, invoked by them in time of trouble and recompensed with the donation of a coin to his church in Maya. Italian merchants, realizing what a treasure Myra was sitting on, went there to collect the remains of St. Nicholas. Despite fierce resistance from the citizens of Myra, they managed to carry off most of the relics of the saint, which were then re-buried in Bari, Italy.
Sailors weren’t the only ones who worshipped St. Nicholas. School boys did too, in honor of his resurrection of three small boys who has been brutally murdered. They celebrated his death day on the 6th December. On that day an adult would dress up like St. Nicholas, in Episcopal robes and long beards, and dole out presents to the pupils who had done best. Unsatisfactory students were instead given a taste of the Devil’s broom, which no doubt ensured that they did better next term. Nowadays, Santa Claus leaves good children presents in their stockings. This is a custom that never really caught on in Sweden.
St. Nicholas caught on in the Netherlands, Germany, Britain and the USA, but in Sweden, at first he was conspicuous only by hi absence. Which is not to say that there were no presents. At first they were given out on Christmas Eve by no-one in particular. But then, a half-moon face began knocking on the doors of cottages and handing over various gifts. That was in the 18th century, and later he was superseded by the “jultomte” with his read hood, long beard, and lantern in on hand and sack on his back.
Drawings by Jenny Nyström
There were already signs in the early Middle Ages of people believing in supernatural beings who live on the homestead and had to be kept happy. But the Swedish “farm-tomte” gnome didn’t seem to have all the much to do with Swedish Christmas celebrations. At the same time, it was important not to forget the “farm-tomte” when Christmas was coming, a time when you had to be extra generous to people and animals and give out presents. You mustn’t overdo the presents either, because then the “farm-tomte” might get lazy. You had to keep in good term with “farm-tomte” otherwise he might get the idea to head out elsewhere, taking your good fortune with him. The “farm-tomte” kept an eye on the farm work, made sure that everything was neat and tidy and guaranteed prosperity. Those who have seen the “farm-tomte” said he looked like a gnome. And it was a requirement to leave rice porridge for him on Christmas Eve. If you didn’t you had no idea what would happen to your farm.
No one really knows how the Swedish jultome evolved but he seems, in any case, to be a mixture of the Swedish “farm-tomte” and his colleague St. Nicholas.
To this day I love the “farm-tomte” and have little gnomes in my house on Christmas.
Rice porridge “Risgrynsgröt”
Yields: Serves 4 to 6 | Prep: 50 minutes
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups short-grained rice
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp butter
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
1 cinnamon stick
Boil the water in a heavy bottomed pot, add the rice and salt. Stir once, cover. Turn heat down to lowest setting and simmer 20 minutes without removing cover. When rice is done, pour on half the milk and cinnamon stick. Simmer over a low flame, stirring carefully after about fifteen minutes.
Continue to simmer, gradually adding the rest of the milk and cream stirring every now and then to keep the porridge from sticking.
Mix in the butter and sugar, add salt to taste and add more sugar if required.
After cooking for about 40-50 minutes, the porridge should be a creamy consistency. Add more milk if needed.
Remove from heat.
Pour into serving bowl, sprinkle cinnamon and brown sugar in a cross-hatch pattern on top, serve immediately or refrigerate until serving time.
If you need to reheat the porridge you can add more milk to the porridge and reheat it in a pot.
“Julbord” Christmas smörgåsbord Recipes:
If you enjoyed this post, I’d truly appreciate a Comment, Tweet, Stumble, Facebook share, whatever you like!