Christmas is a time of traditions and rituals. A tradition particularly embraced in the Nordic countries is storytelling – what better way to kill time when the nights are long and the days are short than to gather around a fire and tell tales? James Orrick looks at how folklore in Denmark, Sweden, and Guernsey has been shaped by different perceptions.
Nordic folklore includes hundreds of different creatures that up until the 1630’s, when Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden instructed the priests of his country to collect the folklore in their area, were told only through the spoken word. This allowed for reinterpretations and elaborations as they passed from teller to teller over the years.
The most abundant character in Nordic folklore are the trolls; large, hairy and stupid creatures who can have as many as nine heads. Though good-natured when left alone they can become angry and dangerous when teased, using their shapeshifting powers to trick humans.
In Guernsey, however, we’re more accustomed to thinking of trolls as hiding under bridges, thanks to the tale of the ‘Three Billy Goat’s Gruff’. To us, their appearance varies dramatically; they never appear with multiple heads or magical powers. According to both cultures though, trolls are said to turn into stone when exposed to sunlight, allowing you a quick getaway no matter where you are in the world.
It isn’t just trolls who you need to be wary of. According to Nordic folklore, there are three kinds of witches, the most dangerous being closest to our perception of the character. She is known to appear as an ordinary woman during the day but by night flies through the air, bewitching people. Though witches in Nordic folklore are known to fly on broomsticks, as we would imagine, they also use other household items to take flight such as cooking forks, stools, and even cupboards.
In Guernsey, many houses have an unusual piece of granite protruding from their walls known as ‘witches seats’. Aimed to appease spell-casting witches than ran wild in the parishes, these seats gave them the opportunity to break from their wicked ways. Perhaps we should extend this remedy to the Nordic folk who might appreciate some respite from their witches!
When it comes to the festive period, one creature from Swedish folklore is regarded with particular affection. The Nisse, also known as the Tomtes or Gonks, are mischievous old men no taller than 90cm with long, white beards and conical, knitted red hats. It is believed every household has a Nisse living in their barn that helps around the house. At Christmas, he will visit the houses of well-behaved children and leave them presents, much like our Father Christmas. His kindness should be acknowledged with a bowl of porridge topped with butter, and if you fail to give the Nisse his porridge, he could become quite troublesome – they have even been known to bite.
This little Nisse character may seem familiar to you because he has been sneaking into our Christmas decorations and gaining popularity over recent years. So if you could do with a hand this festive season, leave the Nisse his porridge – and whatever you do, don’t forget the butter!
At the PEA offices in Sweden, Denmark, and Guernsey we value the benefits of varying perspectives. Much like the diversification between the characters of Nordic folklore with those from the UK, getting different points of view leads to a broader knowledge base and ultimately better problem-solving capabilities. We work collaboratively internally and externally with clients to ensure that we assess situations from all angles to find the best possible solutions.
We’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of our clients seasons greetings for the forthcoming festive period and welcoming in the new year.
James Orrick holds a Masters in Corporate Governance from Bournemouth University, a BSc (Hons) in Accounting and Finance from the University of Essex, is a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators.