I usually do advent posts each day using a photograph I’ve taken. The latter part of this year seems to have been a bit fuller than normal and I wasn’t really sure if I could manage it this year.
Instead I’ve decided to tie it in with the Spinner’s Advent Calendar some of my customers are taking part in. The theme for this year is “Fabulous Beasts” which came about because of a jokey conversation last year about spinning unicorn fibre (this is a standard spinner’s joke – unicorn fluff usually being a term to describe the ultimate in fluffy, soft luxury fibre). I thought it would be fun to imagine the fibres of lots of different beasts because spinners were having so much fun suggesting other mythical fibres.
I don’t know a huge amount about mythology or legends so I had to look up quite a few of the creatures we’re looking at over December. Some are completely new to me. I had worried there might not be enough to fill 24 days – it quickly became obvious that trimming them down was more of a problem! There have been a lot of imaginative people over the course of human history…
I include a small label in each packet describing the fibre or the “beast”. In some cases there was a lot of extra info I turned up in my research which I just had to leave out. So I might add some of these snippets into the posts. I’m also a little bit stuck for images; trying to find non-copyright images for creatures that don’t exist is – unsurprisingly – quite tricky!
So we’ll see how we go – I don’t promise to post every day this year but I’ll see what I can manage.
One of my customers and lovely member of my Ravelry group, Ellaria (she of the sparkly dinosaurs in my previous blog post!) has very kindly offered to record the labels each day and put them up on Soundcloud. Not all of my customers have English as a first language and so Ellaria offered to do this to make life a little easier and also for those who have visual impairment. I’m really grateful to her for this kindness – it’s no small undertaking to commit to something which is effectively a mini-podcast. You can listen to them here (look for BBS 2017 and the day) I will try to link them in each post I write though it appears I’m not able to embed them in this format I use, I’m sorry. The direct link to Day 1 is here.
So, today we have Nisse.
The Nisse – or Tomte in Sweden – is a creature from Nordic folklore. They are small farm-based brownie-like folk with long beards. They are associated with winter – the solstice or the Christmas season – and can help with chores. I had planned to put Nisse at the end of the calendar, but then I thought you might need a helpful hand for the whole month!
Nisser are Norwegian or Danish, the Tomten is Swedish but both have a similar tradition. They are said to be mischievous but helpful about the home or farm. Tomte is derived from the word tomt or homestead, nisse is derived from the name Nils, the Scandinavian variant of the name Nicholas.
I feel something of an identity with Nisse/tomte. They have responsibility for the farm animals and will work hard – but they don’t like interference and don’t like it when they are not appreciated. They like a clean, orderly home and enjoy a bowl of julegrøt on Christmas Eve in return for their hard work – festive porridge with butter.
If you do not respect your resident nisse or tomte – then beware! He might take revenge for your lack of appreciation or simply leave you in a muddle never to return. So be nice to your tomte and always give him butter in his porridge…
Nisser/tomtar are popular in Scandinavian lore and literature, both ancient tales and more modern writings.
The ancient pre-christian beliefs were that the nisser or tomten was the soul of the farm; the pioneer who cleared the lot and established it and resided in ancient burial mounds. As someone who understands how it feels to be tied to a particular piece of land and more recently spending time looking at ancient pre-historic land bases and cultures here in Wales, this idea does resonate with me. I can understand how a pagan Danish, Swedish or Norwegian farmer who was hefted to his land might feel it had a soul of its own that had to be placated to keep the animals healthy and the elements tamed.
Similar creatures exist in other European cultures such as the hob, brownie and pixie. I think the charming grey and red tomten with its winter association is particularly homely though. I made some small tomte a few years ago out of wooden forms and felt for decorations. I’ve found this online tutorial for those who might like to have a go at needle-felting some lovely Nisse or Tomte for their Christmas decorations (link here)