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Hail The Christmas Goat
Submitted by Pam on Fri, 12/14/2012 - 08:00
I love my Christmas Goat! In fact - he and my Dala stand near my little seasonal tree all year. I can not bear to put him away. I waited too long for him to be a part of my Christmas!
I have always been curious about the tradition and origins of the Christmas goat and so I turned to my friend Margit as we share a passion for archeology and ancient cultures and traditions. (You may know her better for the beautiful templates for baskets and ornaments she designs for us to download, print out and cut! I have linked to a few of my personal favorites at the end of the story.
One thing I especially appreciate is that Margit has shared tidbits that are not widely known - so read on and enjoy!
Here is Margit's story!
ABOUT GOATS AND CHRISTMAS
Thor's (an ancient Norse God) wagon was pulled by two male goats, their names were Tanngrisner and Tanngnjost (the names mean something about grinding teeth). It is interesting to know that it was believed that they could be slaughtered and eaten and when the bones were thrown into the hides they came alive again.
On the roof of Valhalla (the home of the Norse gods) lived a goat named Heidrun, and from its udder, ran streams of mead. (The roof of Valhalla must have been covered with grass, like old Norse farms).
Goats must have been symbols of fertility, being eaten every evening and delivering eternal streams of mead. Maybe it is the goats ability to live from almost nothing, dry branches and bushes and change that into milk, meat and skin.
The Word for Christmas: Jul (in Norse Joul) is from before Christianity. Often it was mentioned in plural: Joular = Christmas parties, and it was a serious time to drink - over several days and nights.
Here is, I think, the oldest description of Norse Christmas. The vikings traded on the Russian rivers, and some even ventured to Constantinople where they became guards for the emperor. An emperor: Constantine Porphyrogennetos (Emperor 912-959 e.Kr.) in 950 wrote ”De Ceremoniis aulae Byzantinae” about the Byzantinian court. He wrote about the guard ”vähringer” celebrating the Christmas. "They gathered, and three were dressed in animal hides, with the side with hair outside, maybe wearing masks. They all drummed on their shields, and then they walked or danced in two concentric circles, yelling joul joul."
This in a way resembles later times where we dance around the Christmas tree, and the Swedish tradition of singing a song: ”Christmas is Here Again” (nu er det jul igen), holding each other's hands in a long row dancing through all the rooms.
Maybe it is the first description of the Christmas bock (goat) or "julebuk" too. Old descriptions of the ”julebuk” tell that someone dressed up as julebuk, with a stick between his teeth and a candle on each end of the stick and made a comical mockery - possibly a kind of old fertility ritual.
Then there is the "gryle" tradition which began on the Faroe Islands.
There is some connection with the julebock and the gryle as in both cases the merrymakers dress up with masks and wander from house to house intent upon getting something to eat and drink. Unfortunately they could be very scary and often times would intimidate the women and children.
The use of leather masks is mentioned in several places and they have even been found during evacuation of Hedeby, an ancient and very well preserved archeological site, considered the greatest trade center in Denmark at the time of the Vikings. The Vikings left at about the time the town became Christian and a church was built outside of the village.
Likenesses of the old leather masks are believed to appear on stones with "rhumes" on them. Usually these "rhumes" tell about a person who has passed on; however, some scholars believe that some stones found are actually decorated with a carving of a three dimensional leather mask portraying a goat and thus proving the goat mask to be quite ancient in origin.
Today the Christmas Goat is quite a benign creature and appears only as popular ornaments for hanging on the tree or placing under the tree. They are beautiful creations of straw tied with red ribbon or string. Sometimes very large goats are constructed in village squares and unfortunately, in some cases, illegally set ablaze prior to Christmas.
So! Now you know a little more about the Christmas goats!
And here are links to a few of my favorite "Margit" Christmas creations!
And now I wish you a Happy Scandinavian Christmas Season and wish for each and every one of you a Christmas Goat!
And don't forget to visit "Scandinavian Christmas" over on The Pickled Herring every day from now til Christmas!