The Solstice Lady

Seasonal Lore and History

 A collection of Winter Solstice traditions from around the world. This multi cultural compilation hopes to demonstrate the universality of the celebration of The Return of the Sun. Find myths and stories that were told by our ancestors to explain the loss of the light.  Discover the traditions that have fallen out of custom and the surprising origins of our annual Christmas past times.

Many cultures believe that the veil between the worlds is thin on the longest night.

Beings from other worlds can enter the human realm.

In some places this meant that ancestors would return for a festive meal but sometimes troublesome beings of dark intent are released into the world to worry humanity

 

Greece- Kallikantzaroi

Kallikantzaroi stay underground sawing the world tree, so that it will collapse, along with Earth

Kallikantzaroi stay underground sawing the world tree, so that it will collapse, along with Earth

The Kallikantzaroi (singular-Kallikantzaros) are tiny goblin-like creatures who live beneath the surface of the Earth at the roots of the World Tree. All year, these little creatures saw away at the root of the tree to collapse all of creation. At Winter Solstice, their work is nearly done as the vitality of creation is nearly depleted. But at dawn on the 25th of December, there is a breach that allows them to climb into our world and create mischief. This opportunity distracts the beasties, who are not very smart, from their attack on the World Tree.

The Kallikantzaroi are said to be quite ugly. Some sources report them to be like little black skinned humanoids with long tails but others claim they are many shaped, always with some kind of animal characteristic like hooves or the ears of a donkey. These subterranean dwellers are nearly blind when they reach the surface.

They may be found out of doors at night, where they will jump onto the backs of unsuspecting people to ride them mercilessly until the break of dawn. They are also known to break into people's homes to destroy furniture, making a general mess for their own amusement. It is recommended to keep the fire going in the fireplace all night long to prevent them from using this as a way to enter a home.

Since they are not very smart, they can be distracted by placing a colander on one's porch or doorstep. The little fellas cannot count past two for the number three represents the holy trinity so to speak the number will cause their death. Nonetheless, a kallikantaros will obsessively stay at the colander counting the holes by twos until the light of day. Another preventative was to burn old shoes, using the stench to keep the little demons at bay.

There is a more sinister twist to these creatures in Turkey where the karakoncolos can call out in the cold a snowy night, using the voice of a loved one to lure people from the safety and warmth of their homes. Unless the charmed person can be awakened from this spell, they may be lured to freeze to death in the night.

The kallikantzaroi remain on the surface for the 12 days of Christmas which allows the World Tree time to renew itself before they return to begin their erosion once again.

These creatures are in the mythos of southeastern Europe including Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

Iceland- Jólasveinarnir ( The Yule Lads)

 The Yule Lads are the sons of the fearsome ogress, Grýla and her husband, Leppalúði.

Each Christmas season, Grýla's 13 boys descend from the mountains to stir up trouble. The Lads have been around since the 17thC though they have been tamed down as the years have passed. Originally, these ogres were said to eat children so their tales were told to frighten little humans into proper behaviour.

For a long time there was no real agreement on how many Yule Lads there were but in 1932 a poem called "Jólasveinavísur” was written by Jóhannes úr Kötlum to describe and classify these visitors. His poem has become the definitive work so his list of 13 Yule Lads became the standard.

The Lads arrive one by one and depart the same way after their work is done.

Each night of the Yule Lads reign, children in Iceland place their shoes on the windowsill along with a specific treat, depending on the Yule Lad that is expected. Spoon-licker likes a spoon covered in batter, whereas the Candle-Stealer is looking for tallow to eat. If the child has been good, they will awaken to shoes filled with toys or candy. If the child has been bad, they can expect to find a potato.

 

Kötlum's list introduces the lads thus:

1- Sheep-Cote Clod likes to mingle with the sheep and suckle on the ewes

2- Gully Gawk hides his grey head in ravines until he can sneak into barns to steal foam from the milk buckets

3- Stubby, a very short and stout ogre, steals food from frying pans

4- Spoon-licker, a spindle thin fellow, watches for the cook to leave the kitchen so he can steal a taste from the spoons

5- Pot Scraper steals unwashed pots out of the kitchen so he can scrape them clean at his leisure

6- Bowl Licker grabs up bowls of food left for pets and finishes the food off down to licking the bowl

7- Door Slammer likes to wait until evening when people settle down to nap so he can slam doors

8- Skyr Gobbler is obsessed with getting as much skyr as he can eat. (Skyr is a sort of Icelandic yogurt served cold with milk and sprinkling of sugar on top)

9- Sausage Swiper hangs in the rafters near the fire so he can pilfer sausages as they are being smoked

10- Window Peeper is always on the lookout for something to steal

11-Door Sniffer with his huge nose is searching for Laufabrauð (a flat thin pastry approx 6in/ 15 cm wide- fried in oil)

12- Meat Hook steals any meat left unattended but has a particular taste for smoked lamb

13- Candle Beggar steals precious light giving candles. In ancient times candles were made from tallow so he was likely to eat his ill gotten gains

“Jólasveinarnir” by Jóhannes úr Kötlum

Let me tell the story
of the lads of few charms,
who once upon a time
used to visit our farms.

Thirteen altogether,
these gents in their prime
didn´t want to irk people
all at one time.

They came from the mountains,
as many of you know,
in a long single file
to the farmsteads below.

Creeping up, all stealth,
they unlocked the door.
The kitchen and the pantry
they came looking for.

Grýla was their mother –
she gave them ogre milk –
and the father Leppalúdi;
a loathsome ilk.

They hid where they could, with a cunning look or sneer,
ready with their pranks
when people weren´t near.

They were called the Yuletide lads
– at Yuletide they were due –
and always came one by one,
not ever two by two.

And even when they were seen,
they weren´t loath to roam and play their tricks – disturbing
the peace of the home.

The first of them was Sheep-Cote Clod.

He came stiff as wood,
to pray upon the farmer´s
sheep as far as he could.

He wished to suck the ewes,
but it was no accident
he couldn´t; he had stiff knees –
not to convenient.

The second was Gully Gawk,

gray his head and mien.
He snuck into the cow barn
from his craggy ravine.

Hiding in the stalls,
he would steal the milk,
while the milkmaid gave the cowherd
a meaningful smile.

Stubby was the third called,
a stunted little man,
who watched for every chance
to whisk off a pan.

And scurrying away with it,
he scraped off the bits
that stuck to the bottom
and brims – his favorites.

The fourth was Spoon Licker;
like spindle he was thin.
He felt himself in clover
when the cook wasn´t in.

Then stepping up, he grappled
the stirring spoon with glee,
holding it with both hands
for it was slippery.

Pot Scraper, the fifth one,
was a funny sort of chap.
When kids were given scrapings,
he´d come to the door and tap.

And they would rush to see
if there really was a guest.
Then he hurried to the pot
and had a scrapingfest.

Bowl Licker, the sixth one,

was shockingly ill bred.
From underneath the bedsteads
he stuck his ugly head.

And when the bowls were left
to be licked by dog or cat,
he snatched them for himself –
he was sure good at that!

The seventh was Door Slammer,
a sorry, vulgar chap:
When people in the twilight
would take a little nap,

he was happy as a lark
with the havoc he could wreak,
slamming doors and hearing
the hinges on them sqeak

Skyr Gobbler, the eighth,
was an awful stupid bloke.
He lambasted the skyr tub
till the lid on it broke.

Then he stood there gobbling
– his greed was well known –
until, about to burst,
he would bleat, howl and groan.

The ninth was Sausage Swiper, a shifty pilferer.
He climbed up to the rafters
and raided food from there.

Sitting on a crossbeam
in soot and in smoke,
he fed himself
on sausage fit for gentlefolk.

The tenth was Window Peeper,
a weird little twit,
who stepped up to the window
and stole a peek through it.

And whatever was inside
to which his eye was drawn,
he most likely attempted
to take later on.

Eleventh was Door Sniffer,
a doltish lad and gross.
He never got a cold,
yet had a huge, sensitive nose.

He caught the scent of lace
bread while leagues away still
and ran toward it weightless
as wind over dale and hill

Meat Hook, the twelfth one,
his talent would display
as soon as he arrived
on Saint Thorlak´s Day.

He snagged himself a morsel
of meet of any sort,
although his hook at times
was a tiny bit short.

The thirteenth was Candle Beggar –
´twas cold, I believe,
if he was not the last
of the lot on Christmas Eve.

He trailed after the little ones
who, like happy sprites,
ran about the farm with
their fine tallow lights.

On Christmas night itself
– so a wise man writes –
the lads were all restraint
and just stared at the lights.

Then one by one they trotted off
into the frost and snow.
On Twelfth Night the last
of the lads used to go.

Their footprints in the highlands
are effaced now for long,
the memories have all turned
to image and song

© Hallberg Hallmundsson (English translation/Copyright)

 

Iceland- Jólaköttur (The Christmas Cat)

The Ogress, Grýla, has an enormous black cat which also creeps down into the world from the mountains during the Yule season. The Jólaköttur stalks the land to eat anyone who has not received new clothes for Christmas. (In kinder versions of the myth, the cat eats the food of those who have not received clothing)

 

Barvaria- Krampus

Krampus accompanies St Nick to punish the naughty

Krampus accompanies St Nick to punish the naughty

 Krampus (from the German krampen “claw”) is the companion of kindly, philanthropic St Nicolas. Once St Nick had determined which children were naughty and which were nice, he and Krampus took to the streets to dispense the judgement. St Nicolas rewarded the good with gifts while the naughty were given to the Krampus to punish.

Krampus is a horned, hooved, hairy spectre whose task is to scoop naughty children up in a sack and carry them away. He is is often portrayed carrying a bundle of birch twigs (German- ruten) which he traditionally used to whip the children that had been set for punishment. This sinister visitor sometimes took children to a fiery underworld in a wagon.

In many of the countries where St Nicolas brings gifts on Dec 6, such as Italy and Austria, the night preceding is known as Krampusnacht. Given over to wild revels, parades known as Krampuslauf (Krampus Run) are held, where costumed devils and witches cavort through the streets with torches and an intent to frighten.