Saturday, December 24, 2011

All I Want for Christmas is a Goat

It is interesting to me that these days the main actors in Christmas traditions are human or at least as human-like as angels and elves can be. Perhaps this anthromorphing has something to with the Age of Reason,  the Industrial Age, or man's supposed mastery over  the planet. Who knows? In contrast, old Scandinavian traditions designated a goat as the driving force of Christmas. This animal, the Julebukk, was the mythic descendent of Thor's companion. In rowdy Viking ceremonies, the divine and fearsome goat was portrayed by a man who would customarily die and be born again.

The early Nordic Christians raised the stakes and viewed the goat as a sort of welcome devil who would appear in times of wild celebration. The Church was not pleased, thank you very much, and forbade the Christmas Goat which, when not acting out, had turned to supervising Christmas preparations and giving gifts.  Eventually the active role of the Julebukk faded, to be replaced by the Julenissen, the Christmas Troll.

You had to watch out for the Julenissen as well. If  you did not provide it with a Christmas Eve bowl of rømmegrøt, a porridge made of sour cream, whole milk, wheat flour, butter and salt, it would retaliate by killing all your cattle. Norwegians take things very seriously.

When I spent a Christmas in Norway, we set a straw Julebukk next to the chimney to guard the rømmegrøt, and -- sure enough -- everything turned out fine. So tonight, as Christmas Evening comes to us, I wish you friendly visitations and much joy.

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