What is the main symbol of Christmas or New Year? Easy answer – Santa Claus. We will introduce you different Barents Santas and try to find out why Santa resides in Rovaniemi.
Each Barents country has its own variation of Santa: Russian children get their New Year gifts from Ded Moroz, Swedish children have Jultomten, Julenissen welcomes Norwegian children, Finns have their Joulupukki, who lives in Lapland and who is, perhaps, the most famous Santa in the world.
The image of Russian Ded Moroz (“Father Frost”) was created a while ago. Originally, East Slavs personified many nature phenomena. The frost was represented by a small old man, who ran through the woods and knocked trees, causing winter bitter cold. Later, folk tales about Ded Moroz were created. At the end of 19th century, there were attempts to create a hero who brings the gifts. However, the idea was not popular because of the Russian Orthodox Church, which did not recognize this pagan hero and which had a big influence on the society. Later, the Soviet authorities accepted the idea in order to create own “Santa Claus” – to oppose Russian Ded Moroz to Western Santa. Thus, tall strong old man, wearing a red or blue costume, bringing New Year gifts and riding a sledge with horses, appeared. Usually, he comes on the New Year’s Eve (31 December) and leaves the gifts under the Christmas tree. Ded Moroz has the granddaughter Snegurochka who helps him. As the legend says, Snegurochka is the daughter of Matushka Zima (Mother Winter), who is Ded Moroz’s daughter. Every hero has its own residency: Ded Moroz lives in Veliky Ustyug, Snegurochka lives in Kostroma and Mother Winter lives in Yarensk (Arkhangelsk region).
Scandinavian Santas came from a pagan tradition of a Christmas goat. A goat was regarded as one of the main gods in these countries. Historically, Christmas goat punished naughty children. In the 19th century, a Christmas goat started to bring gifts to good children and continued to frighten naughty ones. In early times, young people, dressed as goats, went from farm to farm and from house to house, played games, sang songs and got food and drinks as an award. Later, the Christmas goat has transformed into a modern Father Christmas.
Swedish Jultomten (or simply Tomten) came from the same tradition. Nowadays Tomten looks like a gnome: a small old man wearing a red cap, knee-length pants, knee socks and wooden shoes. Jultomten delivers gifts with the help of a goat (Julbock) in the evening of December 24, knocks on the door, leaves the gifts and disappears.
Julenissen (or Nissen), a Norwegian Father Christmas, has a similar origin as other Scandinavian countries. Nowadays, he is also personalized as a small old man, wearing a red cap, knee-length pants and knee socks. Nissen has the wife Nissemor, who helps him to make gifts.
The name of Finnish Joulupukki is translated as a Christmas goat, which also came from a pagan tradition. Nowadays Joulupukki looks like usual Santa Claus in a red coat and a cap with a white beard. Joulupukki has the wife Muori (personification of winter) and helpers – gnomes – who assort Christmas mail and help preparing and packing gifts. Joulupukki delivers gifts to children riding a sledge with reindeers.
Photo: ©RIA Novosti, Pavel Lisitsyn
Why does Santa come from Rovaniemi?
One of the main questions people usually ask is Why does Santa reside in Rovaniemi? The answer is not simple. It is believed among Finns that historically Santa lives in Korvatunturi (“Ear mountain”) on the North-West of Finland near the Russian border, where reindeer herding was popular. Santa lives there the whole year with his wife and helpers – gnomes. Every December, Santa comes down from the mountain to his office in Rovaniemi, where he gets requests for the gifts and monitors their producing. The idea of creating the office of Joulupukki in Rovaniemi originates from 1959, from the Chamber Counselor Niilo Tarvajärvi, who is regarded as the father of the Joulumaa idea. Since then, Santa’s residency is located in Lapland (Rovaniemi).
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