Before Santa came to Sweden, a goat played the main role in our Christmas celebrations. In St
Nicholas' relevations during the Middle Ages, the devil was pictured as a goat. Later on, the
goat became the leading character in little plays performed by youngsters. In the 18th century a
grown-up, wearing a goat mask, handed out the presents on Christmas Eve. Nowadays the goat only
takes part as popular Christmas decorations made out of straw...
Christmas presents are in Sweden called "julklappar" (Christmas knocks). In the old days,
before both the Christmas goat and Santa, on Christmas night one
would tiptoe up to the door of the receiver, knock hard and throw the present inside. One should
quickly take off in the darkness, trying not to be recognized. Attached to the Christmas knock
there often was an ironic, even malicious, rhyming dedication for the receiver... This tradition
lives on, and many people still write short rhymes (nicer ones though) on the gifts. :o)
As in many other countries, Santa who nowadays hands out the presents, descends from the Saint
Nicholas. In the 1870s, through the influence of German Christmas decorations, he became so well
known in Sweden that he eliminated the Christmas goat from our traditions. Together with
Tomten (gnome), an old figure from our superstitious minds, he formed Jultomten (Christmas
Tomten wasn't particularly associated with Christmas in the beginning. He was a grey little
figure, living in the barn. He made sure that everything was OK around the house, with the people
living there and with the livestock. When Christmas came round, you had to remember to put out a
bowl of rice porridge to keep him in good spirits. If you forgot, or if he didn't like the taste
of it, he might get angry and move elsewhere. That was a terrible thing, since then there would
be no one to protect the family and all kinds of misfortunes could befall on them.
It was when Jenny Nyström, a well-known Swedish artist of the 1880's, made her incredible
popular Tomten-drawings, he became the main symbol of the Swedish Christmas.
The Christmas tree came to Sweden in the 1700's, from Germany. In the beginning it was only used
by the upper-classes, and not until the present century did it become a general custom. Being
typical of Lutheran Christmas celebrations, it encountered no opposition and quickly became a
church decoration as well.
Mangers were regarded as Catholic decorations though, and were for a long time banned from our
Churches. Not until the 1920's, when a well-known clergyman placed a manger in his city parish
church, the ban was broken and today you see the mangers in churches as well as in private
homes, during Advent.