Old Sami Christmas Traditions You Didn't Know About

After guest blogger Ben has talked about Norwegian Christmas traditions last week, I thought I'd ask my boyfriend Simon to tell you more about Sami Christmas traditions. Turns out, though, most Sami in Norway nowadays celebrate Christmas the Norwegian way - however, there are some old traditions that are worth learning more about!

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Sami celebrate Christmas the same way as many Norwegians do: with Christmas trees, decorations, Santa Claus, going to church and eating traditional Christmas food. Although, they might swap the ribbe (pork rib) or pinnekjøtt (stick meat) with reindeer meat.

I myself have celebrated Christmas in the same way as everyone else in Norway. We have a Christmas tree and we eat good food. On the morning of Christmas Eve (Dec 24th), we eat rice pudding with a hidden almond. The one who finds the almond wins a marzipan pig, as marzipan is quite an essential item of any holiday in Norway.

sami christmas traditions norway superstitions

After breakfast we relax and just watch Christmas cartoons. We open presents after dinner. After we have opened all the presents, we continue relaxing for the rest of the evening, and watch TV. On Boxing Day, you stay at home - because traditionally, it is a day where you don’t even visit the neighbours - but we sometimes go and visit some of our family members.

In the days before TV and mobile phones however, Christmas in the Sami community looked quite differently. Back then, the evening before Christmas was known as ruohtta – which translates to "the night", and it was the most dangerous evening in the calendar of the Sami. Kids were being told that if they make too much noise they will encounter ghosts, or, if they are out and about, they can be taken by Stallo, also known as Juovlagállát, (a human-looking troll and the Sami version of an evil Santa).

 Old depiction of Stallo

Old depiction of Stallo

Traditionally, Sami parents raised their kids in a more liberal manner than what is the norm today. Kids were free to roam out in the wilderness but they were told ghost stories to scare them off going to certain areas that might be dangerous, a lake for instance.

This is also the reason why many kids in Norway were afraid of the Northern Lights back then, as parents told them that the lights were coming to get them. In reality, they, of course, just wanted their kids to come home after dark. 

sami christmas traditions norway superstitions

Ruohtta, the night before Christmas, traditionally was a day the Sami used to get everything ready for Christmas: they slaughtered reindeer to have enough meat, they chopped up all the wood they needed for heating and cooking and stacked it in a nice big pile, and they also cleaned up the area around their home so that the sled of Stallo wouldn’t get caught. 

They also stack a pole in the ground behind the firewood, so that Stallo could tie his sled and then enter the turf hut. They would put out a cup of water so that Stallo could quench his thirst and not drink the blood of the people living inside the house.

sami christmas traditions norway superstitions

You see, when I said "the evil version of a bad Santa", I really meant it!

The Sami would play nice with Stallo by giving him a place to tie his sled and giving him water, whereas in reality, they hoped that he wouldn't kill them. Makes sense, doesn't it?!

With Norwegianization and the efforts of the Norwegian state to assimilate Sami into Norwegian culture in the late 19th and early 20th century, many of these old superstitions got lost, of course.

However, you can read more about Sami folk tales and superstitions on, for example, the online exhibition Luondu or the exhibition Saivu, both created by Varanger Sami Museum.  

Are there any Christmas superstitions in your culture?

Leave a comment below!

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About the author:

Simon comes from a reindeer-herding family in Northern Norway and is a historian, teacher-to-be, and the other half of Snow in Tromso. He has loads of stories about Sami culture to tell, so feel free to leave a comment and ask away!

 

 

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