Weird tales of Christmas and the New Year

In the late 1940s, when I was living in a small village in the wilds called Angel, which is located in the middle of an extremely large roadless wilderness region, the Sami lived life their own way, following centuries' old traditions and beliefs. One could say that the Sami of the village kept up two traditions. Firstly, there were the beliefs and customs associated with Christianity, and secondly, there were those connected with the ancient Sami birthright.

Just before Christmas, there would be a week long "shopping trip" by reindeer, either to Inari, some 70 km distant, or to the village of Karasjoki, 80 km away in Norway. On these excursions, gifts and other items would be purchased. Naturally, the travellers also called in on any of their relatives who happened to live along the way. A day or two before Christmas, the village's reindeer herdsmen would descend to the village from the forested fells, where they had been gathering together their herds during the annual round-up. Before Christmas, most of the reindeer would have already been driven into the stockade. A few herdsmen were left to guard the reindeer from predators over Christmas.

The actual Christmas celebration followed the lines of Christian traditions, including the giving of presents. Then, between Christmas and the New Year, the Sami would fall back on traditions which were very different from those conferred on them by Christianity. There would be talk of earth spirits, beings who had been condemned to a life underground. The old people said that large numbers of homes belonging to such spirits were scattered around the village. Often, the old folk knew enough to inform others where the routes used by earth spirits were situated. For your own safety, do not wander along these ways, they cautioned.

Once, an old Sami grandmother told the others of an event that had occurred while she was chopping firewood in the yard in the gathering dusk. Suddenly, she heard a sharp, insistent jingling sound and a strange looking reindeer caravan trotted into the yard. The old lady was flabbergasted. A being less than a metre tall got to its feet from a sledge, asking in a loud, piercing voice, "Why have you stolen our thoroughfare? If you are not gone by tomorrow, watch out for your reindeer!" The grandmother wasted no time in moving out.

Old people also related how, up until New Year's Eve, these subterranean spirits would walk through the village every night, so that it became possible to eavesdrop on what was going to happen in the village during the next year. Once, a couple of villagers who scoffed at this notion decided to watch as earth spirits coming from different directions met at the junction of three roads on New Year's Eve. As the hour approached midnight, the villagers heard an insistent tinkling sound coming rapidly closer. Earth spirits arriving from different directions met at the crossroads precisely at midnight. They began to discuss village affairs in loud voices, occasionally arguing heatedly over the fate of one individual or another. As the earth spirits' bickering became even more furious, one of the two villagers who had arrived at the crossing lost his nerve, shouting "That is not true!", at which the spirits vanished. His companion turned to him, saying, "That is the worst possible thing you could have done! I advise you to leave the village without delay."

There were many other unusual things in those days which I could mention, but they will have to keep until another time.