Tuesday, 22 December 2015

A Scary Christmas Legend: Nuuttipukki from the North

Happy Holidays!

Since it is the season of Merry, I wish to share with you an old  and perhaps a bit sinister folklore story related to Christmas. Most of you are probably aware of the legend of Krampus, since an American horror/comedy movie came out this year with that same name. Really shortly said, Krampus is a mythological creature from the Alps, who is a sort of an Anti-Santa Claus. While Santa rewards nice people, Krampus punishes the bad ones. This post is about a whole other entity from the Nordic countries. This tradition spread from Sweden to Finland centuries ago, probably in the Middle Ages.

The spooky creature I am going to write about is called Nuuttipukki (it is translated as the New Year Buck in some sources), who is a horned, goat-like humanoid with an entourage of masked folk and he visits houses during the Saint Knut's Day. It used to be on January 7 but nowadays Saint Knut's Day is celebrated a week later. The tradition of Nuuttipukki still remained on the first week of the new year, though.

Nuuttipukki and his friends roam around the village and go from house to house insisting to have leftover foods and alcohol beverages after Christmas. It is bad luck not to yield to his requests, otherwise he might scare your animals, trash your garden and harass your servants (and he might still do that after food and drink, you never know with Nuuttipukki).

I wish to stress that this was not something that happened on the level of stories but in the reality too and it was not the master of the house who organized it. It was usually young men from another village who dressed as Nuuttipukki and his fellows and they might be quite drunk and mischievous. You could not be completely certain that food and booze would keep them happy.

This tradition was alive and kicking in Finland until the Second World War. Here is a photo from 1926. I believe the broom in this photo is part of the costume, to make this person more goat-like, so it is not a witch thing.
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The blackmailing (that resembles trick or treating) was not the only reason for people to let this creature and his companions to the house. The other reason people were willing to let these rascals in was that Nuuttipukki was supposed to scare off the spirits of the dead before they became evil possessing spirits. It was believed that Christmas and its celebrations lured the spirits of dead relatives back to this world. This is the oldest reason for this carnivalistic celebration: the masks were to hide who was the one scaring the dead away so that the dead could not have their revenge on this person or persons.

Here is a photo of a mask of Nuuttipukki from the 19th century Finland. It is made out of sheepskin. This mask is from the collection of the National Museum of Finland and the photo was taken by Markku Haverinen.
Source
Interestingly, Nuuttipukki is an older character than Santa Claus in Finland and the character of Santa resembled Nuuttipukki until the 1940's. Imagine Santa with a face like that! Even more, in Finnish language Santa is called "Joulupukki", so it is a very similar word with "Nuuttipukki".

As mentioned previously, it was believed that the dead Finns like the Christmas and in today's Finland it is still customary to commemorate the deceased relatives on Christmas. We take candles on the graves and on Christmas Eve the graveyards are astonishingly beautiful seas of candlelight. We also bring candles on the graveyards on All Saint's Day (about the same time as Halloween) to commemorate the dead and on 6th of December, which is our Independence Day, to commemorate the dead and especially those who died in the wars in which Finland fought to keep its independence. As you can see, the Finns are very respectable towards the dead.
Source
Thanks for reading, I hope you found this interesting and entertaining!

14 comments:

  1. I love learning about these European folk traditions. Especially since the folk costumes look so cool :) It seems fun too, like an adult version of trick-or-treat. I know I'd rather have food and alcohol over candy.

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    1. Me too! :D Though in the old days when people made their alcohol beverages themselves, the ones brewed for Christmas could be quite stale on January 7. >_>

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  2. I loved it! It is fascinating to read about old folklore, i love sinister holiday characters especially. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. This is such a cool tradition. I want to move to Europe!

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    1. Haha! :D Yes, this is definitely something many goths like, weird costumes, the dead, and partying!

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  4. That was interesting and lovely in equal amounts It is a bit like First Footing in Scotland at New Year. I love the tradition of taking candles to cemeteries.

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    1. Thank you! I think most cultures have some sort of an ending tradition of the celebrations of Yule/Christmas/the shortest day of the year, and it is usually around the January 6 or 7.

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  5. Thanks for sharing these traditions! Very interesting!

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    1. Thanks! ^^ I thought Nuuttipukki might not be common knowledge so I wanted to write about it.

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  6. Hahaha, I love that they trash the houses for the booze, that's why the Finns are so badass!
    And yeah I heard the veil between worlds is thinner around Xmas, that's why many people leave during the holidays, including my mother, she died in January 2013 :(

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  7. I wish creatures like him would be more famous these days, instead of the common santa

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