Danish Canadian Museum Advent Calendar - December 8th 2020
As most everyone is aware, the original Vikings were pagans. Over time however, what most don’t talk about is Vikings never died they are still very much alive, their descendants are all over the globe. What happened to them? They adopted the Christian faith. They accepted Christianity as their religion of choice, they adapted many aspects of their earlier festivals and celebrations to fit in with their new faith. This was not a new tactic, as early Christians often worked celebrations around earlier pagan festivals, particularly the Roman Saturnalia, a solstice festival which occurred on December 25th.
The Norse themselves also celebrated the solstice around this period with what they called the Yule festival, and many of those traditional practices were adopted and have made their way into our modern Christmas.
The Yule goat’s origin is lost in the mists of time, though it likely dates back at least one thousand years ago, when it was associated with the he-goats Tanngrisnir (Gap-tooth) and Tanngnjostr (tooth-grinder), who pulled Thor’s Chariot and provided food for the god and his friends.
To celebrate this legend, people would dress in goat skins and travel from house to house, performing songs, playing pranks, telling jokes, or such in exchange for food, drink, or gifts.
These traditions have carried over in today's Santa Claus and his sleigh, gift giving and carolling (or wassailing).
Not all Norse Christmas traditions associated with the ‘Yule goat' have survived into the modern festivities, however. One particularly strange custom which has disappeared is what was known as ‘mumming.’ During the mumming period, which lasted from Christmas Eve until the 12th night, young Norse boys would dress in scary masks and costumes, go out at night, and travel the streets terrifying all whom they crossed. Often, the participants would mimic trolls, ghosts and other mythical creatures. One such occasion was described in 16th century, where a young boy dressed as the Yule goat, complete with ghastly facemask with fully functioning jaw, running through the streets and entering homes, demanding food and gifts for his leaving.
In time the role of the holiday gift giving passed to our Nisse, goat riding elves, who delivered gifts to sleeping children like Santa does today. Our Nisse are still very much alive and well in Danish traditions. It seems the rest of the world is adopting a version of them in there “Elf on the Shelf”. But those stories are for another day.
Cured Salmon is a big part of Danish food culture, we have used it in many ways at the museum. Most people do not know just how easy it is to do. This recipe is a favorite, the beet gives it a beautiful color and a sweet earthy taste. It is lovely for brunches or smorrebrod, salads, and of course appetizers. We use roughly 12 different cures of Salmon at the museum including a Akvavit cure. If there is ever any remaining the salmon freezes very well.