When I was asked to write something about one of my favourite Christmas decorations, I was just in the process of finishing a new cross-stitch pattern named “Julbocken”.
As someone who was born in the Netherlands, Scandinavia has always been fascinating to me. It wasn't until much later that I realised just how many of the things I liked as a child were from Scandinavia (the stories of H. C. Andersen, Pippi Longstocking, and Nils Holgersson are just a few that come to mind). Consecutive visits to Iceland, Denmark and Sweden have confirmed my love for the area, and my longing to visit it again.
During my last two visits to Sweden I discovered the wonderful Nordiska museet in Stockholm. I spent hours there wandering through the great hallway and corridors, packed with an inspiring collection from all over Sweden. Anyone with a love for the Nordic countries should definitely visit this museum. I was thrilled to learn that the collection of not only the Nordiska museet, but also of other Scandinavian museums, can be found online at digitaltmuseum.se. This allows me to take my research home, and discover even more amazing items – some of which aren't on display
As I was researching Scandinavian Christmas traditions, I started reading about the Julbock. Although a lot of people might have heard of St. Lucia, I don't think many people outside of Scandinavia will have heard of this rather peculiar tradition. As with most Christian traditions in the west, the roots of the Julbock go way back, before Christianity reached these shores. In the ancient sagas, Thor was said to have rode a chariot pulled by two goats, and it is one theory that this is the origin of Julbocken.
Although at present it is mainly reduced to a Christmas decoration, for hundreds of years the Yule Goat played an important role in Scandinavian Christmas celebrations. People would dress up in a goat costume, carrying a sack of gifts. Slowly the Jultomte and Julnisse took over the job of gift carriers. In some older images the Julbock can be seen pulling a sleigh with gifts, pretty much like Santa's reindeer!
Christmas traditions have always evolved, and currently the Jultomte and Nisse are making way for a more generic Father Christmas. Luckily, the tradition hasn't completely vanished, and the Julbock is still a beloved decoration in Scandinavian homes.
For my pattern, I took inspiration from both the goat, and Swedish redwork embroidery (especially that found in Hälsingland). As we are about to decorate the house for Christmas, the Julbock will look down on us from its place on the wall, where it will keep an eye on the preparations. It will be a wonderful addition to our family's Christmas traditions!
Jacob de Graaf
Jacob trained as an artist in The Netherlands and has always had a keen interest in design and folklore. He started Modern folk Embroidery in 2011 and since it has developed a global audience. He currently lives in York, UK, and divides his time on research, product development and creating work. Website: www.modernfolkembroidery.com
I morgon bloggar Kerstin Kokk, som till vardags bloggar om design, mestadels från 1950- och 60-talen.
Bildtexter: Bilden på halmbocken har vi lånat från Upplandsmuseet, fler fina halmbockar finns att se på www.digitaltmuseum.se. Den nedersta bilden föreställer Julbock med sällskap tagen vid Bollnässtugan, Skansen.