Monday, December 21, 2015

Winter Solstice / Nisse / Tomte / Blue Herons

In December, when I was 11 or 12 years old, in the very early 1960s, my family flew from San Francisco back to Minnesota, which is where both of my parents were born and where all my aunts and uncles and cousins on my father's side lived in Minneapolis.  My mother had no living relatives in Minnesota, but we visited with her best friend from childhood who lived in St. Paul and with some elderly people, living near Hastings, who had been friends of her parents.  The elderly people lived on a farm and had an old Victrola in their icy cold attic.

Before Christmas, my father brought my sisters and me to a German department store he remembered from his childhood.  We were each asked to choose a toy.  I was drawn to a little man with a white beard, a tall pointed pale blue hat, and a yellow tunic over a plaid tunic.  He is over 50 years old now.

A few days ago, I moved him from the place he had been on my bedside bookshelf for years to a spot next to a book about trees on the top of the bookshelf.  Coincidentally, soon after that, a book I was reading happened to mention"tomte," and I realized that he could be some kind of "tomte," except that his hat is blue.

Looking through Google images of "nisse" and "tomte," I didn't find any that were like him, but I was delighted to find a photo of a "nisse" with a cat who looks a little bit like my Oboe.

There has been a heavy cloud cover all day today for winter solstice. Snow is not predicted in the lowlands, but from my porch I can see snow at higher elevations.

A few days ago, I noticed two large birds high in the sky, flying north.  Or are they flying south? Although the photo is blurry, I think they are Blue Herons.


The Solitary Walker said...

Oh, I like the look of that book — 'The Wisdom of Trees'.

Sabine said...

We call this little man a Zwerg or Wichtel or Heinzelmännchen. It is very very German.

The Heinzelmännchen are little men who come after dark when you sleeep and they tidy up the mess around you. The Heinzelmännchen von Köln (Cöln) are the most famous ones, but many mothers must have called their kids Heinzelmännchen if/when they actually did tidy up their rooms (mine did).

A Zwerg is a more generic term, could be a garden gnome but also a more sinister character, Rumpelstilzchen/Rumpelstilskin was a very mean Zwerg. The seven dwarfs (long before sleeping beauty was invented by Disney) are distant cousins of the Heinzelmännchen or maybe the same in disguise. In any case, they all can do magic but selectively so and not always for a "good" cause.

Zwerge and Heinzelmännchen are occasionally out to get unruly kids, to bring them in line, teach them a lesson etc. Not entirely trustworthy from a child's point of view.

A Wichtel is slightly more benign or rather, simple minded, basically left to sweep the floor and grin. I think they come from Scandinavia. Wichteln is secret Santa or julklapp in Swedish, every school kid here has done this last week.

Anonymous said...

I find it so moving that you still have a toy from more than 50 years ago. It continues to be such a gift. I love that. And I love Sabine's comment and insight.

Yes, those two birds do look like Blue Herons. I like seeing them high in the sky.

dritanje said...

LOvely pictures especially the 'nisse' and cat (I'm not familiar with the word 'nisse' so that's something I've learned.) Many years ago the small child of a friend of mine got very excited and said that he saw gnomes playing in the living room.

am said...

Robert -- I'm working on a post inspired by The Wisdom of Trees, by Jane Gifford. I think you might like that book.

Sabine -- I was hoping you might know something about the little man. Thank you! To me then and now, he appears kind and wise, with a sense of humor -- a protector.

robin andrea -- I was delighted when I found that photo after seeing your Blue Heron photo!

dritanje -- Thank you for the image of the small child who saw gnomes playing!