(A Yule Goat is a person dressed up as a goat, who brings Christmas presents to children in Finland. This story is about a year when there was a great famine there.)
On Christmas Eve the pretty little house yonder at the corner of the street was brilliantly lighted. A large Christmas tree stood upon the table, its shining boughs covered with fine stars, sweets, and apples. The children within doors found it impossible to keep still whenever any one knocked or made a noise without. They had not to wait long, however, before the Yule Goat arrived, and asked as usual whether the children had been good? With one voice they all answered, “Yes.”
“Very well,” said the Yule Goat; “but I must tell you that this year I bring only half as many Christmas boxes as usual; still, if you have been good you shall all be boxed.”
“Why have you only half as many this year?” asked the children.
“I will tell you why,” said the Yule Goat. “I come far from the north, and on my road here I have peeped in at the door of so many poor cottages, and seen so many little children who have not even a piece of bread for Christmas Eve this year, that, I have given half my Christmas boxes to them. Was I right in doing so?”
“Yes, yes, that was right, that was kindly done,” cried the children. But Fredrik and Lotta held their tongues, for Fredrik used generally to get twenty Christmas boxes, and Lotta thirty, and it seemed to them very unfair that they should only get half as many this time.
“Was not I right in doing so?” asked the Yule Goat for the second time. Fredrik turned on his heel, and answered sulkily, “What a shabby Christmas this is! I am sure the very goblins have a better one than you have brought us this year.”
Then Lotta began to pout in her turn, and said, “Shan’t I get more than fifteen Christmas boxes? I am sure the goblins will have a far better Christmas tonight.”
“Very well,” said the Yule Goat, “if you think so, I can take you to the goblins at once.” And saying this, he seized Fredrik and Lotta one by each hand, and carried them away in spite of their struggle to gt loose.
On and on they went, quick as lightning through the air. Before the children had time to speak they found themselves in the middle of a large forest, surrounded by snow. It was frightfully cold; the snow whirled round them so fast that they could scarcely see the lofty fir trees which stood in the darkness about them, and close by they heard the wolves howl. Then the Yule Goat left them at once; he had no time to wait, for he had many children still to visit that evening who deserved his coming far more than Fredrik and Lotta.
Both the children began to scream and cry, but the more they shouted the nearer the wolves howled.
“Come, Lotta,” said Fredrik; “we must try to find some cottage in the forest.”
“I think I see a light over there amongst the trees,” said Lotta. “Let us go to it.”
“No, I am sure it isn’t a light,” said Fredrik. “It is only icicles that glitter in the darkness upon the trees.”
“I think I see a great mountain before us,” said Lotta. “Can it be Rastekaïs, the trolls’ mountain, you know, where Sampo Lappelill rode on the wolf of the mountain king?”
“What nonsense you talk!” answered Fredrik. “Rastekaïs is at least 450 miles from our home. But come on, we will go up the mountain, we can see better from there.”
No sooner said than done. They scrambled through huge snowdrifts, and climbed over bushes and fallen trees, and after a time they arrived at the mountain. There was a little door in the mountain, and through this a faint light shone out. Fredrik and Lotta followed this light, and soon discovered to their great amazement that it was Rastekaïs after all, and that now they were actually with the goblins. But it was too late to turn back, and besides that the wolves were so close behind them that they almost peeped in through the door.
Full of fear and amazement, Fredrik and Lotta stopped close within the door, and saw before them a large hall, in which trolls and goblins were keeping Christmas. There were many thousands of them assembled, all very short, hardly two feet in height, dressed in grey, with wrinkled faces, moving quickly about, just as they were described in the story of Sampo Lappelill. They were not afraid of the dark, for instead of candles they had frozen glow-worms and rotten tree-twigs, which shone like phosphorus in the dark. But when they wanted to make a grand illumination they stroked a large black cat on the back till it sparkled, and then many amongst them shrieked, “Stop, stop! It is far too light. No one can stand such a glare.”
It is a peculiarity of all trolls and goblins in the world that they hate light, and feel wretched when anybody happens to see them. For this reason they were holding a feast at Christmastide; having observed that the days were becoming shorter and shorter as the end of the year approached, and the night longer and longer. And they thought, as they think every Christmas – (For one is apt to believe what one wishes to take place) – that at last there would be no more day, only one long night; and this idea made them so wildly happy that they danced in the mountain, and kept a merry Christmas after their own fashion, for they were all heathens, and did not know of any better way of celebrating the festival.
It was easy to see that the trolls did not suffer from the cold. They offered each other lollipops of ice during the cold winter night, and blew upon them to cool them, lest they should be too warm. They also handed round a dainty dish, made of fern and spiders’ legs; and they had a Christmas tree of ice crystals, and a little goblin to act as Yule Goat.
This year the gigantic cruel mountain king was not with the goblins. Ever since he exploded in a snowstorm at Enare parsonage no one knows what has become of him. Many think that he has gone to Spitzbergen to reign in a heathen kingdom, and be as far away from Christian people as possible. He left his realm here in the north to the king of sin and darkness, whose name was Mundus, and who was now sitting in the midst of the hall. By his side sat the troll queen, her name was Caro (which is rather like a dog’s name), and they both had long beards. They gave each other Christmas boxes just as other people do. King Mundus gave Queen Caro a pair of stilts, and when she mounted on them she thought herself the tallest and grandest lady in the whole world. Queen Caro gave King Mundus such an enormous pair of snuffers that he could snuff all the candles in the world with them, and as he snuffed them, he put them out. Many children would like to get a pair of snuffers like those as a Christmas box from the goblins.
King Mundus now rose from this throne and made a very grand speech to the assembled trolls, in which he informed them that light would soon be at an end, and that shadows of darkness would spread forever over the world, which henceforth would be governed by trolls. All the goblins and trolls shouted, “Hurrah! Long live our great King Mundus and his beautiful Queen Caro! Hurrah! Sin and darkness forever! Hip, hip, hurrah!”
The King said, “Where is my chief watchman, whom I sent up to the top of the mountain to see whether any light still remains in the world?”
The watchman came and said, “Sir King, your power is great: all is darkness!”
After a while the King said again, “Where is my watchman?” and the watchman came.
“Sir King,” he said, “far down on the horizon I see a small light, just like a twinkling star, coming out of a black cloud.”
The King said, “Go back to the top of the mountain.”
After a time the King said again, “Where is my watchman?” and the watchman came.
“Sir King,” he said “the sky is black with heavy snowclouds; I no longer see the little star.”
The King said, “Go back to the top of the mountain.”
After a time the King said, “Where is my watchman?” and the watchman came.
But now the King saw that the watchman trembled, and was quite blind.
The King asked, “My faithful watchman, why do you tremble, and how is it you have become blind?”
The watchman answered: “Sir King, the clouds have dispersed, and a star, larger and brighter than any other star, beams on the firmament: the sight of it struck me with blindness, and made me tremble.”
The King said, “What does this betoken? Has not Light perished, and does not Darkness reign forever?”
All the trolls and goblins round about stood dumb and awestruck; at last one amongst them said.
“Sir King, here by the door stand two children of men. Let us ask them, perhaps they know more than we.”
“Bring the children here,” said the King.
In an instant Fredrik and Lotta were dragged before the throne, and it is easy to imagine how frightened they felt.
The Queen noticed their great alarm, and said to one of the female goblins who stood near the throne, “Give those poor children some dragon-blood and some blackbeetle-shells to refresh themselves with, the poor things can’t open their mouths.”
“Eat and drink! Eat and drink! said the female goblin, but the children did not feel inclined to do that.
The King now said to the children, “You are in my power, and if I like I can change you into crows or spiders; but I will give you a riddle instead, and if you can guess its meaning I shall have you safely conducted back to your home. Do you agree to this?”
“Yes,” said the children.
“Very well,” said the King. “Why is it that a light rises in the darkest night of the year, when darkness and trolldom reign over the world, and all light seems to be gone? Far in the east shines a star, beaming with a luster far more beautiful than all other stars, and threatening my power with destruction. Tell me, children, what does that star betoken?”
Lotta said, “It is the star that rises on Christmas night over Bethlehem in Judea, giving light to the whole world.”
The King asked, “Why does it shine thus?”
Fredrik answered, “Because this night our Savior is born, and He is the Light that lightens up the whole world. From this night the light increases and the days become longer.”
The King began to tremble violently on his throne, and asked again,
“What is the name of this Master and King of Light who is born tonight, and who comes to save the world from sin and darkness?”
Both the children answered, “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Hardly had they pronounced these words, when the mountain began to shake and tremble and fall together and a storm-wind, rushing through the large hall, overturned the King’s throne, and the star shone into the darkest dens and clefts. All the trolls and goblins disappeared like shadows and smoke, till there was nothing left but the Christmas tree of ice, which began to glitter and melt; and high above in the air the voices of angels were heard like sounds of harps. The children covered their faces with their hands, not daring to look up, and a sleepiness fell over them as if they were very tired, and they knew nothing more of what happened in the mountain.
When they woke up they were both in their beds, the fire burnt merrily, and the old nurse Kajea, who always used to waken them, stood near the little beds and cried, “Make haste, and get up to go to church!”
Fredrik and Lotta sat up and looked with astonishment at Kajea, wondering if she could possibly be only two foot high and wear a beard, and want to give them dragon-blood and blackbeetle shells. But they soon saw the breakfast table standing ready, covered with Christmas cakes; and on this day all the children had coffee, which they did not get every day. In the streets they heard the clinking of sledge-bells, for people were driving past to church for the early morning service. Lights were burning in every window, but they shone brightest of all in the church windows.
Fredrik and Lotta looked at each other, but they did not dare to tell Kajea that they had been present at the goblins’ Christmas. Perhaps she would not have believed them, but would have laughed, and told them that they had been sleeping in their own beds all through the night. You don’t know, and I don’t know, and in fact nobody exactly knows how it was. But if you know, and if I know, then we will pretend not to know. And if nobody knows, then nobody knows whether you know or I know. And now you know what I know (who knows nothing), and it would be funny to know what you know, and whether you know more than I know.
One thing I know, and that is that sooner or later ungrateful children always come to the goblins. There they get icicle lollipops, dragon-blood, and blackbeetles, instead of the nice presents they despise at home. For the king of sin and darkness lays hold of them before they are aware of it. It is well for them, then, if they can see a clear star rising above the darkness of the world, and can name a Name before which all that is wicked in the world falls down and perishes.
Fredrik and Lotta never forgot the goblins’ Christmas. They not only missed all their Christmas boxes, but they were also ashamed of themselves. Yes, they were so much ashamed that they did not dare to look up in church on Christmas morning. All was bright and beautiful there. The Star of Bethlehem had come down and brought light and radiance into all good children’s glad eyes. Fredrik and Lotta saw this very clearly, but they dared not look up themselves. They resolved that they would become good children, also. Have they kept their resolution? I don’t know, but I hope they have. When you see them you can ask them.