The Sami’s Christmas story
In the northernmost part of Norway, darkness prevails during the long winter months. This lays the imaginary foundations for a plethora of unworldly, unpleasant beings and trolls, including the Sami people’s Stallo. He is a large and dangerous giant who can be found to eat naughty children at Christmas time. Stallo is partly human, troll, devil – and Santa.
He is larger than normal people and dresses differently to the Sami, usually in dark clothes with gold buttons and a rucksack on his back. He is evil and strong, but also stupid and can easily be tricked by humans.
For generations, Sami children have tiptoed around at Christmas time, after their parents have instilled in them the need to be quiet – because the worst thing that Stallo knows is noise!
Nordlys over naturlandskap i Norge
In general, you must ensure that everything is kept neat and tidy at Christmas time.
On the outside of the lavvu, everything had to be tidy for Christmas, so that Stallo’s raid didn’t get stuck. A raid is actually a pack of reindeer, but Stallo’s raid consisted of rats and mice among other things. Furthermore, it was important to not leave any wood chips after chopping the firewood. A bucket of water with a ladle had to be left by the door, so that Stallo could drink when he passed by, to ensure that he moved on.
If there was no water for him, he would cause trouble, and in the worst-case scenario, suck the blood from human heads if he was very thirsty. Legend has it that in one place where Stallo wasn’t left any water at Christmas, the matron of the farm died of thirst the next day.
It was also said that someone who travelled by horse and sleigh to collect firewood at Christmas had got stuck until they promised to never do it again. It was believed that Stallo caused them to get stuck.
Tre menn og junder foran en samisk lavvo fra sent på 1800-tallet
Stallo really wasn’t a nice Santa, but rather a terrifying figure who wreaked havoc with the Sami everyday and at parties.
He was able to take on different shapes for different occasions, he was visible and invisible at the same time, everywhere and nowhere. Nobody had seen him, but everybody had heard of him. From time to time, you could hear the sound of a pipe or a whistle in the wind, and this was Stallo playing. The whistle was so sharp that it could be dangerous to your hearing. To the indigenous people, Stallo was in nature, perhaps even nature itself – the force to which all humans are ultimately subject.
The supernatural has a unique ability to live on in Christmas traditions, but for the stories to survive from generation to generation, they have to be spectacular. They had to upset and touch their audience, preferably slightly more with each generation.
The legend of the herd of reindeer that turned to stone is one such story. As you read through it, think about how it has become exaggerated over the years. You have been warned!
Nordlys over naturlandskap i Norge
The reindeer herd that turned to stone
It was Christmas time, and in the far North of Norway it was cold and dark around the clock. On Finnmarksvidda there was a Sami camp with two traditional Sami lavvus. An old lady and an old man were in one of them. They had a little boy. In the other lavvu, there was a whole group of young children and a lone servant girl looking after them.
Their parents had travelled to Kautokeino, three miles away, to participate in church services at the Christmas weekend.
When Christmas weekend came, the children did what they would usually do when they had time off – they played outside and ran about with bells. The old couple’s little boy also wanted to go out and play, but the old lady would not let him out. Instead she let him read a book and would not let him out of her sight, holding her birch rod ready.
The children of the other lavvu eventually turned completely wild. They played among the reindeer and even pretended to be reindeer themselves.
En samisk gutt kjører slede med reinsdyr.
All of a sudden, there was no more noise from the children. The maid came out of the lavvu to look for the children. She saw that the moon had sunk down onto the woodchopping block and turned into Stallo. She saw that Stallo had killed the children. Terrified, the girl ran to the old woman in the other lavvu, who advised her to take the best riding reindeer to Kautokeino to fetch the parents. The old lady also said that she should wear her travelling cape loosely on her head, and that on her journey she should ride underneath a bent tree.
The girl went to the entrance of her lavvu, where she could see Stallo preparing the bunch of children as a Christmas meal for himself. She could see that the youngest child was still alive.
Stallo turned to the girl and said, “What do you want?”
The girl asked kindly for a lantern, and Stallo went to fetch her one. The girl then quickly pulled the youngest child out under the edge of the lavvu cloth, and did the same with her travelling cape and hat. She grabbed the reins of the fastest reindeer and put on her skis. When they passed under a crooked tree, Stallo was sitting in the tree trying to grab her travelling cape.
The girl sped on, and Stallo was left sitting there with only her travelling cape in his hand. As the girl was approaching Kautokeino, the reindeer became so exhausted from the journey that it burst into pieces in the middle of the Kautokeino River.
She therefore had to continue the rest of the way to Kautokeino on foot.
Nordlys over naturlandskap i Norge
When she arrived at the church, she told the parents what had happened to the children. They didn’t believe her, but nonetheless agreed to come home.
When the man arrived at the opening of the lavvu, he saw that Stallo was sitting in the tent eating the children, one by one.
The beast looked up, saw the man, grabbed him by the beard and tore it off. The matron came forward to see what was happening, but Stallo grabbed her too. He grabbed one of her breasts and tore it right off, and then Stallo ate the parents as well.
The old lady and her husband with the little boy got away, but all the reindeer in the camp were turned to stone.
If you think that the story seems unbelievable, you can see it with your own eyes; to this day, on the mountain of Durkkihanvarri, there are two large stones that look like Sami lavvus, and a smaller collection of stones that resemble reindeer lying on the ground resting with their heads back.
There are both white and black stones, resembling reindeer. And in the middle of the Kautokeino River lies the last stone from the travelling deer. These are the petrified remains of the family and the reindeer in the Christmas legend of Stallo.
The stones lie there in memory of Stallo’s anger and as a reminder to everyone in the area to stick together at Christmas and especially to be quiet when the wind starts to whistle outside.
Trær og busker med rim på vidda i Finnmark.
- Magisk Jul – Julens myter og overtro (2020)
Orage Forlag AS
Scannet av Friman 2006 (Offentlig eiendom)
John Bauer (Offentlig eiendom)