Animals have long been a part of festivals in all parts of the world and in almost all religions. Even before the birth of Christianity, Paganism had myths and beliefs related to animals. Some animals were considered holy and some evil. Since, many rituals and customs from paganism merged with Christianity, many pagan characters also became a part of Christmas celebrations. Joulupukki, for instance, belongs to the Scandinavian tradition, and is now called the Yule Goat or Christmas Goat. Joulupukki is essentially a Finnish Christmas character. Christmas is observed in the memory of the day Jesus Christ was born, though there are no facts confirming the birth date of Christ. Many legends, tales, myths and beliefs are often associated with Christmas, because nearly every ritual of Christmas has its basis in these legends. Even the Christmas tree has a story behind it. Nevertheless, all these legends have some common messages to spread. The message of love, peace, sacrifice and the victory of good over evil is what they all articulate. Many ancient figures have become a part of Christianity by symbolizing either good or evil. These come to the forefront during the Christmas celebrations when people talk about such characters and their impact on the festivities.
Joulupukki, in literal sense, is the Yule Buck or Yule Goat of Christmas. The figure belongs to the ancient Scandinavian tradition where Thor, the war-God, used two wild goats to drive his wagon in the sky. The evil spirits in Finland were believed to wear goat skin and horns and go around frightening others, especially children, for gifts. This demonic character was converted into a more benign one, for reasons unknown. In the 19th century, Joulupukki or the Yule Goat was made to be a generous figure. Children would go out singing Yule Goat songs with people dressed as Joulupukki. Later, mostly towards the end of the century, Joulupukki took the place of Jultomte or Santa Claus.
Modern Day Joulupukki
The Joulupukki eventually turned into a Finnish version of the American Santa Claus. He is now the father of Christmas in Finland. He resides in the Korvatunturi Hills of Lapland. There are, however, some differences between the American Santa and Joulupukki. Unlike Santa, Korvatunturi does not deliver gifts secretly; rather he knocks the doors of the houses and asks "Are there any nice children here?" He wears red warm clothes and holds a walking stick. In Lapland, he is pulled by reindeers on a sled, also called "pulkka". In other parts of Finland, he is believed to ride a sleigh. Unlike, the American Santa Claus's reindeers that fly, Joulupukki's reindeers do not fly. He even has a wife known as Joulumuori, also called the Old Lady Christmas.
The Yule Goat In Scandinavian Societies
In some old Scandinavian societies, a Yule Goat is made out of straw and placed in a neighbor's house without their notice. It is a popular prank there. The house in which the Yule Goat is placed has to get rid of it the same way it was placed. Yule goats are also decorative items kept under the Christmas tree. They are widespread as Christmas ornaments today. Large Yule Goat ornaments are set up in many parts of cities and towns during Christmas.
Most of the mythical characters of Christmas have undergone major transformations over the centuries, due to the influence of several traditions. Some of them have even altered their original meanings and have acquired new definitions. Joulupukki is the best example of this. This character underwent a transformation and went from from being a completely monstrous character to a loving, saint-like figure!