It’s said that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, and I quite agree. But for me it’s not the flashing lights and glittering figurines hanging in Christmas trees, nor is it the smell of cinnamon glühwein or the image of Santa Claus smiling at me while he shouts: ‘ho-ho-ho’ that make Christmas magical.
It’s the fairy tales. Sitting around the fireplace with a fleece blanket and sipping hot cocoa while listening to tales of magic, ice and snow is what makes this time of the year so magical for me. So here are some of my favourite wintry fairy tales.
Morozko is a Russian tale. It was first published by Alexander Afanasyef in a collection that includes 600 fairy tales.
It’s striking how alike Morozko and Frau Holle are. Mother Holle meets two very different girls. One is kind and hardworking, the other lazy and rude. The first one is rewarded with a shower of gold. The rude girl also gets a shower, only it’s not gold, but pitch.
Illustration by Ivan Bilibin
Our Russian fairy tale is about a mother who wants to get rid off her stepdaughter. The poor child is left alone in the cold, snowy fields. The stepmother hopes that she’ll be death by morning. As the girl cries and shivers, Morozko appears. She’s kind to him and he gives her a chest filled with precious items. The next day she reappears at the cottage, even more beautiful than she already was. When the evil stepmother discovers the reason she sends her own daughter to the fields, but the child is rude, and Morozko freezes her to death.
The Elves and the Shoemaker
The contributions which The Brothers Grimm made to the fairy tale world are to remarkable to ignore. Here’s a tale that you can find in Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It’s a tale that might even have been the inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s Dobby.
There once was a very poor, but honest and hard-working shoemaker. One evening he cuts pieces of leather before he goes to sleep with the intention of making a pair of shoes in the morning. But when he wakes up he finds a very well-made pair on the table. Not soon after a customer walks in and the shoemaker sells the shoes for a much higher price than he could have hoped for.
On Christmas Eve, the shoemaker and his wife decide to stay awake. They’re amazed when they see that the elves are the ones who make the shoes. The shoemaker’s wife wants to thank them and makes clothes for them. The couple watch in joy as they see the elves putting them on. Finally someone has given them clothes, finally they are freed.
The shoemaker and his wife never saw the elves again, but they were never poor again either.
The Cat on the Dovrefjell
For our next fairy tale we travel to Norway. ‘The Cat on the Dovrefjell appears first in Norwegian Folktales, a collection by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe.
It tells the story of a man who has a spectacular gift for the king of Denmark: a white bear. After a long day of travelling through the mountain range that is known as the Dovrefjell he asks for shelter in a cottage.
The owner of the cottage advises the man to continue his journey. It’s Christmas eve, and each year on Christmas eve the trolls come down to cause devastation. The weary traveler says that he will stay anyway.
As expected, it doesn’t take the trolls long to pay a visit to the cottage. They eat, drink, laugh and destroy everything. Then one of the trolls spots the bear, and fancies a game of bear-baiting. He tries to lure the bear by calling it ‘Kitty’.
That doesn’t go down well with the creature. ‘Kitty’ drives all of the trolls out of the cottage, and they were never seen again.
The Snow Queen
If there’s one tale that really captures the winter spirit it must be ‘The Snow Queen’ by Hans Christian Andersen. It has a powerful enchantress, princesses and princes, a kind-hearted reindeer, and not to forget crows and trolls. It’s the perfect fairy tale to read while snowflakes drop outside.
The Snow Queen lives in an icy palace, rides a sleigh, and kidnaps a boy called Kai. The queen gives the boy a puzzle. Not an ordinary puzzle. She calls it the ‘Mirror of Reason’ and it exists out of pieces of ice. If Kai can solve the puzzle he’s free, if he can’t…
Well, we all fear for Kai and what would happen if he fails to complete his task.
Of course these are fairy tales, and there are many different version. If you’re familiar with another version, tell me about it in the comments. And if you know of other wintry fairy tales let me know too!
As a lover of myths and legends, my next post will be about folkloric traditions.
Hope you enjoyed this list and have a merry Christmas!