The Tomten

by Vicky on December 19, 2010

The Tomten, by Astrid Lindgren and illustrated by Harald Wiberg, was the featured book for this week’s Page Presents class.

I love it.  It’s a quiet, magical tale from Sweden about a tomten (gnome) who watches over a farm and its inhabitants at night.

It is not a Christmas story, but the Tompten’s red hat and white beard—and the wintry setting—make it feel right for the season.

The Tomten’s gentle way of caring for all the creatures of the farm serves as an antidote to the frantic consumerism of the holidays.

Quiet magic.  We could all use more of that in our lives.

On a bitterly cold winter night, everyone is sleeping.  All but one.  The Tomten goes from building to building on his silent little feet, making footprints in the snow.  He visits the cows, the horse, the sheep, and the chickens, and he speaks to them in tomten language, a silent little language that the animals can understand.  He comforts them with the affirmation that:

Winters come and winters go,
Summers come and summers go…

and reassures them that warm weather will soon return.

Then he visits Caro the dog, who looks forward to nightly visits from his friend.  The Tomten sees that Caro is cold, and he brings more straw to tuck him in so he can sleep.

Then the Tomten goes into the house and visits the sleeping parents and children.  He gazes at the children and thinks, “If they would only wake up, I would talk to them in tomten language, a silent little language that children can understand.  But they are always asleep.”  The Tomten is a very old tomten, who has lived at the farm for generations.  But none of the humans has ever seen him.

In my version of the story, the Tomten also opens up a book and visits his friend, Page the Bookworm.  In his silent little language that bookworms can understand, the Tomten tells Page:

Winters come and winters go
But people will always need stories

Finally the Tomten goes back to his warm corner of the hayloft.  The cat is waiting for him, hoping for some milk.  In his silent little language that cats can understand, he says:

Of course you can stay with me, and of course I will give you milk.

And everyone settles into a deep and peaceful sleep in the winter night.  All but one, who is watching to make sure that all is well.

Afterwards, the kids made Tomten masks.  Since they are still rather small people, they made the library seem like quite a magical place!

Mr. Matt translated the Swedish children’s Christmas song, Tomtarnas Julnatt, and then taught us a simpler version.  The little tomtar feast upon the goodies that have been left out for them on Christmas night.  We sang all the verses and tiptoed in a circle, pretending to be tomtar making our rounds on a cold winter night.

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