Joulupukki is a Finnish Christmas figure. The name Joulupukki literally means Yule Goat. The Finnish word "pukki" comes from the Swedish "bock" (equivalent of the English "buck" or "billy-goat") and is an old Scandinavian tradition. Over time, the figure became more or less merged with Santa Claus.
There is a long Finnish tradition of persons dressing in goat costume to solicit or perform for leftover food after Christmas. Historically, such a person was an older man, and the tradition refers to him as a nuuttipukki. The term now also describes the practice, reportedly continuing in some parts of Finland.
Today Joulupukki looks and behaves mostly like his American version, but there are differences. Joulupukki's house and workshop are situated in the mountains of Korvatunturi, whereas the American counterpart resides at the North Pole. Another difference is that instead of sneaking in through the chimney during the late night hours, Joulupukki knocks on the front door during the Christmas Eve celebrations. When he comes in, his first words are traditionally "Onkos täällä kilttejä lapsia?" (Are there (any) well-behaved children here?)
He usually wears warm red clothes, uses a walking stick, and travels in a sleigh pulled by a number of reindeer. Unlike the American version, the reindeer do not fly. In Lapland, pulka rather than a sleigh can be encountered. The popular song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in its Finnish translation, Petteri Punakuono, has led to Rudolph's general acceptance in the mythology as Joulupukki's lead reindeer. Joulupukki has a wife, Joulumuori ("Old Lady Christmas"), but tradition doesn't have much to say about her.
Joulupukki lives in Korvatunturi in Finnish Lapland.
Joulupukki's assistants are called tonttu, or more precisely joulutonttu (from Swedish tomte); they are not elves, but essentially human, often dwarflike in character. They usually wear similar attire to Joulupukki's, and males also have a white beard; but joulutonttu are often smaller in size and may be of any age and either gender. While only a rather large, aged person can convincingly dress as Joulupukki, conveniently everyone can dress as a joulutonttu, with less special attire required.
The location of Joulupukki's workshop comes from a children's radio show called Markus-sedän lastentunti ("Children's hour with Uncle Markus") hosted by Markus Rautio and broadcast by the Finnish Broadcasting Company between years 1927-1956.
Finland's Joulupukki received over 700,000 letters from children all over the world in 2006, according to a news report by the Finnish Broadcasting Company, YLE.
The US-based Coca-Cola Santa Claus was designed by the son of Finnish emigrants, Haddon Sundblom.
Joulupukki is a prominent character in Rare Exports, a movie based on the award winning shorts by Jalmari Helander.
The origins of Joulupukki
One interesting theory about the origins of Joulupukki and his flying reindeer, comes from the aboriginal Saami people of Lapland. In the forests there is a common poisonous mushroom, Amanita muscaria, that is red with white dots. The Saami shamans used to feed this mushroom to the reindeer, whereby the intestinal tract of the reindeer would filter out the poison, but leave the intoxicating substances. The urine of the reindeer would then be collected and used as a hallucinogenic by the shamans. The shamans would often have out-of-the-body experiences and fly in the sky, returning through the chimney hole of their tent or cottage to their bodies. This shamanistic tradition would explain the flying reindeer, the use of chimneys, and even the red-white colouring of Joulupukki.
Joulupukki's dark side
Pagans used to have festivities to ward off evil spirits. In Finland these spirits of darkness wore goat skins and horns. In the beginning this creature didn't give presents but demanded them. The Yule Goat was an ugly creature and frightened children.
It is unclear how this personality was transformed into the benevolent Father Christmas. Nowadays the only remaining feature is the name. The process was probably a continuous amalgamation of many old folk customs and beliefs from varied sources. One can speak of a Christmas pageant tradition consisting of many personages with roles partly Christian, partly pagan: A white-bearded saint, the Devil, demons, house gnomes. Nowadays the Joulupukki of Finland resembles the American Santa Claus.
Popular radio programs from the year 1927 onwards probably had great influence in reformatting the concept with the Santa-like costume, reindeer and Korvatunturi as its dwelling place. Because there really are reindeer in Finland, and Finns live up North, the popular American cult took root in Finland very quickly.