By Kristen Miller
COKATO, MN Preparations are underway for the second annual Scandinavian Christmas Bazaar and Bakery Friday and Saturday, Dec. 6-7 at Laestadian Lutheran Church in rural Cokato.
Just like the elves in Santa’s workshop, church members are busy with their own jobs, whether it be baking pulla (Finnish sweet bread) or lefse (Norwegian flatbread) or crafting their own unique gift ideas to offer for sale.
For Soili Lundekvam and Barbara Wikman, both of Cokato, they are busy as elves making tonttu (pronounced “donddu”), elf-like creatures common in Scandinavia folklore. In Norway, they are nisse; and in Sweden, they are called tomte.
Tontut (plural of tonttu) are more accurately house spirits that folk tales describe as small in stature and with a full beard. They are said to be protectors of the household and, pre-Christianity, were considered to be spirits of the original owners of the homestead, according to information on Squidoo.
It was noted that helpers of Santa Claus, or Joulupukki, are referred to as joulutonttu.
As a native of Finland herself, Lundekvam is no stranger to tontut or crafting.
“I have to learn something new all the time,” Lundekvam said.
When her friend Lavona Keskey, a local artist known for her paintings and Finnish statuettes, created the logo for the event a tonttu Lundekvam asked Keskey to teach her how to make her own out of felt.
“I just want to learn something new, try it, and see where it goes,” Lundekvam commented, adding that the elves are so cute and unique. This year, Keskey taught her how to sculpt the faces and boots for additional character.
To make them, Lundekvam creates the faces out of oven-baked clay, which typically is a two-day process. She makes the boots the same way, as well.
Then, she makes the hat, suit, and beard out of wool roving, which she needle-felts.
Once she paints the face, she felts the pieces together. No glue is used since the fibers adhere to each other, Lundekvam noted. This is also how she controls the texture. For example, the beard is finer than the hat and coat.
To add a little more character, some of her elves also have trees or birds accompanying them.
Now, Lundekvam is teaching Wikman how to make her version of tonttu, though without the clay faces and boots.
Wikman started crafting nine years ago to help out with the church’s craft sale, which typically took place at the Cokato City Hall until the new church was built.
Now, since last year, Wikman has been making birch wood elves.
“Compared to [Soili’s], mine is just a log,” Wikman said modestly.
It was during a year abroad in Finland, where she attended a Christian folk school, that she realized just how common tontut were around Christmastime.
“The school children made them all the time,” she said.
What attracted her to making the birch wood elves was also the simplicity of their design and the low-cost materials needed.
Wikman’s dad, Gerald Kumpula of Cokato, is a woodworker making harps and kanteles. He finds the birch wood and cuts it diagonally into different heights using either a chop saw or chainsaw, depending on the width of the wood.
Barbara then sands down the wood for the painted face, which includes a red hat and white beard.
The tonttu can be used for outdoor or indoor decor, though Wikman notes that over time, they will crack and the paint will fade “but then you can use it as firewood,” she joked.
This is also something she can do with her kids.
“There’s not much cost involved, or time,” Wikman noted, but “[they are] a sentimental part of Scandinavian tradition.”
More about the bazaar
Last year was the first year of the Scandinavian Christmas Bazaar and Bakery, Wikman noted, who also serves on the planning committee.
She, along with Angela Meredith, chair of the event, noted they were pleased and surprised that so many people braved the icy roads last year to come out to the event, which includes a Scandinavian dinner, sleigh rides, cemetery lighting, music, bakery, craft sale, and other activities.
The dinner Friday evening served more than 500 people last year.
It was also noted that it couldn’t have been more perfect last year, with hundreds of candles, the lightly falling snow and the sound of sleigh bells on the horses during the lighting at the Finnish cemetery.
Because of the ambiance of the whole Friday evening, this year the committee has titled Friday “Scandinavian Tranquility” to portray the magical evening.
Also this year, another set of horses has been added to accommodate those interested in the sleigh rides.
There is also a family day added to the event, which will be Saturday, geared more to the children, with an outdoor sausage roast and activities.
Friday’s events are from 4 to 9 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The church is located at 16144 20th Street SW, Cokato.