Every season has its folklore but winter might have the most. Maybe that is because winter had such an impact on our ancestors - it was quite often the difference between life and death. It makes sense that stories, tales, legends, and lore would be told around the fires that kept the dark nights at bay. Let's explore some of the legends and stories from around the world.
Think frost, ice, sleet, and freezing winter days and you think of Jack Frost. Unlike some older Winter myths and stories, Jack Frost is comparatively new on the scene - he was first mentioned in print in the 1700s. In 1889, Margaret Canby published a story called The Frost Fairies (from a book titled Birdie and His Fairy Friends) which may or may not have inspired Helen Keller to write her own short story titled The Frost King. (Keller was accused of plagiarism over this piece.) Controversy seems well placed on a character like Jack Frost - he's often shown as a trickster, causing winter havoc and "nipping at your nose." The origins of this puckish winter elf aren't clear - but he may have originated in Norse legends (although there is a counter-position on this claim). Where ever he comes from, you can find him inspiring writers and everyone who has ever scraped ice from their wind-shields.
The Norse goddess of winter, skiing, and hunting, Skadi, first appears in writing in the 13th century. One of my favorite things about Norse mythology is the interaction of the gods and the way they trick each other, hurt each other, and generally make a mess of things. Skadi's father, a giant, is slain by the gods of Asgard (in no small part thanks to Loki's mischief, naturally). Skadi seeks vengeance for this but the gods offer compensation instead. She gets to marry Njord, god of the sea, wind, and fishing, and as a bonus, her father's eyes become stars in the sky. Apparently, this sounds like a good deal to Skadi and she makes the deal. Turns out not to be a good deal after all - Skadi and Njord do not live happily ever after.
Also known as Beira, Queen of Winter, this Gaelic legend has many aspects but one of them includes winter. Often portrayed as a gray hag, she goes by many names and has been mentioned in writing as early as the 8th century. She rules the land from Samhaim (All Hallows Eve) until Beltane (early May).
Japanese Snow Monsters
Snow Yokai are unique to Japan - and there are many versions. Check out information here about seven variations. Let's look at one, the Yuki-onna, the most famous of the Japanese snow legends. She is called the Snow Woman and she appears in early tales of Japan. Often these tales feature a tall, beautiful woman, perhaps with transparent skin and bluish lips, blending into the snow with her white kimono.
There are versions where she is a snow vampire, where she steals children, where she would freeze people to death. The earliest tales show her more as malevolent than as a lost spirit. I'm on the hunt to find modern versions of this fascinating character, which may portray her in a more sympathetic light.
What are your favorite winter legends? Are you a fan of Old Man Winter or Krampus? What about Gryla from Iceland or Mother Holda from Germany? There are wonderful winter legends out there to keep you entertained during the longer nights.