“The Elves’ Dance on New Year’s Eve” is a tale from Iceland. The story comes from Icelandic Folktales and Legends by Jón Árnason and Jacqueline Simpson.
The story introduce two brothers, one who believes the Hidden People, elves, exist and the other who denies it. The argument continued and eventually the one who didn’t believe in them stated he would leave home and not come back until he knew for sure one way or the other.
Nothing of note occurred until, on New Year’s Eve, he came to a farm where all the people were gloomy. He asked them why they were not celebrating and they explained that nobody would stay and guard the farm while the family went to the midnight church service, as anyone who kept guard on New Year’s Eve disappeared. The traveler told them not to worry, that he would stay. The people gratefully accepted and hurried off to church. They were a little afraid for him, but I get the feeling that they thought better him than one of themselves.
As soon as they leave, the young man hid himself between the panelling and the wall, although the dog stayed out in the room. Not long after, he heard a bunch of men come in, and saw through the crack as they picked up his dog and threw it on the ground, breaking each of its bones. Then the visitors set out a fancy tablecloth and silver dishes and goblets. They had a feast and then a wedding celebration, but all the while they kept a watcher near the door to advise how long until sunrise. As soon as the marriage was over, dancing began, and this merriment went on for a while.
Eventually the watcher was asked how long until sunrise and he replied one more watch, but the human man jumped out from his hiding place and called him a liar, exclaiming that the sky was already light. The Hidden People were so upset they killed their watcher and ran from the house leaving all the belongings behind. The human chased them until they jumped into a nearby lake.
When the family returned from church, the traveler told them the whole story. The people were sure that the other guards had been killed just like the dog and offered the traveler all of the elves’ goods he could carry to take home with him. When he arrived back home, he told his brother the whole story, admitting that the Hidden people do exist.
He gets a happy ending, in addition to all the silverware. He inherits his parents’ farm, gets married and lives a prosperous life. And as for the farm, no one ever disappeared from there on New Year’s Eve again.
“The Elves’ Dance on New Year’s Eve” actually reminds me of another tale I love, “The Cat on the Doverfell,” where the intruders are trolls instead of elves. Both are certainly dangerous, though, and both insist on entering a farm on the eve of a holiday to hold their own feast.
Do you know any other New Year’s fairy tales?
Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.