17 December 2010

Friday night folklore: The Elves’ Christmas Dance

In the olden days it was a tradition to hold a mass on Christmas Night, which was attended by everyone who possibly could, but there was always someone who had to stay behind to guard the farm. This task usually fell to the shepherds, since they needed to look after the sheep as usual, whether it was a holiday or not. They had rarely finished their day’s work when it was time to depart for the church, and so they stayed behind. 
As the story goes, there was a farm where this tradition was upheld. But the difference was that one Christmas morning when the people returned from the church, the shepherd had disappeared and was never found.

The farmer hired another shepherd, but next Christmas Night he also disappeared, and so did his successor. The story got around and no-one was willing to go there to do the shepherding. It was not until after the first day of summer that a man came to the farmer and asked if he still needed a shepherd. He had good recommendations and the farmer hired him on the spot, but warned him that his three predecessors had disappeared without a trace on Christmas Night. The newcomer only said he would handle that problem when he came to it. 

The shepherd took up his occupation. He was a hard worker and good at his job and everyone liked him. When Christmas rolled around everyone went to church as usual and the shepherd stayed behind to finish his day's work and guard the farm alone.

When the people were gone, he pulled up some floorboards in the common room and made a hole in the dirt under the floor. When it was deep enough for him to lie in he crawled into it and pulled the floorboards back on top of himself, only keeping open a small hole so he could see everything that went on inside the house. 

He had not been there long when two boys came in, both of them wearing fine clothes. They looked all around the house but found no-one home and went out again. They returned shortly, carrying between themselves a chair in which sat a man, very old and grizzled. They set down the chair at the far end of the room.

After that other people began to arrive. Everyone was dressed in fancy finery and they looked like gentlemen and ladies. The tables were set and food was served on fine silver plates and eaten with fine silver cutlery. The old man sat at the head of the table and presided over the feast. After the feast was over the tables were moved aside and the people sat down to drink or stood up to dance as each desired, and this went on far into the night.

One young man was especially finely dressed in a red robe. The shepherd thought he was the old man’s son as he seemed to enjoy almost as much respect as he did. Once the man in the red robe came near the hole and the shepherd grabbed his knife and cut off a piece of the hem of the robe and kept it.

As dawn began to near the people started to leave, the two young men carrying out the old man. A little later the farm people came back from church and the farmer was greatly relieved and very happy to find his shepherd alive and well. The latter told the whole story and showed the piece of cloth as proof. This was the last time anything of this kind ever happened on this farm. The people thought that these elves had wanted to keep their activities a secret and had therefore killed the shepherds.


Copyright notice: The wording used to tell this folk-tale is under copyright. The story itself is not copyrighted. If you want to re-tell it, for a collection of folk-tales, incorporate it into fiction, use it in a school essay or any kind of publication, please tell it in your own words or give the proper attribution if you choose to use the wording unchanged.

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