Fred The Swedish Tomte
By Tasslyn Magnusson
Fred sat in the corner of the ethos, his feet up on a chair. Sid sat next to him.
“Listen, if IKEA doesn’t have to do meatballs from Sweden anymore, there is no reason I have to drink that horrible traditional Christmas Soda.” Sid leaned over, opened his tiny rented fridge, and grabbed a Pepsi. “I mean, it tastes so much better than that drivel.”
“You’ve got a point,” Fred leaned forward. “IKEA is the mothership for all of us Tomte.”
At that moment, a small, wrinkled old Tomte rushed up and grabbed Fred’s Pepsi. Her red dress and gray apron buzzed with indignation. “Sid Harold Tomte. Why, if your mother could see!”
“Mom. Come on!” Fred tried to grab the Pepsi, but she was already pouring it out.
“Speak Swedish. Or Reindeer, please.” His mother held her finger up at Fred. He looked at his leather pointed shoes and put his long red cap in his hands.
“I forgot the right words, Mama.”
His mother continued to pour Pepsi out.
“Mamma. Kom har.” Fred mumbled the words.
She was unimpressed.
“What will they say down there?” He pointed below the ethos to the butcher shop below.
“Ingelbretsons is getting old. Those butchers will just think leaky ceilings, as always.” Fred’s mother tossed the Pepsi over the side of the ethos. “You, my children, are what give American-born Tomte a bad name.. You’ve only been Santa-support-eligible for sixteen years!”
Fred and Sid were born in 1950, first-generation American Tomte. Tomte were somewhat an equivalent to Santa’s elves. Except, unlike Santa’s elves, they didn’t make toys. Tomte were more like Santa’s substitutes. They filled in for him when needed. Little kids never really notice the switcheroo.
“But when was the last time Santa actually came in on Christmas Eve? Do you even remember, Mamma?” Fred stood up. The ethos base drifted a little bit lower with his weight. He sat back down again. “See?”
From below, a child shouted, “Look! Santa! Santa’s on the ceiling.”
Fred, Sid, and Fred’s mom looked down through the ethos. “They don’t even know what to call us anymore,” Fred said.
“See!” Fred’s mom nudged Fred and Sid. “Something should be done.”
They watched the annoyed mom fold her son’s hand over. “No pointing. No pointing. Be good for Mommy.”
“Those children waited in a line around the block. That counts for something.” Sid said.
Fred’s mom shook her head. “Anyone can play Tomte traditions. That playing, my sweet boys, that will be the end of the Tomte as we know them.” She patted their shoulders and muscled back, ankle deep in ethos, to the line of Tomte waiting for Christmas Ham purchases to hitch their ride for the Christmas Season. After all, their grey vests and red knit hats were scattered throughout families’ Christmas traditions and they could hide among decorations and peek out at the smallest children, waving, inspiring love and excitement for the holiday season. What was a Swedish Christmas without a Tomte?
“I’ll take a Pepsi, Sido.” Fred said as they sat back down in their lawn chairs. Lawn chairs speckled with Dala Horses that Fred and Sid did by hand.
“Sure, now that she’s gone!” Sid handed him a Pepsi.
“Cheers!” They clinked their pops together.
“My mother said we need to do something about the ethos losing strength,” said Sid suddenly.
Fred looked over and took another sip of Pepsi. “Maybe it is time to do something about all of this.” Fred waved his Pepsi. “Do you want to spend the next twenty years talking about the good ole days with Jonas and Gosta and Anna? Or Oskar? How many times will we hear about his fall?”
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Sid said. “My mamma cried for days before she faded. But her last words were, fight. Fight Santa. Fight the deal. Band together. And fight!”
That night Fred couldn’t sleep.
The only reason, as far as Fred understood it, that the Tomte opted to jump in with American Santa was the dangers they faced as the Swedes dispersed across the prairies. Santa was supposed to bring the Tomte home on Christmas night. Plus, Santa offered some golden handcuffs by making the original down payment to purchase Ingelbretsons.
Fred needed to find Ingrid. Ingrid was just a baby Tomte when she immigrated. She’d only been on a few Christmas outings and often seemed more like Sid and Fred than someone of their parents’ generation.
Fred found Ingrid washing gray vests and sprinkling dried lingonberries as she put the dry ones in a giant chest.
“Fred, how are you?” Ingrid leaned back on her shoes. She wiped her hands on the red apron and put her hand out. Fred pulled her to her feet.
“I need some answers. Why don’t the reindeer visit us anymore? You know, in the ethos?”
Ingrid nodded solemnly. “Good question, my friend. Let us sit.” She pointed out a bench of gray wood with moss glued to the legs.
“The reindeer are busy trying to find new ice for the polar bears. You know, the ice is melting and the big man … well, he’s always looking to expand the workshop. More and more toys requested by--” Ingrid pointed to the screaming children below them.
“So, we should believe the reindeer?”
“Yes. The only real problem is that man in the red suit.”
“Do you remember Sweden?”
“Not really. My mother said things were different then. Tomte worked year-round. Everyone had their assigned farmstead they were responsible for, but when they came to America, things got very bad, very quick.”
“But still, why the deal with Santa?”
“Shh! You must not say his name. He hears everything, you know. Everything.” She shook her head. “When the first Swedish immigrants arrived on the prairies, where farms were acres and acres and there were miles between families, our entire culture began to fade. We couldn’t get together and visit. Parties stopped. We were all by ourselves on the prairies. We were cut off from the ethos. We started to forget.”
“So, the Tomte thought, ‘live together,’” said Fred.
“Exactly. Live together at one of the mothership’s docking stations in Minneapolis and help HIM, you know, on his big night. Ethos would keep us safe, and we might even be able to visit our family back in Sweden, since we no longer had the livestock duties.”
“So, what happened?”
Ingrid’s eyes glowed red. “The first time my mother tried to transport back to Sweden, she found the gate locked with a note explaining that Tomte had to earn their transport back and everything. Bah! Everything costs in the ethos.”
“Sid was right. It’s time to fight.” Fred stood up.
Ingrid put her hand on his jacket. “Fred. Darling. The man isn’t going to let us go. He controls the ethos. And without the ethos, people like me will fade. The ethos is our sustenance.”
“So, we’re trapped.”
“I’m afraid so.” Ingrid folded her hands in her lap and began to fiddle with a spray of lingonberries.
“Do you remember what the little Old Tomte ladies made for Oskar after his fall? After his leg was lost? What was it?”
Ingrid got a huge smile on her face and licked her lips. “Tomte grit.”
“I’ve never had that.”
“Tomte grit is extraordinary,” Ingrid said. “Families in Sweden left bowls for us. If we survived, they knew they survived. Tomte grit is the food of the gods.”
“Tomte grit is down there.” Fred pointed beneath the ethos. Ingrid shook her head.
“No. That is not Tomte grit, that stuff is mass-produced. I don’t know where to … well… Maybe Kerstin?”
“Kerstin? I thought she had, well, you know … faded.”
“Go to the space above the Christmas Hams and call for her in Swedish, not English.”
It took Fred a good two hours to claw through the ethos to the Christmas Hams. The ethos was especially misty and smelled a little bit like pine and cold, cold air. Fred felt his body relax and a strong desire for a nap. He shook off the feeling. “Kerstin. Komma. Kerstin. Komma.” He whispered up into the ethos.
“Boy. What kind of accent do you have?” A tiny Tomte woman appeared next to him. “I’m not living in the Hams, you know.”
This must be Kerstin. She looked friendly. And she spoke English. Which was good, because “Komma” was the extent of Fred’s Swedish.
“We need to break the Santa Agreement.”
Kerstin nodded solemnly. “At last. Ridiculous young people. Giving up tradition for comfort.”
“Exactly!” Fred started swinging his arms. Kerstin politely floated away from danger.
“Calm down. Have you made the Tomte grit yet?”
“No,” said Fred. “I don’t know how.”
“Okay. I’ll take care of that.” Kerstin began to mutter and draw maps in the ethos. Fred sat, content to be an assistant until Kerstin turned to him. “But do you know what we need to do to stop him?”
Fred shook his head.
Kerstin leaned over and whispered the secret in his ear.
“But how?” asked Fred.
“You, you must leap for Santa’s sleigh with the fiskbular.” Fiskbular technically translated to fish balls. They were dough, fish, and flour fried in oil and then canned. Swedish people, he knew from what the butcher told people, weren’t allowed to open them in apartment buildings. The smell was that horrible.
“Do you want to break the agreement or not?”
Fred brought Tomte back in groups of three and four to advise them of their role in the Great Tomte Escape, and to feed those needing extra strength doses of Tomte grit. The last person he brought back, at nearly 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve, was his mother. She kissed Kerstin on both cheeks as soon as she saw her. Sid joined them after rolling the designated weapon forward.
“Thanks, man.” Fred said shyly.
“Better you than me. Here, let’s toast!” Sid handed them two glug glasses. Fred put his to his lips. Pepsi. “We can’t forgo all modern conveniences, right?”
Sleigh bells jingled on the roof. The Swedish candles in the gift portion of Ingelbretson were lit immediately.
“Santa. He’s coming.” Kerstin whispered. “Get ready.”
Sid and Fred’s mom carefully pulled back the lid on the fiskbular. Fred could hardly believe the smell. They wore masks. Fred did not think to get a mask.
“One on your back, one in your hands,” Kerstin instructed.
“Hurry!” Sid shouted. Fred heard the thump of Santa’s black boots.
“Jump for the top of his red hat. That should do the trick.” Kerstin got ready to push him over the edge. He could see Santa walking through the shop, sniffing the air.
“Ho Ho Ho. Where’s the bottle of Rum, little Tomte?” He’d stop and grab a bite from where he was standing. Food dripped from his mouth. “I’d like to snack on a wee little Tomte! But I cannot forget my Ham.”
Santa was immediately below him.
Fred jumped. Or Kerstin pushed. Fred landed straight on the back of the red hat. He rolled the fiskbular across the white pom-pom. The second he unleashed into Santa’s coat.
Santa roared, “It’s burning! It’s burning!” and began smacking at his coat and stomping his feet. Kerstin threw Fred a rope with a hook. He grabbed tight and swung the hook to the shelf nearest to him. Smoke arose from Santa’s coat.
The ethos began to melt. Tomte floated down from it using small parachutes of cotton Kerstin had sewn. They looked like they were in a daze.
“I’ll be seeing you next year,” yelled Santa.
But the Tomte were free and Santa knew that. By tripping him up, and pouring the fiskbular down his coat, they had burned the agreement up. That was the secret that Kerstin had told Fred. Santa always kept the contract on him, and fiskbular smelled bad enough to void any contract. The cheers from that evening echoed across the frozen landscape as the Tomte set forth to explore the new modern world.