As the Winter Solstice (21st December) and Noite Nai (‘Mother Night’, 24th) approach, millions of children (and not only!) eagerly await for their presents. But… who is bringing them?
It is commonly agreed that the infamous Santa Claus is a 19th century commercial and Christianised revision of a number of European tales. Most of these old stories, however, involve some sort of good-natured large bearded man bringing goods or presents, although he could sometimes be accompanied or complemented by not so benevolent creatures (see the Central European Krampus, for example).
So whether it is the Slavic Ded Moroz, the Icelandic Jólasveinarnir, the Basque Olentzero, the Scandinavian Nisse or Tomte, or the Catalan Tió, different pre-Christian celebratory figures marked the passing of the cold and rainy Solstice on a positive note.
Needless to say, along the Atlantic shores we can also find our own Galician Apalpador or Pandigueiro.
This is a figure which was almost forgotten and reduced to just some specific areas in Galicia. Yet, fortunately, it has been extensively researched and promoted since 2006, first thanks to a single individual (José André Lôpez) and shortly after thanks to the tireless work of a number of cultural associations such as PGL-AGAL, Gentalha do Pichel or Fundaçom Artábria, to name a few.
Here is a video collecting the once fading words of our Elders (‘And the Apalpador must come’ – in Galician):
Today the Apalpador is present in most Galician schools, media and shops, demonstrating that it is indeed possible to recover and preserve our ancient heritage.
So legend says that this giant red-bearded coalman(*) comes down from the Courel mountains and visits every house during Noite Nai. He makes sure all children are happy and well fed by gently feeling their tummies while they are asleep. Then, according to tradition, the Apalpador leaves a handful of chestnuts and maybe some small present.
Lest we forget that the chestnut is a Galician symbol for the Magusto (Samhain) period, and it is also said to be the most valued delicacy in the Além (The Beyond; The Land of the Dead). On the other hand, when presents are given these are simple, where the sentimental value is to outweigh any possible economical value.
In any case, the Apalpador is seen as an eminently positive figure, able to “bless” the household. He is the perfect embodiment of the Druidic Noite Nai, when we celebrate in community the eventual triumph of the light even in the most extreme conditions, and we gather the final strength for the harshest of all seasons.
The Apalpador is not our only popular symbol for this period, but sure is a favourite among the young ones, and that is no wonder. May he bring you joy too! 🙂
The Apalpador song (traditional):
(*) Some recollections do mention the Apalpadora, in the femenine, but they are a minority.
PS. A text about the Noite Nai will be published shortly (in Galician).
[GL] Este é um texto explicativo da figura do Apalpador em língua inglesa para todas aquelas pessoas que nom entendem o galego. Para mais informaçom em galego visite-se, por exemplo, esta ligaçom. Em breve sairá publicado o texto próprio da Noite Nai.