Fun Fact

Bringing snowball fights to a whole new level in a 16th century fashion

Snowball fights are nowadays held in legitimate sporting tournaments in Japan (and all around the world). It is called Yukigassen and it is quite amazing. Two teams face each other and try to capture the other team’s flag. What’s funny though is that Nordic countries have adopted the sport whilst they have forgotten their own snowball fight traditions. Back then, players were not hiding behind tiny walls. No. They used to build real sized castles and walls!

Olaus’ illustration of his chapter on snowball fights

“Every winter, while the snow lasts, the young fellows, urged on by their elders, assemble in bands at some elevated spot, all working alike to fetch huge masses of snow. […] By their care and enthusiasm the forts are made so strong that they could stand up not only to light blows tut to brazen balls and even, if necessary, to the shock of tortoise formations. […] Under these, desiring not money but only praise, they embark on their enjoyable combat; neither party employs any other weapons except snowballs, thrown by hand from each side at the other.” (extract from Olaus Magnus, A Description of the Northern Peoples (1555), volume I, chapter 23, translated by P. G. Foote)

Wonderful ice castle built at the 2019 Hagin ice festival in China [link to source]

Olaus tells us more about this amazing forgotten tradition. Those fights were experienced like real life battles. There was a public. Quitters were severely punished and cheaters even more so. The first had snow shoved down their backs and were publicly insulted, the latter were plunged naked into icy water if they had hidden any stone or solid ice in their snowballs. Those fights were no joke. Sapping the walls was a legitimate strategy. The main goal however was already to capture a flag, or banner, from the team defending the castle.

Now that is something that I would pay to watch on TV. What about you? For a quick overview on Olaus teachings about Finland in the 16th century: follow that link!

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