Tiernapojat is an old christmas play that originated in Oulu,
The real background story was simple enough: in 1800s, believe
it or not, Oulu wasn't really the cool technology center where the
university students become IT millionaires the millisecond they
graduate, and sometimes earlier. Nor did the pension
institute hand free money to the said students. The youngsters had to
(*gasp*) beg to get money!
So the folks decided to put togheter a little play of "star boys" -
a play similiar to older German play that was vastly more complex
and had much more characters. Cast of dozen or so dropped down to
four, and Herod (who had only a small part in the original play) has
got a much more prominent role. Basically, the play was changed so
radically the old play can barely be recognized.
The cast of the play includes King Herod, the King of the
Moors, a Knight in Herod's service and a star twirler ("Mänkki") who
performs tells the messages of the angels and carries a large star
attached to a pole. All others are equipped with swords. All of the
characters are dressed in white, with appropriate hats, fake beards
and moustache if needed, and (considering the fact that black people
were much harder to find at the time) black face paint for the king
of the Moors.
The story itself is about about The Wise Men and the infanticide of
Betlehem (as told in Matthew 2), particularly about Herod's
reaction to it.
The music itself is all in one key, very simple to remember. The lines of the play are still read in old Oulu/Northern Pohjanmaa dialects, though the modern audience probably has not much problems understanding the play anyway.
This tradition wasn't always innocent: In the end of 1800s the
newspapers told about "nastiness and disgrace" the performers had
done, and in the beginning of 1900s a law was passed that required the
tiernapojat players to obtain a permit from the police. This law was
overturned as late as 1979.
There have been variations to the play. In 1880, a song about
Alexander II, the Grand Duke of Finland, was added to the play,
drawing an analogy ("took away slavery, took away tyrants,
turns and topples the lands of enemies"). There even was a song about
Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, but that didn't gain any popularity.
(Noding Christmas Stuff in October? Yeah, well, see,
I had this need to explain the background of a hilarious Tiernapojat
variation called "Säätöpojat" that began, loosely translated,
"good evening to you all who fix your computers" - and had interesting
comments like "Unix guru, he ran Solaris on his Sparc", and
"Whoa, why art thou running Windows?" =)