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Tiernapojat is an old christmas play that originated in Oulu, Finland.

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?" =)


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