"Mother Hulda" or "Old Mother Frost" is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm and first published in 1812 as part of Children's and Household Tales. It was originally known as "Frau Holle" and is tale number 24.
A widow had two daughters, the one was beautiful and industrious, the other ugly and lazy. She greatly favored the ugly, lazy girl, because she was her own daughter. And the other one had to do all the work, and be the Cinderella of the house.
Every day the poor girl had to sit by a well, next to the highway, and spin so much that her fingers bled. Now it happened that one day the reel was completely bloody, so she dipped it in the well, to wash it off, but it dropped out of her hand and fell in. She cried, ran to her stepmother, and told her of the mishap. She scolded her so sharply, and was so merciless that she said, "Since you have let the reel fall in, you must fetch it out again."
Then the girl went back to the well, and did not know what to do. Terrified, she jumped into the well to get the reel. She lost her senses. And when she awoke and came to herself again, she was in a beautiful meadow where the sun was shining, and there were many thousands of flowers. She walked across this meadow and came to an oven full of bread. The bread called out, "Oh, take me out. Take me out, or I'll burn. I've been thoroughly baked for a long time." So she stepped up to it, and with a baker's peel took everything out, one loaf after the other.
After that she walked further and came to a tree laden with apples. "Shake me. Shake me. We apples are all ripe." cried the tree. So she shook the tree until the apples fell as though it were raining apples. When none were left in the tree, she gathered them into a pile, and then continued on her way.
Finally she came to a small house. An old woman was peering out from inside. She had very large teeth, which frightened the girl, and she wanted to run away. But the old woman called out to her, "Don't be afraid, dear child. Stay here with me, and if you do my housework in an orderly fashion, it will go well with you. Only you must take care to make my bed well and shake it diligently until the feathers fly, then it will snow in the world.* I am Frau Holle."
Because the old woman spoke so kindly to her, the girl took heart, agreed, and started in her service. The girl took care of everything to Frau Holle's satisfaction and always shook her featherbed vigorously until the feathers flew about like snowflakes. Therefore, she had a good life with her: no angry words, and boiled or roast meat every day.
Now after she had been with Frau Holle for a time, she became sad. At first she did not know what was the matter with her, but at last she determined that it was homesickness. Even though she was many thousands of times better off here than at home, still she had a yearning to return. Finally she said to the old woman, "I have such a longing for home, and even though I am very well off here, I cannot stay longer. I must go up again to my own people."
Frau Holle said, "I am pleased that you long for your home again, and because you have served me so faithfully, I will take you back myself." With that she took her by the hand and led her to a large gate.
The gate was opened, and while the girl was standing under it, an immense rain of gold fell, and all the gold stuck to her, so that she was completely covered with it. "This is yours because you have been so industrious," said Frau Holle, and at the same time she gave her back the reel which had fallen into the well.
With that the gate was closed and the girl found herself above on earth, not far from her mother's house. And as she entered the yard the rooster, sitting on the well, cried:
Cock-a-doodle-doo, Our golden girl is here anew. Then she went inside to her mother, and as she arrived all covered with gold, she was well received, both by her mother and her sister. The girl told all that had happened to her, and when the mother heard how she had come to the great wealth, she wanted to achieve the same fortune for the other, the ugly and lazy daughter. She made her go and sit by the well and spin. And to make her reel bloody, the lazy girl pricked her fingers and shoved her hand into a thorn bush. Then she threw the reel into the well, and jumped in herself.
Like the other girl, she too came to the beautiful meadow and walked along the same path. When she came to the oven, the bread cried again, "Oh, take me out. Take me out, or else I'll burn. I've been thoroughly baked for a long time."
But the lazy girl answered, "As if I would want to get all dirty," and walked away.
Soon she came to the apple tree. It cried out, "Oh, shake me. Shake me. We apples are all ripe."
But she answered, "Oh yes, one could fall on my head," and with that she walked on.
When she came to Frau Holle's house, she was not afraid, because she had already heard about her large teeth, and she immediately began to work for her. On the first day she forced herself, was industrious, and obeyed Frau Holle, when she said something to her, because she was thinking about all the gold that she would give her. But on the second day she already began to be lazy, on the third day even more so, and then she didn't even want to get up in the morning. She did not make the bed for Frau Holle, the way she was supposed to, and she did not shake it until the feathers flew. Frau Holle soon became tired of this and dismissed her of her duties. This was just what the lazy girl wanted, for she thought that she would now get the rain of gold.
Frau Holle led her too to the gate. She stood beneath it, but instead of gold, a large kettle full of pitch spilled over her. "That is the reward for your services," said Frau Holle, and closed the gate.
Then the lazy girl went home, entirely covered with pitch. As soon as the rooster on the well saw her, he cried out:
Cock-a-doodle-doo, Our dirty girl is here anew. And the pitch stuck fast to her, and did not come off as long as she lived.
- Therefore, in Hessen whenever it snows they say that Frau Holle is making her bed, translated by D.L. Ashliman.
Like many of the other tales collected by the Grimm brothers, "Frau Holle" personifies good behavior and bad, and the appropriate reward meted out for each. Even so, it also exhibits a number remarkable contrasts with nearly all the other stories. Typically, the magical beings who appear in the tales must enter the real world and appear to the protagonists before any intercession can take place. Moreover, these beings are almost always anonymous and therefore difficult to correlate with figures in pre-Christian mythology. By contrast, Frau Holle resides somewhere above the earth, and the protagonists must go to her, paradoxically by diving into a spring. When she makes her bed, loose feathers are 'stirred up' and fall to earth as snow, and so this fairy tale is an origin myth as well. Comparison between Frau Holle and a weather or earth goddess is inevitable. Jakob Grimm notes that Thunar (Thor) makes rain in a similar fashion, implying for Frau Holle a very high rank in the pantheon.
Though not unique in this respect, the Frau Holle story is also notable for the absence of class-related motifs such as palaces, balls to which one may or may not be invited, and the rise to princely status by virtue of marriage.