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The Yulenissa


The interviewee is one of my housemates and we often engage in conversation about his Danish heritage. This folklore is a myth that he continues to practice as part of a family tradition.



The following is transcribed from the story told by the interviewee.

“On Christmas growing up, we have this thing called the Yulenissa, they are these gnome things in Scandinavia. Kind of these small creatures. So every Christmas they visit and we have to leave a bowl of porridge out before night. And in the morning, we would see their footprints outside the house and there will be this whole set-up of how they snuck in. There’s a string down the fireplace and you’ll see ashes of small footprints around the house or something like that. And the Yulenissa is this trickster that’s meant to do tricks and he’ll bring presents but he’s not meant to be Santa. He doesn’t do nice things, you’re meant to put the porridge out or he would trick you. My mom did this when she was growing up with her Danish Dad and so it became a thing that we did in the family.”



This story feels very familiar perhaps because it closely resembles the myth of Santa Claus. But unlike Santa Claus, the Yulenissa is known to be a trickster. Because the Yulenissa is a trickster, there are specific steps one must take in order to ensure that their family is kept safe, which is seen in putting the porridge out. On a personal level, I think the Yulenissa is important in upholding tradition. In this myth, there are consequences if the members of that culture do not uphold the tradition. This Danish tradition is seen to have been passed down from one member of the family to another, and the spirit of bringing the family together to thwart the trickster remains.