Tag Archives: Nisse

Nisse of Norway (Norwegian Santa)

Main Content:

I: informant, R: roommate M: me

I: So it’s a Christmas tradition, like, so we have Santa but it’s not that kind of Santa, it’s like a little gnome

R:*laughs* Gnome?

I: No yeah it’s like, not very tall, its like a little dwarf situation going on, but you leave out like porridge for him Christmas Eve so he doesn’t come and like um mess with your house or like tie you up or something

R+M: *laugh*

M: I love that!

R: *inaudible dialogue…* kidnapping at times..

I: no no yeah you have to please,, it comes from farm…farming, I think, so like farmsteads. So we would have like, they would be like caretakers of your, like they would take care of your animals and like watch out for your farm and stuff and then you left out food for them and we still do that. Cause I think you leave cookies and milk in the US?

M: Yeah

R: But that’s for Santa 

I: But it’s the same kind of situation, except you do it to like you know give a gift for your like uncle gnomes or whatever

M: yeah that’s so cute

Context: This is a practice that my informant has been doing since he was a little boy. The Norwegian legend of ‘Santa’ is different and thus their offering and practices are different as well.

Analysis: The Norwegian’s legend of ‘Santa’ is very different from the American telling, showing multiplicity and variation in the lore. The origins of these gnomes came with the Norwegian farmsteads wherein these gnomes would be responsible for the success or failure of the farms so in order to please the caretakers- as in many other cultures- offerings are made. In this case, porridge. In the US we offer milk and cookies and good behavior in exchange for gifts. These gnomes come around the winter solstice/ Christmas time, which is another common occurrence; folklore and celebrations often to be align with the solar calendar which can be representative of the life cycle.

For another version of this legend see: Varga, Eva. “The Nisse of Norway.” Eva Varga, 4 Nov. 2013, evavarga.net/the-nisse-of-norway/. 

Nisse in Swedish Culture

Background information:

Like my dad, my mom also had legend characters that she believed in. Whenever Christmas rolled around, she would always talk about the “nisse”, (plural: “nissar”) and said that these tiny little helpers were part of what made Christmas the amazing and cozy event that it is.


Main piece:

My mother had very high respect for the “nissar” as she told us from a young age that they helped with the logistics and took care of a lot of work to prepare for Christmas. As such, she made sure to bring them to my sister’s and my attention every Christmas. She did this by saying that the “nissar” had dropped off small gifts in our Christmas stockings randomly throughout the Christmas season. There was no organization or special time that the “nissar” dropped off the gifts into our stockings, but I remember her telling me that the “nissar” would only drop off gifts if we had been respectful to the “nissar” and been friendly overall. Every Christmas, the “nissar” would visit and drop off small gifts in our stockings around three times total: sometimes they would visit more, other times they would visit less, it all depended on the year. As I grew older, I realized that my mom was the one that was putting the gifts in the stockings, but she was always adamant that she was just a messenger of the “nissar” and was helping them out.


Personal thoughts:

I really enjoyed this tradition and the legend of the “nisse” because it brought a lot of happiness and excitement to my Christmas experience when I was growing up. I remember talking to my American friends about the “nisse” when I was younger and although none of them could relate to me, they always thought that the “nisse” sounded amazing and very generous, which I regard them as being, as well. Because this was such a heartfelt and warm memory, I will be sure to share this tradition in the future.