Tag Archives: Santa

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/. 

German Santa

I interviewed Audrey when I met her in Everybody’s Kitchen, a USC dining hall. Audrey spent some of her childhood in Germany, so she wanted to share some of the German folklore she knew. This includes the legend of the German Santa. The following is lifted from the interview:


Audrey: “So I learned this from my fifth grader german teacher when we were learning about German traditions. Okay, so, on St. Nick’s day — the 6th of December — German kids leave their shoes outside the door. Good kids get stuff like candy and toys, and bad kids get coal. But that’s not all bad kids get. German Santa goes into their bedrooms, and puts them in a burlap sack. And then he takes them out back and beats them — just beats them in the sack.” [She mimics the action she is describing]


Me: “Did you ever partake in this tradition?”


Audrey: “Well, I took part in American St. Nick’s day. I would leave my shoes by the fireplace… and I was never taken out back and beaten in a burlap sack, so I don’t know about that part. But I always got candy and toys in my shoes.”


My informant then noted that she vaguely remembers learning that German Santa had an assistant named “Krampus.” She didn’t have enough knowledge to talk about him, though.



I am aware of the Krampus and the tradition of leaving out shoes, but I’ve never heard of Santa being the one that takes naughty children to be punished. The legend of German Santa seems to be used to scare children into behaving, much like many other fairy tales (Although, this is considered a legend instead of a tale because it takes place in the real world with questionable truth value).


Krampus the Evil Elf

L is a 53-year-old homemaker living in Winnetka, IL. L grew up mainly in the northern suburbs of Illinois, but she also lived in Germany and England for a while when she was younger. L speaks English primarily but she is learning French. L attended both the University of Southern California and the University of Wisconsin Madison for her undergraduate college education. L considers herself to be American. She does not really identify with her Welsh ancestry.

L: Krampus is from centuries back in Germany.

Me: So who is Krampus?

L: Krampus was an evil elf who would watch children to make sure they were good and if they weren’t goo then they would punish them. It’s like the the line from Santa Claus is Coming to Town: “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.” Krampus is always watching.

Me: Did you ever tell your kids about Krampus?

L: No, we told them to look out the back window to see the deer and we told them that they were Santa’s reindeer, and that they better be good or Santa would know. They were so well behaved after that. We also used a garden gnome and told them it was an elf.

Me: Wow, that’s manipulative.

L: Well, folkore is a parent’s way to get their children to behave.

Me: Yeah, I can see that.

L: But my friend Kathy told her children about Krampus to make them behave as children. The kids are still obsessed with Krampus. The have Krampus dolls, they have paraphanalia all over the place.

L does not believe in Krampus, nor did she tell her kids about him. She knows the story because she heard it when she lived in Germany for a few years as a child as well as from her friend who did tell the story of Krampus to her children. Instead of Krampus, a scary figure, L used real things like deer and gnomes to convince her kids that reindeer and elves were watching them to make sure they behaved. This worked well because the kids saw the “elves” and “reindeer” with their own eyes and therefore had less doubt that they were real.

Here is a link to the imdb page for the movie that came out last year based on this tale: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3850590/