Tag Archives: scandanavian

New Year’s Eve Four Things

Background: The informant is a 75 year old female. She grew up in Illinois, attending both high school and college in the state. After she married her husband in 1963, she gained some new tradition from her mother-in-law, who had some German descent.

Context:  When catching up over dinner, the informant started talking about her New Year’s traditions, because someone at the table over had been served herring.


MC: “I learned my New Year’s Tradition from my mother-in-law and I have now been doing it for around 50 years. It has four parts that you place out on your windowsill: Eating herring, which I believe is from Germany or Scandinavia, and the silver skin represents coins and prosperity; the silver coins which is money in your pocket; the pieces of bread which is good that you will have over the coming year; and sweeping out the front door which is sweeping out all the bad omens and bad lucks that happened over the year.


Informant: She didn’t do the tradition in her childhood but it has since become integral to who she is and remains extremely important for how it reminds her of her grandmother.

Analysis: The informant adopting the tradition at an older age represents that folklore comes and goes depending on the social context. In a sense, the informant taking up a new tradition upon getting married symbolizes how she has been “adopted” into a new family and is taking on their traditions. The informant has kept up with the tradition for over 50 years, symbolizing how strong even an adopted tradition can become. That is the nature of traditions, it should be allowed to be shared and taken up by whoever will respect it. The informant respects every element of the New Year’s Eve celebration.

Rice Pudding for Elves

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my friend/informant (AB).

HS: So can you tell me a little bit about the special form of rice pudding that you leave out on Christmas eve?

AB: Yeah, so it’s a tradition that has been in my family for as long as I can remember. The technical term for it is Risengrød, and it is made by boiling rice and milk at a low temperature for a few hours and then you serve it with some cinnamon sugar and butter. It’s supposed to be the food of Santa’s elves and we eat it on Christmas Eve. And then on Christmas day, we have a version without cinnamon called Risalamande. It’s also a little more watery and you put cherry juice on top of it. Leaving out Risengrød for elves is basically the Danish version of leaving out cookies and milk to Santa.


My informant is one of my friends from high school. He immigrated to the United States from Denmark when he was 15 and still carries on many aspects of his Danish culture. He is fluent in Danish and English.


I was at my informant’s house with him, his sister, and his parents. They were happy to elaborate on some of their Danish traditions.


I enjoyed getting to learn about the parallels between Danish and American culture. I thought that leaving cookies out for Santa was a tradition unique to the United States, and I believe it is, but it seems to be derived directly from Danish culture. This is just another example of how broad trends show themselves all throughout the realm of folklore, just with smaller, more nuanced iterations that reflect regional and cultural context.

For another version of the Risengrød tradition, see:

“A DANISH CHRISTMAS.” Scandinavian Press, vol. 15, no. 1, Scandinavian Press, 2008, p. 17–.

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.

Festival – Thousand Oaks, California


Scandinavian Festival – Thousand Oaks, CA

On April 19-20, Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, CA hosted a Scandinavian Festival, put on by the Scandinavian American Cultural and Historical Foundation.

On the first day, they erected a Maypole and danced around it, singing traditional songs. Some other events included productions of The Three Billy Goats Gruff, soccer clinics, Krubb (an ancient Viking game), regular folk music and dance performances, and a variety of folk arts and crafts. The arts and crafts offered were paper cutting in the style of famed Danish fairytale author Hans Christian Andersen (Denmark), friendship bracelets (Finland),  paper volcanoes (Iceland), card wool (Norway), and Dala horse puppets (Sweden).

The first thing I noticed was how everyone was dressed. The women all wore traditional Scandinavian clothing—long dresses with embroidered aprons—and had their hair braided and encircled with rings of flowers. The men wore short trousers and billowing tops with vests and stockings. Everyone was in character. In the Viking area, an authentic-looking Vikinc camp was set up with tents and beds made with fur. Animal skins hung everywhere and rough-looking tables displayed heavy tools, chain mail or other hand-made wares like furniture and jewelry.

One of the vendor’s tents was filled with dolls that looked a lot like my idea of Santa Clause. When I asked the vendor what they were, she said they were indeed Norwegian and Danish Santas, called “Nisse.” Nextdoor to her was an impressive display of clogs, mostly hand-painted.

Down in the food court, I got a “Norsk plate” which consisted of Sweedish meatballs, Lefse (Norwegian flatbread), potato balls, and boiled red cabbage. For dessert, I tried some delicious Aebleskivers, which are like hollowed out pancake balls with strawberry glaze and powdered sugar.

Overall, I really enjoyed the festival. I had no idea what to expect because I know nothing of Scandinavian culture. I was especially shocked at the sheer size of the festival. There were hundreds of people in costume, many of them actually Scandinavian. Massive amounts of hand-made Scandinavian goods were being sold. I never realized how much of a presence Scandinavians have in America.

The festival did a good job in exposing me to Scandinavian culture. A lot of the items, costumes, food, and music were familiar to me, but I had never known what culture they originated from. It looked like everyone was having a good time celebrating their heritage and reviving their ancient customs.