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Gnomes, Trolls, Nisse, and Tomte, Oh My!

Gnomes, Trolls, Nisse, and Tomte, Oh My!

In Scandinavian folklore, the nisse, or tomte, stands as one of the most beloved mythical creatures. Emerging from the pages of Scandinavian literature in the 19th century, these whimsical beings are closely associated with the Winter Solstice and Christmas festivities. Sporting a familiar appearance akin to garden gnomes—short stature, long white beard, and a pointed knit hat—they have captured the imagination of many.

Traditionally, nisse and tomte are believed to dwell in the nooks and crannies of farmsteads, embodying the spirits of their original farmers. They diligently watch over the household and its inhabitants, ensuring their safety and well-being. However, their assistance comes with a caveat—they demand respect and kindness. Should they feel slighted, they may unleash their mischievous side, playing tricks on unsuspecting families. According to folklore, nisse and tomte possess the ability to create illusions, vanish from sight, or even morph into different forms.

To appease these magical beings, it's customary to leave a bowl of porridge, often rice pudding, topped with a generous pat of butter, on Christmas Eve—a gesture of gratitude and goodwill.

In contrast, trolls embody the darker side of Nordic mythology. These supernatural creatures, ranging from small to massive in size, are depicted as grotesque and malicious beings. Preferring the solitude of caves, rocky crevices, or mountainous terrain, trolls pose a danger to humans, warranting caution and avoidance.  (A fun site that we enjoyed is the Troll Forest atop Mt. Fløyen in Bergen.) 

Gnomes, with their origins dating back to the 16th century, share similarities with nisse and tomte in appearance and demeanor. Over the centuries, gnomes have evolved from mythological figures to ubiquitous lawn ornaments, affectionately known as garden gnomes in modern times. Their presence extends beyond folklore, permeating literature, music, films, and even video games, serving as enduring symbols of whimsy and wonder.


Across the Nordic lands, the word for these enchanting beings varies—Danish and Norwegian prefer "nisse," while Swedish opts for "tomte," and Finnish favors "tomtenisse" or "tonttu."

Immerse yourself in the world of Scandinavian folklore and marvel at the enduring allure of these mystical creatures and the vibrant tapestry of stories they inspire.  Share your thoughts about gnomes, trolls, nisse and tomte in the comments.


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