In Norway and Denmark the little creature called The Nisse is deeply ingrained in winter solstice and Yule traditions.
The legends of the nisse dates back to ancient pre-Christian times, and is a treasured part of folklore.
Nisse is a household spirit that is responsible for the care and prosperity of a farm or family.
Nisse live in people’s houses or barns inside the so-called Nowhere Space; a pocket dimension made up of the spaces behind bookcases, the tops of cupboards that you can’t quite reach, and other such unused space.
They are ancestor spirits and often seen as the farmer who cleared the forest to build the farm and who in pre-Christian times would have been buried on the farm in a mound.
The name Nisse in Old Norse means ‘dear little relative’, and their Swedish counterpart, tomte, means the old homestead man/spirit.
According to tradition, they secretly live in a house or barn and act as its guardian.
If treated well, they protect children and animals from evil and misfortune, and they also help with chores and farm work.
Despite their size, the nisse possess an immense strength. They are also believed to be shapeshifters able to take a shape far larger than an adult man.
Although Nisse are connected to farm animals in general, his most treasured animal was the horse.
Belief had it that one could see which horse was the nisse’s favourite as it would be especially healthy and well taken care of. Sometimes the tomte would even braid its hair and tail.
Sometimes actually undoing these braids could mean misfortune or angering the tomte.
If anyone spills something on the floor in the house it is wise to shout a warning to the nisse below. It is also a requirement to please the spirit with gifts – a particular special gift was a bowl of rice porridge on Christmas Eve.
It is thought that if the Nisse doesn’t get their porridge or beer, they will steal your happiness and play havoc with your farm – their trickery could contribute to crop failure and sickness for both animals and people if he was not treated well.
Nisse are deeply ingrained in Norwegian culture and tradition and to this day, children grow up with stories of the nisse with family members masquerading as nisse by putting on a mask and a costume on Christmas Eve, distributing the presents and asking the children if they have been good.
Instead of giving Santa Clause milk and cookies on Christmas Day, children in Norway and Denmark prepare rice porridge for the nisse and leaves it for him outside the house on Christmas Eve.
And of course the porridge has to be topped with lots of butter, sugar and cinnamon.