Nordic Christmas Traditions: Nisse

The word nisse may have derived from the Old Norse word, niosi, meaning “dear little relative.”

Today a nisse (Norwegian) means a “homestead man,” who is a mischievous elf, that oversees the domestic household and the health of farm animals. He demands respect…….. plus a bowl of julegrøt (Christmas porridge) with butter, on Christmas Eve.  If you neglect this custom you will invite misfortune upon your house! Most nisse are short, having a long white beard and wear a red knit cap or some other bright color!

Recipe for Julegrøt

It takes 5 minutes to prepare and needs to cook for 25 minutes.

The ingredients

1 cup rice

1/2 stick cinnamon

2 cups milk

2 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

Directions: Cook one cup of rice in salted water with 1/2 stick of cinnamon. When thick, add 2 cups of milk and the 2 eggs, which have been whisked together, and add 1/2 cup sugar. Cook until thick over low heat in a heavy bottomed pot. Add more milk if needed. At the end, add the vanilla and a pat of butter!

Serves 10 elves, big or small

In Sweden, a similar elf is called a tomte, but he is a much older elf and dresses in rags and along with the red knit cap resembles, who we think of as Santa Claus. He carries a sack of toys and visits children on Christmas Eve asking, “Er det noen snille barn her,” (Are there any good children here?) The big debate for the children is whether Tomte’s workshop is in Lapland or the North Pole!

Both elves live in the houses and barns of the farmstead and secretly act as their guardian. If treated well they protect the family and animals from evil. They may also aid in the chores and farm work. However, they are short tempered, especially when offended, and once insulted, they usually play tricks, steal items or maim or kill the animals! We don’t want that! Make the Julegrøt!

I hope you are enjoying my Nordic Christmas Traditions…….I have a few more before Christmas!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jo Shafer says:

    Similar to the “seven dwarfs” in children’s fairy tales. Cute little fellas, eh? But when objects seem to disappear around here, I should blame a nisse and not a gremlin?


  2. Correct, if you want to be Norwegian!


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