Image of Tomte


Tomte – One of the most popular Scandinavian mythological characters

In Sweden there is the Nisse, Nisser or Tomte. The tomte is reputed to safeguard the farmer and his family, as well as the land the farmer owned or worked on against any misfortune. It was especially during the night that the tomte was actively being protective.

In ancient times the tomte had links to the original inhabitor of the farm, as the tomte was believed to be the soul of that man. During early Christianisation, it was a frightful accusation to have been linked to having a tomte on your farm. A neighbour farmer could be jealous of his neighbour’s wealth and accuse the prospering farmer of keeping a tomte. This carried huge ramifications as now the accused was linked to the devil;as the tomte at the time was considered heathen.

Generally the tomte has in history been a solitary character, not social. The belief in the tomte has been widespread in Scandinavian countries and to this day Sweden still has stories of him.

The physical appearance of a tomte is considered to be extremely short and no taller than half the size of a full grown human. He is elderly, with a long beard and dresses in farmer’s clothing. Despite his small size, he possesses surmountable strength. The protection the tomte offered could be retreated as it is not too hard to offend him.

Two general ways to irk and anger the tomte, are to change things as the tomte is a traditionalist and does not like the way things are done on a farm to be changed. The other general way is to disrespect the farm, by swearing, being rude and miss-treating animals.

It is customary to express acknowledgement to the tomte by leaving him a bowl of porridge on Christmas eve. This is also a form of ancestral worship as the tomte has been linked to the soul of the dead. The tomte is reputed to especially favour a small cut of butter on top of his porridge. Various tales express how the tomte would seek revenge if he did not get his porridge, by running away and leaving his role as protector or by causing some misfortune or havoc on the farm.

A truly angry tomte has the ability to drive people mad or impart a poisonous bite that may be fatal.
A form of the tomte, emerged in the late 1800s, who would become known as jultomte. Jultomte has since been associated with brining Christmas gifts to the family home at Christmas time. Today the tomte still has his traditional characteristics, yet the modern form has become well marketed. The height of the tomte is still short yet sometimes he is viewed as adult size, his desire to remain hidden from humans still exists as well as his magical skills. Unlike Santa Clause, the tomte uses the front door and in Sweden he lives in a nearby forest. The tomte is not overweight and if he does have reindeer pulling his sleigh, the reindeer do not fly.

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