The Legend Of Tomte

The Legend Of Tomte

By Steve Davey

The Legend Of Tomte

The Legend Of Tomte

Have you heard of the magical legend of Tomte? Also named Nisse in Norway or Denmark and Tonttu in Finland. They are solitary and mischievous domestic spirits who protect farmsteads and their families and animals. Folklore says they originated from the soul of the first farmer and are ancestral figures who command respect. Their name and figures were imagined by farmers from years gone by, who were often isolated and it helped them live through the cold and dark winter months. A tomte is described as, a little bearded man, just three feet high, with a long beard and scruffy plain clothes. His feet are covered in traditional work boots and he sports a red cap!  Tomte love to work but will not tolerate any interference.. They say a dirty house or stables, or treating animals unfairly, will surely upset your tomte and if anyone spills anything, legend says they are told to SHOUT out to warn the tomte not to fall into the puddle!  A clean house or farm is a clear sign a tomte spirit resides there…. If you offend your tomte he may play some pranks on you! He might do little things such as turning buckets upside down or will tie the cow’s tails together…. So you know when something strange happens you may have offended your little tomte.

Asas Tomtebod Handmade in Sweden

Tomte on the farm Asas Tomtebod

 In the country he will reside in the pantry or barn and if you move to the towns and cities he stay beneath your floorboards. These little spirit’s are treasured by all, wherever you live.

Tomte need very little from us humans, but they do demand the trust and respect of their homeowners. If respect is lacking from anyone who lives on the farmstead then they will not remain and the inhabitants of the farm will not thrive!

They ask that once a year on Christmas Eve, they have a bowl of their favourite food (julgröt) Christmas porridge, as thanks for their protection throughout the year. A tomte”s porridge is his due and it must be topped with a generous knob of butter! In the old days, butter was a luxury and only consumed on special occasions, the addition of a knob of butter in the Tomte’s porridge shows him your respect and thanks  to him for protecting you and yours for the year.

Tomte and his porridge

Tomte Julgröt Christmas Porridge Image by Maria Friberg Berntsson

There is an old tale of a tomte spirit not receiving his buttery porridge and the consequences of this in a story called “ The Nisse or Tomte who stole fodder. ”

The tradition and magical spirit of tomte is still alive today in towns and countryside alike. He is a welcome, visible companion when the nights draw darker and preparations for Christmas start. In todays modern times, he has been adopted in the guise of St. Nicolas and visits the children at Christmas time. He knocks on their doors and asks “are there any good children here? Many believe he now lives at the North Pole.


Tomte, Nisse Traditionally handmade Elves

Asas Tomtebod handmade in Sweden

Tomte are still so dear to Scandinavian hearts as they were in olden days. Every Christmas Eve, it is still tradition to leave a bowl of delicious, buttery julegröt out for your tomte, to show your gratitude, respect and thanks! Some traditions are beautiful and made to be kept alive. There is a beautiful poem that was written by Viktor Rydberg called ‘The Tomten” take a look at this video story adapted by Astrid Lindgren from a poem by Viktor Rydberg, illustrations by Harald Wiberg

The Tomten  adapted by Astrid Lindgren from a poem by Viktor Rydberg, illustrations by Harald Wiberg

Don’t forget to leave his porridge this Christmas, and PLEASE PLEASE,  add a generous knob of butter on the top…. he just LOVES his Christmas porridge!

If you want to give the gift of a tomte as a little spirit friend, we have beautiful genuine handmade traditional  Tomte. Crafted in Sweden, and made from natural materials, each one is unique. They really love their beards being tickled too!!!


Image of the Tomte with his porridge courtesy of Maria Friberg Berntsson and copyright Huldraart.

Here is a link to her website:


Here is a traditional Christmas Porridge recipe from My Danish Kitchen:

For more traditional Scandinavian recipes take a look at our cookbooks below. and our handmade Swedish Tomte….