What is a Tomte?

What is a tomte? Tomtes are Swedish farm spirits that before Christianity were believed to be the spirit of the first owner of a farm. They are like Scottish brownies in that they do chores for the farmer or farmwife in the dead of night and can be easily offended. Tomte are not gnomes. Tomte are tomte.

They don’t like swearing or bad behavior and will take measures into their own hands if you behave badly when they are around. Their name comes from the Swedish word for place of residence or sphere of influence tomt. Norwegians call them nisse. Sometimes they are called tomtenisse. They can punish you with a swift box of the ears, killing the family’s livestock or ruining the family fortune. They have even been known to beat people who have been very bad in their eyes.

They are usually thought to be only a few inches tall but can be as large as half a man’s size. They have a full white beard and dress in farmer’s clothes.

They weren’t associated with Christmas until the mid-1800s and now are sometimes called Jultomte and bring Christmas presents but you still have to give him a bowl of porridge and butter on Christmas Eve and the butter must be on top of the porridge or he will become enraged and do very bad things. They also don’t like change so you better explain why something is happening or rue the day you didn’t.

2 thoughts on “What is a Tomte?

    • Somewhere I have a very ’60’s wooden Tomte with very pink hair that one of my Swedish great-aunts gave me one Christmas Eve when I was little. I have no idea where she got it but she knew I loved trolls and thought this was good. It’s still a childhood treasure.

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