Christmas of a Scandinavian spirit

nisse christmas folklore

Christmas is harbouring of that time of the year when the misty magic of the world unveils its charm as a host of wonderful realities. Think nippy nights and glittering lights, beaming Santas and laughing folks, lit up churches and dressed up revelers and you recognise at once the vibe that spells out the spirit of Christmas in all magnificence. Religious indeed but cultural as well, evoking the glory of the good Lord Jesus but encompassing also such existences in myth and mystery that wonderfully lends itself to the radiance emanating from this festival of devotion, fanfare and goodwill, Christmas has forever been an exploration distinctive in its many a diverse elements of fascination. Folklore and traditions are intricately associated with Christmas tales, and so are the beliefs and customs that lend themselves to this global celebration every December 25th for a grand carousing of indeed all things magical.

Of such folkloric connect that Christmas bears to many a legends prevailing across the scattered parts of world in all their early musings, one thing however is as universal as the yuletide in which the festival is steeped. And that has to do with a certain very charming component of what makes up folktales and fairystories, in all their dreamy, unreal premises of seating. Emanating from the realms of fantasy but driving still the collective consciousness of entire nations and their people, as in fact a very prominent being once residing amongst them in all veritable reality perhaps as so believed, are numerous mythical characters and fabled creatures that endow upon Christmas the added flair of their own unique ‘person’. Of both genial and notorious reputations are these many an intriguing encounters specific to the Christmas cheer, with such weavings of their origin and basis in continuation that has managed to keep the spark of them alive through the ages. And the particular assertion of one such being of Chrismassy reputation that has managed to charm us with its individualist indeed permeation of the X mas air is a magical identity emanating from the as magical realms of an entire region of common geography.

Nisse
Source: Wikipedia

Magic is what has forever characterised the Scandinavian identity, whether in be in terms of its exquisite offerings of the natural kind or its curiously encapsulating way of living and by such myriad assertions as even an entire otherworldly realm so distinct in being that feels indeed like a fantasy for the rest of us in the other parts of the world. Hailing from the explorations of folklore characterising this particularly fascinating Scandinavian realm is the Nisse, so typical of Christmases and winters in this part of the world. One of the most famous characters of the folkloric rendition here, the mythological indeed prominence of the nisse is a pan Scandinavian phenomenon and one that is interpreted differently in linguistic terms in the different corners of what sums up the entire Nordic existence in its shared sublimity.

As short and stocky male creatures with long white beards and sporting red long conical caps so characteristic of the Christmas visage, nisse are projected as being not very different from the more general garden gnomes. Swedes call him the Tomte, Finns refer to him instead as the Tonttu while in Norway he commands the more common identity of the Nisser. But despite this affinity to manifest himself as distinctive across different interpretations, this Scandinavian creature still is very much identified as a house spirit, one that is not essentially good neither evil but resident instead in a nature that is as human in its disposition. Believed to dwell in houses and barns of the farmstead, the Nisse came to enjoy particular popularity in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries across all of Denmark, southern Norway and Sweden. As the guardian of farms and therefore alluding to each in all exclusive uniquity has been the Nisse who are believed to protect the family and animals from evil and misfortune while partaking also of all sorts of farm work in effective efficiency. But equally mischievous can be this derivant of mythology when offended, an attribute owed to their temperamental existence. But it isn’t just disrespect that incites the old man to unleashing his wrath upon farms and farmers and family alike. The farm guardian that he is, Nisse are also as easily set off by carelessness and rudeness as well as by lazy and filthy farm owners, and he takes to punishing them in as mild or severe assertions as need be. From playing tricks and stealing items to physically abusing the farmers or even maiming and killing livestock, nisse are known to be unforgiving in their wrath.

Appeasing this gnome of human like disposition as well as revering him in his guardian image requires offerings to be made, usually in such traditional versions of food as porridge. It is customary for a Nisse to be served a large wooden bowl of sour cream porridge topped with a pat of butter as a traditional gift on Christmas Eve, with interesting tales seeking to warn of the disastrous consequences that might follow in the case of even minor aberrations. A farmer putting the butter underneath the porridge enraged the nisse so much that he killed the cow resting in the barn. Another story of a Norwegian girl almost beaten to death by the nisse whose porridge she proclaimed to have eaten is as oft quoted an anecdote of the house spirit’s uncompromising preference for his gift. Being denied the porridge altogether might even lead the nisse to leave the farm or else indulge in mischief.

The tradition of the Nisse in Nordic folklore might be ancient indeed an assertion of what shapes up the many other mythical beings believed to be widely prevalent in the social and cultural consciousness of the Scandinavian region but the more contemporary association of the Nisse to Christmas dawned only sometime in the 1840s. Emerging out of its exclusive almost reputation as the farm guardian and taking on more Christmasesque attributes of gift giving and the like also helped catapult the Nisse to the zeniths of popularity. As the bearer of Christmas presents in Scandinavia and therefore their version of the Santa Claus there, the Nisse became known instead as Julenisse and once again emerged forth in different assertions linguistically. Be it the Swedish “Jultomte”, the Norwegian “Julenisse”, the Danish “Julemand” and the Finnish “Joulupukki”, the Nisse that has come to be an integral character of the Christmassy awareness across the whole of Scandinavia ever since continues to hold its self in traditions and customs rooted in folklore. Knocking on the door of homes and handing out presents to the people is what the Nisse is still believed to do, and he in turn is still treated to that same old traditional bowl of butter topped porridge, reinstating therefore the traditional connect that characterise even the modern day commercialised depiction of these magical beings. Unsurprisingly therefore, the nisse continues to set the Christmas vibe flowing even without the characteristic bulging tummy and the more than apparent jovialness beaming from his face, neither does he resort to making the chimney his way down to houses, venturing instead door to door on foot occasionally also with the as traditional Yule Goat.

From folklore and myths, the Scandinavian Nisse has also made the crossover into more modern elements ushering in the Christmas season, appearing on Christmas cards and house and garden decorations. They are also made space for at meal tables with families setting out an extra seat for them to partake of the Christmas feast, even when the traditional bowl of porridge continues to be left out to express gratitude to these bearers of the essential Christmas gifts. They continue to permeate in as mush prominence across the fables passed on from yore, manifesting their eccentric charm across the pages of literature even when their essence as the “soul” of the first inhabitor of the farm lives on in their oft evoked references along the lines of the imagination. And what emerges forth from all these trails of tradition pertaining to the definite presence of the Nisse as an exquisite creature of the Christmastime magic that grips the world in part assertion of divinity and part working of charm is yet another of the many enticing Scandinavian uniquities that is what has been making this part of the globe a magical reality to behold and witness and indeed live and experience in all of its amusing quirks.