Tomte

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A tomte (Swedish) (Swedish pronunciation: [ˈtɔ̀mːtɛ]) or nisse (Norway and Denmark) (pronounced [ˈnìsːɛ]) or tonttu (in Finland) is a mythical creature of Scandinavian folklore. Tomte or Nisse were believed to take care of a farmer's home and children and protect them from misfortune, in particular at night, when the housefolk were asleep. The Swedish name tomte is derived from a place of residence and area of influence: the house lot or tomt. Nisse is the common name in Norwegian, Danish and the Scanian dialect in southernmost Sweden; it is a nickname for Nils, and its usage in folklore comes from expressions such as Nisse god dräng (Nisse good lad, cf. Robin Goodfellow). Other names are Tuftekall, Tomtegubbe or Haugebonde ("mound farmer"), all names connecting the being to the origins of the farm (the building ground), or a Burial mound. Those names are remembrances of the being’s origins in an ancestral cult.

Contents

Appearance

The tomte/nisse was often imagined as a small, elderly man (size varies from a few inches to about half the height of an adult man), often with a full beard; dressed in the everyday clothing of a farmer. However, there are also folktales where he is believed to be a shapeshifter able to take a shape far larger than an adult man, and other tales where the tomte/nisse is believed to have a single, cyclopean eye. In modern Denmark, nisses are often seen as beardless, wearing grey and red woolens with a red cap. Since nisses are thought to be skilled in illusions and sometimes able to make himself invisible, one was unlikely to get more than brief glimpses of him no matter what he looked like. Norwegian folklore states that he has four fingers, and is hairy all over, sometimes with pointed ears. His eyes glow in the dark.

Temperament

Despite his smallness, the tomte/nisse possessed an immense strength. Even though he was protective and caring he was easy to offend, and his retributions ranged from a stout box on the ears to the killing of livestock or ruining of the farm's fortune. The tomte/nisse was a traditionalist who did not like changes in the way things were done at the farm. Another easy way to offend him was rudeness: farm workers swearing, urinating in the barns, or not treating the creatures well would be soundly thrashed. If anyone spilled something on the floor in the house it was wise to shout a warning to the tomte below. An angry tomte is featured in the popular children's book by Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf, Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (Nils Holgersson's Wonderful Journey Through Sweden). The tomte turns the naughty boy Nils into a tomte in the beginning of the book, and Nils then travels across Sweden on the back of a goose.

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