You are here:
  1. » Home
  2. » Areas
  3. » Folklore
  4. » General folklore
  5. » Nisse
Cite/print/rate article
Send comment    References

Nisse

by Jason Clarke
In Scandinavian folklore, a "household spirit" responsible for the care and prosperity of a farm. A nisse was usually described as a short man (under four feet tall) wearing a red cap with a tassel.

Nisse While belief in guardian spirits is a very old tradition in Scandinavia, belief in nisser was prominent in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Denmark, southern Norway and southern Sweden. Many farms claimed to have their own nisse. The nisse took an active interest in the farm by performing chores such as grooming horses, carrying bales of hay, and other farm-related tasks. These chores were usually done much more efficiently and effectively than by their human counterparts.

However, nisser were very temperamental, to say the least. If the household was not careful to keep its nisse satisfied (usually in the form of a single bowl of porridge with butter in it left out on Christmas eve) the spirit could turn against its masters. In one story, a girl is instructed by her family to give the nisse his porridge, but decides to eat it herself. The nisse responds by forcing her to dance until she nearly dies. Sometimes the offering themselves could backfire: in another tale, a grateful farmer gives his nisse a pair of nice white boots, and afterward the nisse refuses to go out into the rain to stable the horses for fear of getting his new boots dirty.

Plural: nisser (although occasionally also mentioned as nissar).


Article details:

  • Also known as:
    Gardvord
    Tomte
  • Pronunciation:
    niss-eh
  • Image:

Page tools: