Posts Tagged ‘nisser’

A Most Mischievous Christmas

December 24, 2013

In honor of Christmas eve, let’s set aside the ancient, spooky traditions featured in Heritage of Darkness, and celebrate one of Norway’s more recent (and fun) bits of folklore:  the nisse.

nisse heritage of darkness

Nisser are household or farm spirits. Belief in these mythological creatures, which resemble garden gnomes, became common in Scandinavia in the late eighteenth century.

nisse might help with  chores, especially those involving animals. A happy nisse could help ensure a farm’s prosperity. The nisse on the old Christmas postcard below is hauling wood for the family. (Artist unknown/author’s collection.)

nisse

That being the case, farm families were careful to acknowledge their nisse with a bowl of porridge with butter on Christmas eve. If they forgot, trouble was sure to follow! One common story tells of a young girl who ate the porridge herself. The nisse was so angry he forced her to dance until she almost died.

Farmers who swore or treated their animals poorly would also be punished. In this painting by Gudmund Stenersen, an angry nisse is stealing hay. (Wikipedia)

220px-Tomtestealinghay
Nisser were also mischievious.  A bored nisse might amuse himself by tying the tails of two cows together. This nisse, on exhibit at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, is trying to startle visitors with his dangling spider.
vesterheim nisse
In Heritage of Darkness, one of the projects in Chloe’s rosemaling class is a bowl decorated with nisser—a project inspired by this bowl from Vesterheim’s collection.
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Nisser remain part of Christmas celebrations in many Scandinavian households and communities.
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Who knows—if you set out a bowl of porridge tonight, you just might ensure good luck in the coming year!
I wish you all a most peaceful and lovely holiday season.