Monster Monday: Tomte

We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about the Tomte.

Illustration by Nils Bergslien depicting tomtes
Illustration by Nils Bergslien depicting tomtes

The tomte, also called the nisse in Norway and Denmark, is an elf-like creature in Scandinavian folklore. The tomte is a household spirit, and like household spirits in other cultures, it helps with households chores and looks after the livestock and the children. Generally, it lives underneath the floor.

A tomte usually appears as a very small old man with a grey beard, sometimes wearing a red wool cap, but usually they are invisible.

Generally, a tomte is a helpful, good-natured spirit, but it is easily offended. A tomte does not like change and also does not tolerate rudeness. If offended, it might box the ears of the offender, steal grain, or even kill livestock. It is customary to leave small gifts of food for the tomte, most often a bowl of porridge with butter on Christmas night.

In the Scandinavian countries, the tomte brings presents for the children on Christmas, delivering them through the front door, sometimes riding a goat or a pig.

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