The Norwegian “julenissen” is a mixture of the barn-nisse and St. Nicholas.
Fjøsnissen (the “barn-nisse") or “haugkallen” the "netherworld elf", was the man who had helped tidy the farm, and also the man somehow mysteriously connected with the burial mound.
He guarded humans and animals on the farm, he saw to it that there was contentment and a good harvest. He lived in the barn or the stable, and he was an important person that you had to treat well.
On Christmas Eve you had to put out a bowl of porridge for the nisse in the barn or over the stable. Should he not get his due, he could take revenge on the people on the farm. This custom is actually a relic of the old norse tradition of yule sacrifice or offering to the gods.
One theory says that the word nisse is a nickname for Nils, which again is derived from Nicholas.
St. Nicholas was bishop in Myra in Turkey around the year 300. He helped the needy, and he was therefore made a saint for children and youth.
In many parts of the world it is St. Nicholas who brings the gifts at Christmas time.
Around the 1800s the Norwegian nisse appeared as we see him in many illustrations, he was dressed in "vadmel" a traditional cloth, and the characteristic red woolen cap. But he did not begin distributing gifts until after the year 1900!
Only when Coca Cola’s illustrator mixed the "haugkallen" and the sainted bishop St. Nicholas did we get our modern "julenisse" in red garb with snow-white beard and a team of reindeer.
The “julenisse” comes in many variants. But the modern one has little to do with the traditional “nisse” that lived in the barn and looked after the farm in rural Scandinavia.
In Norway they have a song about "Julenissen" sitting in the barn enjoying his Christmas Porrige set out for him on Christmas Eve,(it is in Norwegian)
JULENISSEN: PÅ LÅVEN SITTER NISSEN
På låven sitter nissen med sin julegrøt så god og søt, så god og søt. han nikker, og han smiler, og han er så glad, for julegrøten vil han gjerne ha. Men rundt omkring står alle de små rotter, og de skotter, og de skotter de vil så gjerne ha litt julegodter, og de danse, danser rundt i ring.
Men nissen, se han truer med sin store skje: nei, bare se og kom av sted, for julegrøten min den vil jeg ha i fred, og ingen, ingen vil jeg dele med. ``men rottene de hopper, og de danser, og de svinser, og de svanser, og klorer etter grøten og de danser, og de står om nissen tett i ring.
Men nissefar, han er en liten hissigpropp, og med sin kropp han gjør et hopp. jeg henter katten hvis dere ikke holder opp! når katten kommer, skal det nok bli stopp. ``Da løper alle rottene så bange, ja, så bange,ja, så bange, og de svinser, og de svanser noen ganger, og en, to, tre så er de vekk.