Norway Culture:

Christmas and the Nisse

The Nisse is deeply ingrained in Norway Culture and Tradition.

The “Nisse” is thought of as short and stocky with a long grey or white beard and a knitted red cap. He wears dark knickers and a shirt and vest or a sweater. He brings children Christmas gifts. But this was not always the role of the nisse.

Norway Culture - Christmas and the Nisse

Decades ago, he was though of as the protector of the family farm. Stories about the nisse have been passed down for generations.

Norwegians in the old days believed in stories about the “netherworld” figures. The Nisse was powerful. He seemed to like humans, if he was treated with the respect he felt he deserved.

On the farm, he helped with the work in mysterious ways. For example, because he enjoyed helping horses more than cows, he would steal hay from the cows to give an extra portion to a favorite horse. His trickery could contribute to crop failure and sickness for both animals and people if he was not treated well.

The Nisse expected being served a large wooden bowl filled with sour cream porridge, with a big "eye of butter" in the middle, on Christmas Eve. Today, he prefers rice porridge. When the people on the farm went to find the bowls the next morning, the dishes would be empty and clean. That was proof enough that the nisse really existed!

Families in Norway have a tradition that one of their members masquerade as the “nisse” by putting on a mask and a costume on Christmas Eve. The nisse with his sack knocks on the door. He asks the question: "Good evening, are there any good children here?" Most children will say: "Yes, I am good".

Norway in Pictures (Visual Geography Series)

Christmas in Scandinavia

Norwegians know deep in their heart that the nisse lives. That is why Norwegians still fill wooden bowls with porridge and take them to the barn on Christmas Eve because no one can really be sure.

Norway Culture: Of Norwegian Ways