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It’s an exceptionally magical time of year. As I was pondering this the thought of my friend the “winter tomte” or “jul tomte” popped into my mind. Is there really such a thing? Ah yes, there really is such a thing as a winter tomte and this time of year especially we have many eager children waiting for the Jul Tomte to come on Christmas Eve bring sack full of presents, chocolate, and good fun.
The tomte in Sweden and Nisse in Norway and Denmark is a Scandinavian myth. Tomtes are small, bearded men who wear red colored caps and are rarely, if ever seen by humans. Since we are talking about Winter Tomte I have to also share that you’ll only see the menfolk as the women and children are home making merry and getting ready for the great celebrations ahead.
The word tomte actually means “homestead man” and the word Nisse is the nickname for the name Nils which means Nicholas as in St. Nicholas. So a tomte is a little man who resides on the farm and on Christmas, plays the role of St. Nick and Santa all rolled into one.
Traditionally, tomtes live on farms, backyards, and maybe even under the pantry at your house. They stay out of sight during the day, and come out at night to do chores, and help out around the house, farm, and garden. They help farms, gardens, and homes to prosper and be successful. We never get something for nothing, so in return, they ask that the land, garden, forest, and animals be treated kindly and respectfully.
One of the greatest signs of good luck is to have a tomte living at your house, in your garden or on your farm. To make sure that they stay with you, always give them a bowl of porridge topped with butter and maybe even some brown sugar on Christmas Eve. They’ll be so happy. (Recipe Below)
It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t warn you though, that tomtes have very bad tempers and are very strong. If you make them angry or offend them they’ll wreak havoc around the house and farm. Things to expect are all horses and cows tails tied together. All of the cereal boxes turned upside down in the cupboard. Silverware placed in the freezer, glasses turned upside down so you can’t pour milk or water into them. If everything is going backward at your house or it’s just in complete chaos, you may have a disgruntled tomte.
Enough of warnings…..would you like to know more about winter tomte and all of the great magic they bring ? Have a look below for some great tomte adventures.
The Winter Tomte Booklist
The tomte, who speaks the “tomter” language, is a good-natured elf-like creature who lives only on farms and is very busy during the winter while adults and children sleep. These people have never seen him, but they do see his tiny tracks in the snow. The invisible “tomten” also visits all the farm animals, speaks with them in his language, and brings them straw if they are cold.
A beautifully illustrated tale adapted from an old Swedish poem. The Tomten, who looks after the farm at night, meets a hungry fox and agrees to share his supper with him if the fox promises to leave the hens alone. A very gentle, friendly story. It is refreshing that he understands that the fox is hungry and needs to eat – rather than the ‘nasty fox’ approach.
Grump the Yule Tomte lives all alone, which is exactly how he likes it! He’s waiting for Christmas to arrive when all of a sudden a gust of wind steals his mittens from the washing line and his hat from his head. That’s the last straw — he won’t be the Yule Tomte any more! Binny and Barty, the rabbit children, live with their family in the forest. They’ve never heard of Christmas, or the Yule Tomte, until the wind brings them some strange gifts…All the animals in the forest prepare for the arrival of Christmas. They make presents, bake sweet treats and even write a song. But will the Yule Tomte ever bring Christmas to the big forest? This charming and funny Christmas story of a grumpy tomte and the hopeful little rabbits is told over twenty-five chapters — one for each day of Advent — with delightful festive illustrations. Perfect for families to share together.
Every Christmas Eve, the Master puts out rice pudding for the tomtes to say thank you for their help around the house throughout the year. But recently the Master has forgotten, and Mama tomte knows he’ll forget again this year. The elves hatch a plot to steal a bowl of Christmas pudding, without being seen, so that Papa tomte doesn’t get upset. This charming story is based on an old Swedish Christmas tradition. It is illustrated with great humour and is full of delightful detail, as the tomte family scurry around their Master’s house one busy Christmas Eve.
Little Tomte lives happily in his cosy house beside a beautiful tree. When winter arrives, he’s worried that Christmas won’t come — until he makes a special Christmas wish. He embarks on a candle-making plan which will help make his wish come true. A heartwarming festive tale drawn with gentle humour by acclaimed Finnish illustrator Hannu Taina.
On Christmas Eve, Vigg is invited to accompany the Christmas tomten on his rounds which include a stop at the Hall of the Mountain King.
An ordinary Danish Christmas turns extraordinary when a family overlooks an important folkloric tradition.
Christmas has come, and with it a sparkling white winterfrost over the countryside. But twelve-year-old Bettina’s parents have been called away unexpectedly, leaving her in charge of the house, the farm, and baby Pia. In all the confusion, Bettina’s family neglects to set out the traditional bowl of Christmas rice pudding for the tiny nisse who are rumored to look after the family and their livestock. No one besides her grandfather ever believed the nisse were real, so what harm could there be in forgetting this silly custom? But when baby Pia disappears during a nap, the magic of the nisse makes itself known. To find her sister and set things right, Bettina must venture into the miniature world of these usually helpful, but sometimes mischievous folk. A delightful winter adventure for lovers of the legendary and miraculous.
In English, tomte are known as gnomes. I thought maybe, just maybe all of this reading about tomte might have you wanting to make a few of your own. This is a fantastic book with really great gnomes to make and tomte/gnome crafts.
Gnome crafts offer a wealth of possibilities for activities with children, appealing to their imagination in a vivid and entertaining way. Thomas and Petra Berger show how to make gnomes out of walnuts, twigs, wool and paper, as well as from a variety of other media. There are plenty of different types of gnome to keep children amused for hours. Any of the characters in the book would be at home on a seasonal nature table. Includes instructions for making Astrid Lindgren’s classic gnome the Tomten.
A Magic Porridge Recipe
Now that you know a little more about the Winter Tomte and what magic he brings. Let’s leave him something in return for his kindness. Make sure you taste a lot of it to make sure it’s just right for our kind friend. ~God Jul~ which means Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays in Swedish.
- 2 cups of water
- 1 cup of arborio rice. This is a short grain rice used in Risotto. You can find it in any grocery store.
- 5 cups of milk 2% is best or whole milk.
- 2-3 tbsp of butter or margarine
- 1 tsp of salt
- 3 tbsp sugar
- Sugar, cinnamon, and milk to serve with
- Boil water in a heavy saucepan or large pot, add rice and salt and boil with a lid until the rice has absorbed all the water.
- Pour half of the milk in and simmer on low, stirring constantly for 15 minutes.
- Continue to let simmer and add the rest of the milk, stirring every now and then to keep the porridge from sticking.
- Mix in the butter, sugar and add salt and/or more sugar to taste if you choose.
- After cooking between 40 and 50 minutes, the porridge is finished. Serve with cinnamon, sage, and milk as each person chooses.
Jul Porridge: Remember to leave a bowl out for your Jul tomte on Christmas Eve. Don’t forget the great toppings such as cinnamon and sugar. If you’re Jul Tomte is really happy, he’ll leave one almond in the porridge pot. Whoever gets it in their bowl on Christmas morning will have great good luck and good fortune for the next year.