As the year comes to a close, we cast our minds back over the countless little bits of luck and serendipity that have fortified us, encouraged us, and helped us to keep moving forward. These small moments of peace and happiness can make us feel like something’s watching out for us and spurring us along. And maybe something—or someone—is! Settling into our Nordic theme this holiday season, we came across this cozy bit of Scandinavian folklore—the tomte.
Adapted into a children’s book by Astrid Lindgren (creator of the beloved Pippi Longstocking), The Tomten is about a gentle spirit who keeps watch over a slumbering farm on a mid-winter night. As the stars glisten on the bright snow, the tomte visits each winter-weary animal (farmer and family included) to encourage them with dreams of spring.
The tomte (known as the nisse in Denmark and Norway and the tonttu in Finland) is a shy little creature, a close cousin to the brownies of English and Scottish folklore. Rarely seen, he’s thought to be the spirit of the very first farmer to clear and settle a plot of farmland. In fact, tomte translates to ‘homestead man.’ After spending his life caring for the land, the tomte lingers on to make sure the farm and family prosper—keeping watch generation after generation.
Depicted as a tiny, bearded man with a conical cap and the glinting eyes of a wee nocturnal beastie, the tomte resides in the rafters of the barn—or in the warm nooks of the pantry. After the housefolk have fallen asleep, the tomte wanders stealthily through the house and around the farm helping out in little, homely ways. He shoos the spiders out of your kitchen, mends socks, and keeps the hungry fox away from the henhouse.
Of course, this wee man isn’t above getting into mischief! If he sees signs of neglect around the house or farm, he’s quick to make his displeasure known. The tomte will play tricks, bother the pets (who are much more attuned to his presence than humans), and impishly disrupt the daily routine in any number of small, irksome ways. Maybe that’s how a mysterious and utterly unnavigable knot appeared in the middle of that yarn skein…
But, as quickly as the tomte’s ire is roused, it’s just as soon appeased. Leave out a bowl of porridge and butter—or honey and cream—and all will be forgiven.
Over time, the tomte legend has become associated with Christmas in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Rather than St. Nick and his reindeer, the Jultomten and the giant, gift-bearing Yule goat, Julbocken, will visit homes and deliver treats and presents into stockings and clogs and wooden shoes.
After a year of well-being, be sure to thank the tomte for his friendship on Christmas Eve by leaving him a bowl of julgrøt—Christmas rice pudding—with a generous dab of butter (essential!).
The tale of this homely little spirit serves as a good reminder to be thankful for all the small helps and blessings that appear each year. The good fortune might seem tomte-sent, but it’s important to note the tomte only lingers in a house that’s already filled with kindness and good cheer.
At Churchmouse, we’re taking a moment to remember the many, many things we are grateful for this Christmas. Not the least of our blessings is the deep love we have for our craft, the good company of this wonderful community, and the endless gratification it always, always brings us. If we remember to be thankful for all those joyful moments, the helpful tomte won’t be far away!
P.S. If you’d like to read on about the tomte, our friends at Eagle Harbor Book Co. will happily point you in the direction of The Tomten and the Fox by Astrid Lindgren.
“It is a night for foxes and tomten. People are asleep in their beds, but the morning star has already risen above the edge of the forest.” The Tomten and the Fox, Astrid Lindgren