Posted by: Sarah | December 19, 2009

No Santa In Norway – They Have Nisse!

When I first heard about the Norwegian Nisse I honestly thought someone was pulling my leg but I checked it out with a few people at work and it dawned on me that the Nisse are quite a cute part of Norwegian culture. 

Nisse come from the Norwegian forest and live in attics and stables attaching themselves to a particular family and caring for their stable and cattle. They are particularly kind to household pets, which is why the they are often pictured with a cat on Christmas cards.  They come in all shapes and sizes but most often look like a cross between a gnome and Santa Claus – particularly at Christmas time when the “Julenisse” come out to play.  They wear knee breeches, knitted stockings, a long red sweater and have HUGE beards (I guess more insulation during winter the better – the ones of the right must be in summer gear)

No-one ever sees the Nisse but they are quite mischievous and keep everyone on their toes – especially at Christmas time.  It was thought that if the Nisse don’t get their porridge or beer, they will steal your happiness and play havoc with your farm – their trickery could contribute to crop failure and sickness for both animals and people if he was not treated well.  Many farms used to believe very strongly in this and would make up a bed for the nisse on Christmas Eve and the honorary place at the table stood ready and waiting for him.  

Nisse are deeply ingrained in Norwegian culture and tradition and to this day, family members masquerade as “nisse” by putting on a mask and a costume on Christmas Eve asking the children “Are there any good children here?” – of which most children will say: “Yes, I am good”.   Families also leave out a bowl of porridge…just in case they pay a visit to the house!


  1. Nisse is Santa btw…

    • Hi Lloyd – is that right? I thought they were just little elves. Mind you, I have seen some “american” type santa toys in the shops this xmas but more of the nisse type characters.

  2. No, no, no. In the first part of my 24 part “A Study Of The Norwegian Nisse” which I’m posting on my blog between the 1st and the 24th of December this year the difference is clearly explained :-)
    The whole thing is a linguistic misshap, nothing else. It is because the Swedes called Santa “Nisse” which is a nickname for Nils and we adopted that here in Norway. The real nisse don’t like this at all.

    • Brilliant post! Thanks for sharing…hilarious reading. I had no idea “nisse” lived so close to Oslo in the woods…you’re lucky! :-)

  3. I hear that if you lose your car keys (or if say…your cow’s milk gets tipped over…) you should blame that nisse! Don’t forget to leave him porridge and butter. Merry Christmas! (Is it god jule?)

    • I hadn’t heard that before but that’s brilliant Jenn. I have heard that they can be a little naughty! I need to research more about them. Merry Xmas to you too!

  4. Well, this is old, and it’s not even xmas, but anyway. I think nisser er those you wrote about, but Julenissen is Santa.

    • Ah – thanks for clarifying. Every year I see the nisse hats in the shops for kids and people knitting nisse outfits. So cute. Lizzie might need one this year.

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