Nisse Walking Through a Moonlight Forest

Perhaps You Recognise This Fairy?

Most likely, you are familiar with the modern rendition of these festive Fae. They grace many a shelf during the holidays. They climb out from beneath the floor boards, or wherever they were hiding during the warmer months, and join us to get ready for the holiday season. Their small stature and large noses have captured our hearts and we welcome them in droves. Perhaps you recognise him?


Picture of a Nisse

The Nisse, also known as the Tomte

Yes, this adorable little fairy is called a Nisse, or a Tomte. They are known to dress in grey and wear a red pointed cap.  They have a talent for music. Both good at singing and playing. It’s been said that if you give them a grey sheep, you may receive some instruction on the finer points of playing the fiddle. They are quite fond of the moonlight and will venture out on a bright winter’s night to play in the snow and whip ‘round in little sleighs.

The origin of many stories belonging to these wee folk is largely based in the Scandinavian countries. This may be why we often think of the Nisse as a Holiday Fairy, since they belong to a region where there is often much snow. Their love for frolicking in the snow and passion for a clean, and festive house also add to this idea. They share much in common with the Brownie, whom you can read about here, but with a few distinct differences. It would make a good deal of sense that the Nisse are closely related to the brownie, explaining much of the similarities in their character. Some will go so far as to say that a Brownie and the Nisse are really one and the same, the only difference is in the name.

While a brownie will adopt a family and may stick with them year round for as long as the family continues to treat them well, some of the Nisse retreat for a nice long rest during most of the year ­— or at least, so they would have us think. They are most active around the winter solstice. As the weather turns cold and we begin to look forward to the warming of the earth once again, they will join in preparations. Decorations are well loved by them and they’ll be most happy to aid in the extra cleaning, some cooking and other general business of this season. So long as you are preparing as well. Be assured that if you are lazy in your holiday endeavours, they certainly won't be bothered to do anything helpful at all. The Nisse have no patience for what they deem laziness and may in fact create a great deal of inconvenience for you if they decide you are a layabout. 

Their Capacity for Love and Terror

The Nisee are especially drawn to farm life. Usually, they are much loved and needed helpers. They are kindly disposed toward animals and will help in caring and feeding for them. They’ll also pitch in around the kitchen, bringing in water if needed, sweeping and the like. All of this is really quite lovely. Like most things in life, though, they have a darker side to their nature as well. It’s important to show a Nisse the proper appreciation. If you begrudge them their share of a good bowl of porridge and a bit of butter, they’ll like as not be more of a menace than a help. Indeed, it’s likely they’ll feel more like a violent poltergeist than a friendly household fae. They have been known to do things such as killing livestock, pulling pranks which could include dragging you outside naked into the cold night air, or throwing you back and forth over the roof of a house. It may be fair to point out that the Nisse in these stories were repaying an ill favour from a young boy, but do not take lightly an insult to a Nisse. If you are brave enough to pull a prank on one... Well. You have been warned.

It’s quite important that you tend to your household Nisse. There was a man whose household fae was quite out of sorts and tormented him to such a degree that he began packing up his entire house to move. He arrived back at the house to move the last of his belongings when, to his dismay, he saw the Nisse sitting atop the pile. He could see the Nisse had no intention of staying in the house and was moving along with him! Well dear reader, you and I know that the Brownie and the Nisse alike do not attach themselves to a home. No indeed, they adopt a person and most commonly whole families. The Nisse threw the man a large smile and in a whole, hearty laugh stated in a cheerful voice,

“Ha! we’re moving today you see.” *

So if you find yourself in the company of these wee fairies, treat them kindly and you will likely reap great rewards. If you chose to neglect them, however, you now have an inkling of what may be in store.




* This story was found in The Fairy Mythology Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition of Various Countries by Thomas Keightley, 1828