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Scandinavian gnomes: A history of gnomes in Sweden, Norway and Denmark

Scandinavia is a beautiful place, full of beautiful places to explore and delicious foods to eat. One of the things that makes the Scandi countries so compelling is their rich folklore.

Throughout Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, you’ll find countless traditions and unique stories that tell tales of mythical creatures and sprites, ranging from fairies to trolls.

One of the better-known creatures from Scandinavian lore is the gnome. The Scandinavian gnome isn’t necessarily a force of good or evil (though they’re not usually malicious).

These creatures have found their way into countless tales over the years and continue to hold a significant place in the hearts of the locals to this day.

There are even Scandinavian Christmas gnomes that play a part in determining whether you get a handful of presents each year or not.

If you’ve been wondering about some of the more intriguing parts of Nordic and Scandinavian folklore, and you’re keen to learn more about gnomes, you’re in the right place.

We’re going to give you an insight into the history and origin of gnomes and what you should know about them as a Scandi fan.

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What are Scandinavian gnomes?

Before we get to discussing things like Christmas gnomes, and the history of gnomes in Sweden and Norway, let’s start with the basics.

In Scandinavia, the gnome usually has the name of “Tomte” in Swedish, or “Nisser” in Norway. In Finland, the name for the gnome is Tonttu.

Scandinavian gnomes are similar in style to the ones you’ve probably seen in Western folklore. Small and bearded, these creatures are mischievous domestic spirits. Scandinavians believe that they’re responsible for the welfare and protection of a farmstead and its buildings.

According to some Scandinavian people, gnomes originally come from the soul of the first person to own the farm.

The souls of a homestead eventually become a spirit creature to ensure the continuous care of the space. Scandinavian gnomes have a deep love of tradition, and they hate the idea of change.

They’re also similar to ancestral figures in Nordic lore, as they demand a lot of respect.

What do gnomes represent in Scandinavia?

Tales of Scandinavian gnomes emerged from a time when farms were extremely isolated, and inhabitants throughout Scandinavia had to live through dark, long winters. The Scandinavian gnomes sprang from the imaginations of people who wanted to feel less alone during these cold months.

In Sweden, the word “Tomte” actually means homestead man.

Gnomes can sometimes stand for good fortune, respect, and care in Scandinavian homes. Stories about these creatures often talk about how much they appreciate people looking after their properties and farms and being good to the animals that live there.

Gnomes are also frequently associated with mischievous behaviour and pranks.

In some more frightening tales about gnomes, people would say that these creatures could kill off livestock and destroy a family’s fortune if they were upset or irked.

What is the difference between a gnome and a Tomte?

A gnome and a Tomte are two names for the same thing. Depending on where you go in Scandinavia, you’ll discover that many different families have specific names for gnomes and even their own special stories to tell about the gnome’s history in Scandinavia.

Although the garden gnome might have originated in the United Kingdom, the stories about gnomes that lead to those items being made in the first place go back to Germany and Nordic countries. Gnomes are some of the oldest and most popular fairy-tale creatures in Scandi culture.

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What do gnomes look like?

Since gnomes are supposed to be the spirits of farm owners, their aesthetic matches that idea. Most gnomes are described as little old men, no more than 3 feet high.

They usually have a long white or grey beard, and they were typical Scandinavian colors, like brown, navy, or grey. Some of these traditional figures have bright red caps on their heads.

Depending on where you go in Scandinavia, some gnomes can have different characteristics based on the color of clothing they wear. The ones living in the stables would usually wear grey clothes. Those living in the main house would dress more neatly, with blue and dark green clothing.

Although the appearance of the gnome differs from one story to the next, most people throughout Scandinavia will describe a gnome as a small creature with a big head on a small body.

You’ll notice that many Scandinavian gnome models and decorations have a large nose and a beard that covers almost the entirety of their face.

Scandinavian gnomes always have beards that stretch over their chests, some of these beards are twisted into a point at the end, whereas others are a little more wild and rugged – like the beard of a lumberjack.

Throughout Denmark and Norway, some stories suggest that gnomes are well versed in magic, and they know how to cast illusions or make themselves invisible.

Norwegian gnomes: History of gnomes in Norway

As mentioned above, the name and style of the Scandinavian gnome differs depending on the country that you visit.

In Norway, gnomes are Nisse — creatures that live in barns or homes, protecting the countryside and the people who live there. Like Swedish gnomes, Norwegian gnomes are playful figures who can either be pranksters, or close friends.

A common part of Norwegian folklore and legend, the Nisse have a long white beard with a conical or knit cap, often in red or another bright color. They look a lot like your standard garden gnome.

The Nisse is one of the most common figures in Scandinavian folklore, and it appears pretty frequently in Scandi literature. Like Swedish gnomes, the Nisse usually appears as a small and elderly man.

Sometimes, Nisse would wear woollen tunics with knee breeches and stockings, as well ass belts around their waist. This was the common dress of Scandinavian locals in the 17th century, so the Nisse could have easily blended with the crowds if he weren’t so small.

Of course, there are some other ideas of what the Nisse might look like.

What is the origin of gnomes in Norway?

Some folktales about Norwegian gnomes say that they’re shapeshifters who can take on a shape much larger than the average adult man. Other books about the history of gnomes in Norway indicate that these creatures might have had only one eye.

Since most of the representations of Norwegian gnomes these days have a large nose and massive beard, you could still make that assumption. You usually can’t see the eyes on knitted gnomes.

Many Norwegians believe that gnomes have four fingers, with pointed ears and eyes like a cat that can reflect light in the dark. This might make the gnome sound pretty scary — but Norwegians believe that it’s a pretty friendly creature overall.

Swedish gnomes: History of gnomes in Sweden

Sweden has its own, slightly different tale about gnomes. Swedish gnomes are sometimes called Nisse too, but the more common name is Tomte. Like the Norwegians, Swedes believe that the Tomte is a create that safeguards farmers and their homes.

When Christianisation began, it became a frightful thing to be accused of having a Tomte in your farm. However, generally, the tomte wasn’t a malicious creature.

Known for their solitary ways, the Swedish gnomes were only around 2 foot in size, according to some sources. Despite their tiny stature, these Tomte could sometimes possess incredible strength, and they would often be offended by lack of respect or lazy farmers.

As the caretaker of livestock and the protector of farms and homes, they would play pranks on people for not caring for their belongings properly.

What are gnomes in Sweden?

Swedish gnomes are small elf-like creatures that often lived around houses and in barns, according to legend. The Tomte is fond of caring for children, and if you befriended one of these creatures, then they would help to protect you against misfortune.

Swedish gnomes were often said to be particularly active at night when the people of the house were asleep.

Another feature that makes the Tomte interesting is its passion for work. These creatures love to do things around the home and don’t like people interfering with their tasks.

If you keep your home clean and leave a bowl of Christmas porridge out for your Swedish gnomes On Christmas Eve, they might reward with you gifts, according to the legends.

One way to irk a Swedish gnome is to change something. A massive change in your house would generally upset these traditional creatures. The other way to upset the Tomte is to be rude, mistreat an animal, or disrespect the farm.

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What are Scandinavian Christmas gnomes?

Gnomes aren’t just for Christmas in Scandinavian culture, but they play a big role in the holiday celebrations in various countries.

Santa Claus might be one of the most important people at Christmas for us in the Western world, but Scandinavian locals believe that it’s still gnomes and elves that do the majority of the work.

The Norwegian belief in Scandinavian Christmas gnomes that help to guard the animals throughout the year. You get a bowl of porridge ready for your Scandinavian gnome on Christmas Eve, and hope they would become your friend.

If you don’t give the gnome their porridge, they might get upset and start playing pranks on you and your family.

Christmas gnomes in Norway visit homes on Christmas Eve, bringing gifts to the children of the household. Some families set an extra place at the table for the gnome — just in case the creature decides to join them.

Do gnomes bring good luck?

The influence that gnomes have on a household depends on who you ask.

Christmas gnomes in Denmark are remarkably similar to the creatures in Norway — though they’re a little more mischievous. Although the Danish don’t have as much folklore about gnomes all-year-round, they do still see gnomes as important during the Christmas months.

The Danish gnomes wear woollen clothing and red bonnets, with white clogs. Danish locals leave bowls of rice pudding outside for the gnomes to make him friendlier towards them.

Some people in Denmark believe that you can control your fortunes by befriending a gnome, but these creatures are often more likely to end up playing pranks on homeowners.

What are Swedish gnomes called?

The Christmas gnomes in Sweden are the Tomte, who look a lot like the Santa Claus that many of us know today. These gnomes usually wear grey clothing, and they’re always watching over you to see how well you behave.

You can only meet the Tomte during Christmas time, and often they’ll share rhymes when handing out presents.

Even Iceland has its own version of the Christmas gnome in the form of the 13 Yuletide lads who come to the town bearing gifts and sweets. These creatures appear one a day on the 13 days before Christmas and leave one by one too — making the season last a full 26 days.

Bringing Christmas gnomes to your home

If you’re keen to add some magic to your home with your own Christmas gnomes, then you could always try making your own. There are tons of videos on how to make Swedish gnomes if you have some basic sewing skills. Here’s a great option to get you started.

If you prefer to buy your Norwegian and Swedish gnomes, here are some of our top picks.

1. Funoasis Holiday gnome

This Swedish gnome is an excellent way to celebrate the holiday season in Scandinavian style. A 19-inch gnome with an adjustable hat, this Tomte is perfect for the living room or dining table. You can even place your gnome beside your Christmas tree.

Just like many of the best products with Scandi flair, these products are all handmade, and feature environmentally friendly materials, so there are no two completely alike.

This Swedish gnome is a great choice if you want to bring good luck and fortune into your home during the holiday season.

The stripey knitted hat is also a perfect insight into Scandi style.

2. BAODLON gnomes

Take full advantage of the joy of Christmas gnomes with these ornaments. Designed in Swedish Tomte style, these ornaments will look gorgeous on a Scandinavian Christmas tree.

Hang them from your branches and enjoy their adorable appearance while you’re munching on some classic Scandi cookies.

These handmade Scandinavian ornaments are ideal for parents who are introducing their kids to Scandinavian gnomes and folklore. The products are also pretty impressive in terms of workmanship, too, with a faux fur beard and a lovely felt body.

Share some good feelings and fortunate vibes with a set of friendly gnomes to take you through the holiday season. You could even leave them out around the fireplace after Christmas if you wanted to.

3. Scandinavian Bee gnome

Scandinavian gnomes don’t just have to be a Christmas decoration. These Nisse style gnomes are the perfect insight into Nordic culture, and they’re a great way to add some Norwegian charm to you home all year around.

The tiny gnome comes with its own wooden bead nose and honey stick, making him the perfect guy to have around in the Summer months.

Measuring around 12 inches tall, this gnome comes with a handcrafted body made from soft felt fabric and a beard of brown faux fur. One of these little fellas in your home will give it a beautiful farmhouse vibe in no time.

We’d definitely recommend keeping this gnome in your kitchen or next to some plant pots to create the perfect Scandi vibe.

4. Ivenf Christmas gnomes

This pack of two adorable Scandinavian gnomes say they’re for Christmas, but we think that they could give your home a cozy atmosphere at any time of year. Perfect for sprucing up your fireplace or adding a sense of hygge to your current aesthetic, the 2-pack is a great bargain.

Around 17 inches tall from top to bottom, these festive ornaments will look wonderful in any home.

If you love the eye-catching style of these gnomes, there’s a complete collection of similar products from Invenf that cover everything from Christmas ornaments, to standard décor items that you can put anywhere in the house.

5. Funoasis green gnome

For a slightly different take on the standard Scandinavian gnome style, check out this Funoasis Tomte in green and brown. It’s the ideal gift for a gardener or farmer who loves the great outdoors, with its unique nature vibe.

Once again, this item could make an excellent decoration if you’re looking for Christmas gnomes to spruce up your home in the holidays.

However, the subtle design of the green gnome also means that it would work pretty well in your home all-year-round if you wanted a fun decoration to make your property look a little cozier.

There’s a full collection of gnome options from Funoasis that covers just about every color you can think of. You could buy one in a different shade for every member of your family.

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What is a Scandinavian gnome?

A Scandinavian gnome is more than just a creature from folklore for the people of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.

Although there are many old traditional stories about gnomes and how they used to care for farms centuries ago, these creatures are still a modern fixture in many Scandinavian families.

The history of gnomes in Scandinavia is still something that’s commonly celebrated throughout the year. When farmers have a good season, or something good happens in a family home, people will often reference the Tomte or Nisse that brings them good luck.

If something goes wrong in a home, then a Scandinavian parent might ask their children to ask the Tomte or Nisse for fortune.

Scandinavian folklore is a wonderful thing, full of unique creatures to explore and learn about.

Although many creatures in old tales were initially designed to scare children, gnomes are a little less frightening. Parents will often tell their children to respect the home and look after it if they want to keep the gnomes happy.

However, they’ll also encourage their kids to look forward to gnomes bringing them gifts and sharing fun experiences with them in the holiday weeks.

Today, the Scandinavian gnome is an exciting part of Scandi culture and an important element of the Christmas celebration.

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