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Danish Canadian Museum Advent Calendar December 23rd 2020

Well its Day 23, One day left in our Christmas Advent Calendar. Today has been a struggle, this old laptop is fighting me through to the end of this calendar. With any hope we will get a new laptop .

It has been a heartfelt month of wonderful stories, fun traditions and history. Today we have two things that are my absolute FAVORITE.

Number one our NISSE!! Today I discuss who they are, how to keep them happy, you know the important stuff. I remember the first time I heard of these delightful creatures. I was hooked!! The idea of little people helping and watching, made so much sense and explained so much at the museum, that is always going on. I think that a lot of Nisse must have immigrated to Canada with there family's and then over time made there way to the museum. Be sure to keep your eyes out for our little Nisse.

The second thing of course is memories, this advent has been with the intention of helping bring back memories and perhaps create new ones. I know a lot of our members are stuck at home, with very few visitors and not a lot of hope of seeing loved ones for Christmas. Our precious memories are what we have this holiday season to keep our spirits up and joy in our hearts.

Two traditions that bring back memories are:

One of my favorite memories as a child was going to get a Christmas tree with my father, always on day before Christmas Eve, today. We would go out with our skidoo, cut it down and put it in our big tobbgan, pull it home, put it up. Then my dad would do the lights they were his favorite part, we would all string popcorn, and make decorations.

This song is my absolute favorite Christmas song! I learned it when I was 10 years old for a Christmas concert . My grade 5 teacher was also the music teach he was a vet who had lost his ears in a war. As a ten year old girl I was amazed at how good he was at music without ears. When I hear this song I always think of him, that Christmas concert when I had my first Christmas solo. Since then my Christmas must song is Alabama Thistlehair the Christmas Bear.

Danish Traditions

Sweeten up Nisse with rice pudding

This isn’t a special Danish tradition, as every country has legends and stories, for Christmas elves that appear during that special time of the year. But it is worth mentioning that in Denmark as well as in the other Scandinavian countries the mythological creature that visits people’s houses on Christmas Eve is Nisse. According to the myth, the playful creature expects to find rice pudding or porridge for him on the terrace. In order to bring luck in the coming year, some Danes still make sure to have prepared the Christmas delicacy the day before.

Dance around the tree

Once everyone has cleaned up their plates and the Christmas dinner is over, it’s time for some singing and dancing. Everyone, no matter their country, likes to end their Christmas dinner on a happy note. The difference is that Danes dance around the Christmas tree while singing Christmas songs, carols, and hymns. “Nu er det jul igen” (“Now it’s Christmas again”) and “Dejlig Er Den Himmel Blå” (“Lovely it’s the blue sky”) are among the top choices for that special moment. (Now its Christmas again, remake Danish artist) (traditional Version) (Best Christmas Carol)


There are many types of Nisse not to be confused with other creatures here are some examples.

Types of Nisse

Woodland Gnome Or forest gnome is the most common, resembles ordinary gnome. Kind, helpful, avoids contact with man, mischievous sense of humor.

Dune Gnome A fraction larger, he too, avoids contact with man.

Garden Gnome He lives in old gardens, even those hemmed in between new houses. Rather sombre and enjoys telling melancholy tales. He is quite learned, sometimes feels out of place in the woods.

Farm Gnome Resembles the house gnome good natured but is of a more constant nature and is conservative in all matters.

House Gnome A special sort resembling an ordinary gnome, he has the most knowledge of mankind. Owing to the fact that he often inhabits historic old houses, seen and heard a great deal. He speaks and understands man’s language. Good-natured, always ready for a lark or to tease; never malevolent.

Siberian Gnome He is centimetres larger than the European type and associates with trolls. In certain regions they are not to be trusted, taking revenge for the slightest offence by killing cattle, causing bad harvests, droughts, abnormally cold weather, and so forth. The less said about him, the better.

Nisse ( pronounced Nisser) have been living in Denmark since the world was young. In 1200AD a statue 15cms high was discovered in Norway, carved on the pedestal were the words ‘Nisse, Riktig Storrelse’ which means gnome actual height.  Nisse can grow to 2ft tall but most are smaller. There are different types of Nisse, some live in the woods, others gardens, barns or houses but all Nisse are self sufficient in the ways of the old country crafts.  Nisse are close to their families and may move house with them while Tomte are more connected to the place they live.

Danish – Nisse

Swedish – Tomte or Nisse (a Vatte lives under the house wearing all black with a black beard).

Norwegian – Tomte or Nisse

English – gnome

The most distinctive things about Nisse are their red pointed hats, their love of looking after animals, their love of practical jokes and that they help the families they live with if treated with love and respect, all they ask for is a bowl of porridge and a glass of glogg each Christmas eve night, but they will become mischievous (never malevolent) with the family if they are not treated well.

There are many books about Nisse/Tomte and Gnomes for sale especially on the internet, here are a few;

‘Gnomes’  by Rien Poortvliet and Wil Huygen

‘The Tomten’  by Astrid  Lindgren

‘The Tomten and the Fox’  By Astrid Lindgren ’Winter Frost‘ by Michelle Houts


Nisse ARE Not Goblins or Trolls- All to often people do not know the difference so lets have a look shall we.

Nisse, Tomte, Gnomes.

15cm – 2 ft tall. Happy little all round craftsmen, takes care of animals. Will be helpful if looked after but has a mischievous personality and will play tricks if not appreciated and fed there porridge on Christmas Eve.

Creatures Not to be mistaken for Nisse!


30cm. Live in large forests and are malevolent and hateful.


1 metre tall. Black filthy hair, stupid, primitive, distrustful, strong and smelly.


10-30cm. Live underground, on top of water, in branches of high trees. Not malevolent but like to tease.


1 meter 20cm. Live in forests and mountains. Good natured, digs for gold & silver. They do not have beards.


Live underground in Lapland.

Resemble but larger than Nisse are colourless and blind in daylight. Quite friendly but if mistreated disasters may occur.

In the 1840s the farm's nisse became the bearer of Christmas presents in Denmark, and was then called julenisse(Yule Nisse). In 1881, the Swedish magazine Ny Illustrerad Tidning published Viktor Rydberg's poem "Tomten", where the tomte is alone awake in the cold Christmas night, pondering the mysteries of life and death. This poem featured the first painting by Jenny Nyström of this traditional Swedish mythical character which she turned into the white-bearded, red-capped friendly figure associated with Christmas ever since. Shortly afterwards, and obviously influenced by the emerging Father Christmas traditions as well as the new Danish tradition, a variant of the nisse/tomte, called the jultomte in Sweden and julenisse in Norway, started bringing the Christmas presents in Sweden and Norway, instead of the traditional julbock (Yule Goat).

Gradually, commercialism has made him look more and more like the American Santa Claus, but the Swedish jultomte, the Norwegian julenisse, the Danish julemand and the Finnish joulupukki (in Finland he is still called the Yule Goat, although his animal features have disappeared) still has features and traditions that are rooted in the local culture. He doesn't live on the North Pole, but perhaps in a forest nearby, or in Denmark he lives on Greenland, and in Finland he lives in Lapland; he doesn't come down the chimney at night, but through the front door, delivering the presents directly to the children, just like the Yule Goat did; he is not overweight; and even if he nowadays sometimes rides in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, instead of just walking around with his sack, his reindeer don't fly — and in Sweden, Denmark and Norway some still put out a bowl of porridge for him on Christmas Eve. He is still often pictured on Christmas cards and house and garden decorations as the little man of Jenny Nyström's imagination, often with a horse or cat, or riding on a goat or in a sled pulled by a goat, and for many people the idea of the farm tomte still lives on, if only in the imagination and literature.

The use of the word tomte in Swedish is now somewhat ambiguous, but often when one speaks of jultomten(definite article) or tomten (definite article) one is referring to the more modern version, while if one speaks of tomtar (plural) or tomtarna (plural, definite article) one could also likely be referring to the more traditional tomtar. The traditional word tomte lives on in an idiom, referring to the human caretaker of a property (hustomten), as well as referring to someone in one's building who mysteriously does someone a favour, such as hanging up one's laundry. A person might also wish for a little hustomte to tidy up for them. A tomte stars in one of author Jan Brett's children's stories, Hedgie's Surprise.[39]

Nisser/tomte often appear in Christmas calendar TV series and other modern fiction. In some versions the tomte are portrayed as very small; in others they are human-sized. The nisse usually exist hidden from humans and are often able to use magic.

Garden gnome

The appearance traditionally ascribed to a nisse or tomte resembles that of the garden gnome figurine for outdoors, which are in turn, also called trädgårdstomte in Swedish, havenisse in Danish, hagenisse in Norwegian and puutarhatonttu in Finnish.


This brings us to our Christmas story The Nisse and the Grocer, By Hans Christian Andersen. When this story was translated over the years they have used "the Goblin and the Grocer" and "The brownie and the Grocer." Both incorrect however a Brownie is much closer to correct.


a translation of hans christian andersen's "nissen hos spekhøkeren”

There was a student, who lived in the garret and didn't own anything. There was also a grocer, who kept shop on the ground floor and owned the whole house. The household nisse stuck to the grocer, because every Christmas Eve it was the grocer who could afford him a bowl of porridge with a big pat of butter in it. So the nisse stayed in the grocery shop, and that was very educational.

One evening the student came in by the back door to buy some candles and cheese. He had no one to send, and that's why he came himself. He got what he came for, paid for it, and the grocer and his wife nodded, "Good evening." There was a woman who could do more than just nod, for she had an unusual gift of speech. The student nodded too, but while he was reading something on the piece of paper which was wrapped around his cheese, he suddenly stopped. It was a page torn out of an old book that ought never to have been put to this purpose, an old book full of poetry.

"There's more of it," the grocer told him. "I gave an old woman a few coffee beans for it. If you will give me eight pennies, you shall have the rest."

"If you please," said the student, "let me have the book instead of the cheese. There's no harm in my having plain bread and butter for supper, but it would be sinful to tear the book to pieces. You're a fine man, a practical man, but you know no more about poetry than that tub does."

Now this was a rude way to talk, especially to the tub. The grocer laughed and the student laughed. After all, it was said only as a joke, but the nisse was angry that anyone should dare say such a thing to a grocer, a man who owned the whole house, a man who sold the best butter.

That night, when the shop was shut and everyone in bed except the student, the nisse borrowed the long tongue of the grocer's wife, who had no use for it while she slept. And any object on which he laid this tongue became as glib a chatterbox as the grocer's wife herself. Only one object could use the tongue at a time, and that was a blessing, for otherwise they would all have spoken at once. First the nisse laid the tongue on the tub in which old newspapers were kept.

"Is it really true," asked the nisse, "that you don't know anything about poetry?"

"Of course, I know all about poetry," said the tub. "It's the stuff they stick at the end of a newspaper column when they've nothing better to print, and which is sometimes cut out. I dare say I've got more poetry in me than the student has, and I'm only a small tub compared to the grocer."

Then the nisse put the tongue on the coffee mill-how it did chatter away. He put it on the butter-cask and on the cash-box, he put it on everything around the shop, until it was back upon the tub again. To the same question everyone gave the same answer as the tub, and the opinion of the majority must be respected.

"Oh, won't I light into that student," said the nisse, as he tiptoed up the back stairs to the garret where the student lived. A candle still burned there, and by peeping through the keyhole the nisse could see that the student was reading the tattered old book he had brought upstairs with him.

But how bright the room was! From the book a clear shaft of light rose, expanding into a stem and a tremendous tree which spread its branching rays above the student. Each leaf on the tree was evergreen, and every flower was the face of a fair lady, some with dark and sparkling eyes, some with eyes of the clearest blue. Every fruit on the tree shone like a star, and the room was filled with song.

Never before had the little nisse imagined such splendor. Never before had he seen or heard anything like it. He stood there on tiptoe, peeping and peering till the light went out. But even after the student blew out his lamp and went to bed, the little fellow stayed to listen outside the door. For the song went on, soft but still more splendid, a beautiful cradle song lulling the student to sleep.

"No place can compare with this," the nisse exclaimed. "I never expected it. I've a good notion to come and live with the student." But he stopped to think, and he reasoned, and he weighed it, and he sighed, "The student has no porridge to give me."

So he tip toed away, back to the shop, and high time too. The tub had almost worn out the tongue of the grocer's wife. All that was right-side-up in the tub had been said, and it was just turning over to say all the rest that was in it, when the nisse got back and returned the tongue to its rightful owner. But forever afterward the whole shop, from the cash-box right down to the kindling wood, took all their ideas from the tub. Their respect for it was so great and their confidence so complete that, whenever the grocer read the art and theatrical reviews in the evening paper, they all thought the opinions came out of the tub.

But the little nisse was no longer content to sit listening to all the knowledge and wisdom down there. No! as soon as the light shone again in the garret, he felt as if a great anchor rope drew him up there to peep through the keyhole. And he felt the great feeling that we feel when watching the ever-rolling ocean as a storm passes over it. And he started to cry, for no reason that he knew, but these were tears that left him strong and glad. How glorious it would be to sit with the student under the tree of light! He couldn't do that. He was content with the keyhole. There he stood on the cold landing, with wintry blasts blowing full upon him from the trapdoor to the roof. It was cold, so cold, but the little fellow didn't feel it until the light went out and the song gave way to the whistle of the wind. Ugh! he shivered and shook as he crept down to his own corner, where it was warm and snug. And when Christmas came round-when he saw that bowl of porridge and the big pat of butter in it-why then it was the grocer whose nisse he was.

But one midnight, the nisse was awakened by a hullabaloo of banging on the shutters. People outside knocked their hardest on the windows, and the watchman blasted away on his horn, for there was a house on fire. The whole street was red in the light of it. Was it the grocer's house? Was it the next house? Where? Everybody was terrified! The grocer's wife was so panicky that she took off her gold earrings and put them in her pocket to save them. The grocer ran to get his stocks and bonds, and the servant for the silk mantilla she had scrimped so hard to buy. Everyone wanted to rescue what he treasured most, and so did the little nisse. With a leap and a bound he was upstairs and into the garret. The student stood calmly at his window, watching the fire which was in the neighbor's house. The nisse snatched the wonderful book from the table, tucked it in his red cap, and held it high in both hands. The treasure of the house was saved! Off to the roof he ran. Up to the top of the chimney he jumped. There he sat, in the light of the burning house across the street, clutching with both hands the cap which held his treasure.

Now he knew for certain to which master his heart belonged. But when they put the fire out, and he had time to think about it, he wasn't so sure.

"I'll simply have to divide myself between them," he decided. "I can't give up the grocer, because of my porridge."

And this was all quite human. Off to the grocer all of us go for our porridge.

The summery

Once, a student lived in an attic while a grocer lived on the first floor with a nisse, or house nisse. Because the grocer treated the nisse for Christmas with a dish of porridge (Danish:fad grød) with a large lump of butter in the middle, the nisse was attached to the grocer. One day, the student came to buy cheese and candles; then he discovered that his cheese was wrapped in a page from a poetry book, so he bought the book instead of the cheese, and joked that the grocer knew nothing about poetry. The nisse, offended by the joke, used magic to make everything in the room speak and they all agreed that poetry was useless. The nisse went to tell the student, but he saw a beautiful, marvelous tree of light in the student's room, the most splendid thing he had ever seen. He kept going back to watch the tree of light through the peephole, but could not stay there, for the grocer gave him jam and butter. One day when there was a fire, the red-capped nisse ran to save the poetry book, and realized that he thought the book the greatest treasure in the house. Still, he decided to divide his time between the grocer and the student, because the student provided no Christmas porridge (Julegrød).



Very traditional and old-fashioned recipe for Danish Rice Dessert also known as Risalamande. This dessert is always served after the Christmas dinner on the 24th of December and typically contains a whole almond which is a funny Christmas-lottery. The one who finds the almond wins a small price.

Prep Time

45 mins

Cook Time

45 mins

Total Time

1 hr 30 mins

Course: DessertCuisine: DanishKeyword: Nordic Christmas Servings: 4 people Author:


Rice pudding

  • 2.25 dl short-grained white rice (pudding rice)

  • 1 dl water

  • 1 l milk

  • 2 vanilla beans (the seeds)


  • 150 g almonds

  • 2 tbsp sugar

  • 5 dl heavy cream

  • 1 can cherry sauce (for topping)


Danish rice pudding (The Risalamande version)

  • In a saucepan; add rice and water. Heat up and let it boil for about 2 minutes.

  • Add the milk to the pudding and heat up until boiling under constantly stirring.

  • Add the seeds from the vanilla beans. This is done by slicing the vanilla beans and scrape out the seeds using a knife. Mix the vanilla with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Also, add the empty vanilla beans to the pudding (they still have a lot of flavor).

  • Let the pudding simmer under a lid at low heat. The rice has a tendency to burn to the saucepan so remember to stir regularly. Let it simmer for about 35 minutes.

  • Remove the empty vanilla beans. The rice pudding is now done. Let it cool in the fridge before you proceed to make the Risalamande. You can with advantage make this rice pudding the day in advance.

  • Heat some water until boiling point and pour it in a small bowl. Add the almonds and let them soak in the hot water for about 5-7 minutes. One-by-one take the almonds up and press them between two fingers so that the peel separates from the almond. Add more hot water if needed. It should be easy to skin the almonds.

  • Coarsely chop the almonds and mix them with the cold rice pudding.

  • If you used the original recipe for rice pudding (and not the one in this recipe) and boiled the rice pudding without the vanilla beans, then add the seeds of the beans to the pudding now. Add it to the cold rice pudding and mix well.

  • In a separate bowl, whisk the heavy cream into whipped cream and gently mix the it with the rice pudding. The Risalamande is now done. Put it in the fridge until serving.


Serve the Risalamande with some warm cherry sauce. If you want to play the traditional Danish almond-game (mandelgave), leave a whole almond without the peel in the Risalamande - who ever gets the whole almond wins a small prize.


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