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The Story of the Original Norwegian Santa Claus

It might be interesting to learn that the original Norwegian Santa Claus isn’t the jolly grandpa figure in red that’s portrayed in mainstream media. But even the Norwegian Santa has gone through a bit of an evolution through the ages without the help of capitalism or commercialism.

So, if you’re planning a trip to the country, especially over the festive season and when traveling with kids, and would like to know more about what to expect from Santa Claus in Norway, this article will reveal all.

Norwegian Santa Claus

The Gardvord

The first thing you need to know is that most Scandinavian countries have a similar “character”, despite often being called something different. Sometimes, they even have a variety of names within the borders of the same country! For example, the Gardvord can also be referred to as a Vette. This was supposed to be a supernatural and extremely curious being constantly “spying” on the goings-on on the farm.

It was believed that he (yes, it would usually be perceived as a male) was considered the first farmer of the farm and that he would bring good fortune if he was offered small sacrifices. But before you start conjuring up horrendous sacrificial images in your mind, the sacrifices we’re referring to are merely gifts such as food or beer.

This belief continued well into the 11tth century as the Gardvord formed part of the rest of the local folklore of draug (something resembling what we today call a ghost), trolls, and hulder (a mystical creature that’s a mixture between human and animal and includes so-called mermaids as “sub-species”).

The Evolution of a Name

We can’t say for sure when exactly this occurred, but silently, the Gardvord was undergoing a name change. Remember how we mentioned that the same creatures and supernatural beings in Scandinavia often have different names? Well, when it comes to the Gardvord, you’ll most likely know it as Tomte in Sweden.

In Denmark, it is Nis or Nisse, which is the nickname many would call someone named Nils or Niels. It is believed that the nickname referred to in this instance originated from Saint Nicholas (or Nikolas), which is where the rest of the world’s Santa Claus comes from.

History of Santa Claus in Norway

The Nisse Becomes Evil

The reformation occurred in 1537 and the Protestant priests were not a fan of the concept of the Nisse. To them, it was a supernatural being, and any supernatural being outside the scope of God and his angels had to be evil.

So, that’s what they preached. According to them, the Nisse was a demon straight out of the depths of hell and in cahoots with the main man below, the Devil. All the fearmongering worked, and between the 1600s and 1700s, many of the old folk beliefs were left by the (evil) wayside.

The Revival of the Nisse

In the 1800s, something interesting happened, though, and there was some sort of revival happening in Norway as the country entered its romantic era. Many of the old beliefs, legends, and folklore were dug up and given a new lease on life, with the Nisse being one of them. But inevitably, the complicated supernatural being of old didn’t quite fit the mold of modern-day society, and the story of the Nisse was stripped down to bare essentials and made more relatable in today’s terms.

The Christmas Nisse is Born

The emphasis on sacrifices/gifts became increasingly more prominent during the Christmas season, and the Nisse somehow became a bit of a disciplinarian. Its antics when it didn’t receive gifts, now turned into consequences mostly reserved for naughty children over the festive season.

It also underwent another bit of a name change and became Fjosnisse (‘barn’ Nisse), or as it’s more commonly known as Julenisse (‘Christmas’ Nisse). The sacrifices in the barn also turned into rice porridge in the barn on Christmas Eve or, for those of us without barns, a gift in a sock hanging from one’s bed or in a shoe.

Although the Nisse’s family never shared the spotlight quite as much as he did, they also became increasingly involved in his festive season shenanigans. By the 1800s, after the first Christmas card was created, they started showcasing the entire Nisse family more and more.

Santa Claus in Norway

The Nisse and World War II

War and the Nisse are two very unlikely concepts that found themselves intertwined during World War II. For those who don’t consider themselves history buffs, Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany between 1940 and 1945. During this time, the Nisse, an integral and authentic part of the Norwegian culture, became a symbol of resistance against their occupiers.

With a strong sense of patriotism, Christmas cards with the Nisse wishing all Norwegians a ‘God Jul’ were published in 1941. The moment the Nazis discovered the underlying sentiment of these cards, they were banned. In an even stranger development, wearing any/all red hats became banned in 1942 (since it resembles the red hat of the Nisse and symbolizes resistance).

The Nisse in Modern Times

Today, the Nisse has once again evolved from its past image, and external global influences have undoubtedly impacted our idea of Santa in Norway. Not only has local folklore actually started to return to a much more complex version with all sorts of Nisser, including one that lives in the house called the Rampenisser (roughly translating to ‘ Naughty Nisser).

At the same time, the rice porridge can now also turn into milk and cookies, and the almost fairytale dwarf-like creature with its red pointy hat can often just resemble Santa Claus in Norway, as it’s merely the location of the jolly grandpa figure in his red suit that is different from other mainstream images.

Come Experience the Norwegian Santa Claus for Yourself

The only way to truly understand the eclectic mix of thousands of-year-old old-timey beliefs and the modern-day commercialized Santa in Norway is to come and experience it for yourself.

If you rent a motorhome in Norway, you will have both your transport and accommodation sorted and take advantage of all our budget-friendly campgrounds. And, who knows, you might even encounter our Blanisser (which translates to ‘Blue’ Nisser), who is said to live in the mountains and who can only come out during the hour the sun disappears behind the horizon, and the sky lights up a deep blue. Just remember to take a snapshot if you do because we all want to see him, too!

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