Something Swedish

Swedish Santa: Tomte


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In Sweden you’ll find all sorts of Santas – some more familiar than others. Some hardly recognizable as “Santa.” While you’ll see Jolly ‘ol Saint Nick from time to time, you’re much more likely to find depictions closer to what we have as elves, which a few years ago I was surprised to find out are Swedish Santas or “Tomten.”

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I’ve gotten used to the fact that my beloved childhood Santa Claus doesn’t live in Sweden, and that every country has it’s own version. I’m pretty happy that Sweden has such cute little fellas, which such rich history! – So, what is tomten…and why are they so small!?

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Tomten (sometimes called Nisse) hasn’t always been the Swedish Santa (replacing the Yule Goat); actually originating as a mythical creature in Scandinavian lore that played a role more similar to a “house gnome.” The tomten would secretly live in, or under, a house and protect the children and animals from evil or misfortune. Sometimes a tomten would even help with chores or farm work. Despite being tiny, they were also known to have a temper, playing tricks or killing livestock if offended by rudeness.

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It wasn’t until the 1840’s that  tomten became Jultomten, or “Christmas tomten,” and  started to play the role of Santa after being depicted  as wearing a red cap and having a white beard – and of course tomten started delivering Christmas gifts.  Jultomten didn’t replace tomten, but nowadays when people talk about “tomten” they are normally referring to the Swedish Santa. The traditional “house gnome” tomten is called a hustomte or tomtar.

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When a tomten delivers 2012-12-03 15.27.32Christmas gifts, he doesn’t use the chimney, but comes straight through the front door. This coincides with the Swedish tradition of many households having their very own Santa simply walk in and hand out presents. If a family has young kids, it is common for someone to dress up and play the role with these costumes found in stores (My husband was Santa for his nephew for many years).

Jultomtens don’t live  in the North Pole,  like Santa, or in peoples houses, like traditional tomtens, but is believed to instead live in nearby forests. Much like leaving Santa cookies and milk, tomten likes porridge, or rather requires it. If not gifted with porridge, tomten would stop helping and leave the house or, even worse, cause mischief. And don’t forget to include the almond and butter.

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Tomten is sometimes shown carrying a pig, which is also a popular Christmas decoration in Sweden.

This year was the first time I saw Santa out and  about. Unlike in New York where you will find a Santa in every big store with a long queue or children waiting to sit on his lap, the “Mall Santa” is not a popular thing in Sweden.

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A few weeks ago we spotted Santa sitting under the towns (outdoor) Christmas tree with a dozen children huddled around. There was no long line, no one taking/selling photos, no one collecting money for a turn to talk to Santa.

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We talk about “writing our Christmas lists,” but whenever we go to see Santa we normally just say what we want. In Sweden those lists are key. Every single kid had a list in his or her hand, either written neatly before or scribbled right then and there on scraps, backs of envelopes, or wrinkled receipts.

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When asked if he would take a photo by the decorated tree nearby, he posed for us – with his baskets of wish list letters.

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Hope everyone had a Great Christmas!! – More about Swedish Christmas (Traditions, Food, and decorations) coming up soon!

14 thoughts on “Swedish Santa: Tomte

  1. I had never heard of them! But I must admit that I don’t know much about Sweden and this part of Europe. These little guys are cute though, almost less creepy than the Santas at the malls here!

  2. What a lovely tradition.It’s very interesting to me to hear about Christmas traditions in other countries.

  3. Merry Christmas, Meg. Great post, once again!

  4. Pingback: Julbock: The Swedish Christmas Goat | Something Swedish

  5. DEAR MEG, I am from the state’s (North Carolina) really. I have been looking for a web site where I could purchase a swedish route nisse and I saw your blog. I am not very good with computer stuff but, I thought I would try & send you this message & see if you could help me. Sweden looks like a beautiful country & I Love their little elf gnome route nisse dolls. Do you think you might have time to email me and let me know if there is a place or website I could order these dolls from? I just love them, I have collected Tom Clark gnomes for years. Any help you can give me will be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much for taking the time…THANK YOU, Betty Barkley…

    • betty..go to tomtar & troll

      • Thank you MEG but I really wanted to know how and where I can purchase the felted swedish Tompkins. I would love to get one for Christmastime. Thank you for any help and information you can supply. Hope you are having a great fall. Thanks Betty…


  7. Hey! Where was the 2nd photo taken? We received one of those as a gift and we LOVE it! We want more but do not know where to get them. Thanks!

  8. Hello! I visited Sweden last year and fell in love with these little guys – do you know if there’s any websites where I could buy some and have them delivered to Australia? Thanks for your help!!

  9. Hello Meg, the second picture here seems to be of a display of Tomten in Ahlens… I’m desperate to get my hands on some of these particular ones (I know they change every year but they are sort of like a doorstop). I can’t seem to find on the Ahlens website, and I wonder if there might be a way to get some delivered to Australia?

    Hope you can offer some advice!



    • Hi Nick

      It will be hard to find these guys in online stores after the holidays. My suggestion is to join a group on facebook for expats or “loppis” and ask if anyone has one to sell. Good luck!

  10. has many Swedish ornaments including little tomten. I ordered many straw ornaments and tomten for my tree this year. They seem to be open year round.

  11. Love your post, I’m Danish in heritage and our cousin Tomten’s are JuleNisseman loosely translated to Christmas Elves. And I like you thought we had the only ones, but over the years, the Tomte and Nisse have populated my house here and there. Grins and Gladelige Jule! Sandi

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