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The Tomten

A Scandinavian holiday tradition

December 22, 2013
By KIM LOCCISANO - Staff Writer ( , Times Leader

Some holiday season traditions should be kept alive from one generation to the next if for no other reason than that they can - and do - almost always bring a fresh smile even to those whose immediate resources are worn down by tending to the wants and wishes of those with whom they share daily life.

The story of the beloved "Tomten or Nisse" is one such traditional Scandinavian holiday tradition, though it is perpetuated on an as needed basis all year round - particularly by parents of young children.

The tale of how these tiny creatures live and work in plain sight of adults but are never noticed speaks to the sense of wonderment inherent to this season no matter a person's age.

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“The Tomten,” written by Astrid Lindgren is a traditional Scandinavian holiday story but also told year-round. The book tells the tale of tiny creatures who live and work in plain sight of adults — but are never noticed — and watch over the family at night while they are sleeping. The Tomtens spend much time watching over the children and farm animals.

In a very real sense, these Tomten or Nisse might well be considered the ground breakers for the now wildly popular "Elf on the Shelf" practice which swept across this country as the annual holiday season was inching closer over these recent months.

One of the most popular traditions to be kept thriving in the often harsh winter seasons found in the many small and big cities among Scandinavian families today is the tale of "The Tomten."

The pure beauty of the tale in its original form was written by the same women who gave the world "Pippi Longstocking," Astrid Lindgren. Speaking to the quality of her works is the fact that she was a recipient of the Hans Christian Anderson Award.

The world in which the Tomten and Nisse make their simple homes include quiet corners in rustic barns on small family farms, toolsheds, storehouses and the like.

Their homes are hardly more than a place to spend a few hours daily, as the farm's family go about their daily duties, chores and activities.

Every night, without fail, every Tomten and Nisse will silently move across the floors of the farmhouse where their chosen family sleeps. He is there to watch over them.

These kindly beings are thought to make their homes in the same place for hundreds of years at a time.

According to legend, adults simply cannot see these tiny creatures, and somehow never seem to give more than a slight notice to their tracks in the snow.

The Tomten always spend part of every night watching over the farmer's children and the animals of the farm as well.

But to the tiny Tomten, the children are to be treasured more than any others among their farm's family.

The Tomten's only wish: "If they would only wake up, then I could talk to them in tomten language, a silent little language children can understand. But children sleep at night.

"And away goes the Tomten on his little feet. In the morning the children see his tracks, a line of tiny footprints in the snow.

"Winters come and summers go, year follows year, but as long as people live at the old farm in the forest, every night the Tomten will trip around between the houses on his small silent feet."

The simple beauty of this traditional Scandinavian children's bedtime story somehow manages to put a soft blanket of sorts - one carefully crafted of childhood dreams, wishes and gentle words - around a youngster without ever disturbing his sleep.

But its classic appeal is hardly lost on the adult reading the story.

They have been known to drift to sleep briefly not long after putting the story to rest for that evening. It is a perfect for bedtime or quiet time story telling opportunities and is a very real gift to be enjoyed by all ages when put into the hands of any adult wanting to share a unique gift with a child they love: one of a peaceful night's sleep entered into gently with the help of this almost magical story.

The simple beauty of this story and its winter setting makes it a perfect compliment or substitute for some other traditional holiday season tales that more often than not involve a story plot built on high energy details, such as "Twas the Night Before Christmas."

Are there really Tomten or Nisse tiptoeing around the grounds and buildings on farms and homes at countless locations worldwide? Belief can be more about a feeling rooted in one's heart and soul than knowing if a tiny tomten or nisse has been sharing their farmhouse, barn, storage shed, tool shed or cellar area.

The best way: simply believe one is there - part of the farm family.

According to tradition, the little creatures are usually wearing grey woolen clothing and a red cap.

In addition to being silent, gentle beings as they move from one part of their farm or family home to another, there are times when they simply cannot resist being a little impulsive and even a bit cranky.

A remedy for this occasional behavior? Simply leave a few traditional baked treats on a plate in the house and they will be thoroughly enjoyed without a crumb of evidence being left behind.

"God jul."



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