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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Gnomes...Nisse... Elves... Dwarfs

Many Scandinavians coming to America in the 1800s headed right for the upper Midwest.  It is a land of many lakes, lots of trees and very cold winter temperatures... all things that reminded the Scandinavians of their homeland.  Their decendents are still there enjoying the same things as their ancestors in the old county and sharing there folk lore with the rest of us.

For the past few years, I have been demonstrating pottery making at summer fairs in Minnesota. Minnesota has 95 fairs every year. The fairs across the country are annual events where locals can show off their livestock, their produce, be entertained and have decadent food they would not have at home.

Scandinavians are also great story tellers and everywhere you go, you hear about the Nisse. The little men with the red hats. 

The Barn Elf (Fjøsnissen) is a creature from Scandinavian folklore. He was often described as a short man, “no bigger than a horse’s head”, wearing grey clothes, knickerbockers and a red hat similar to what Norwegian farmers would wear.

As the name suggests, the Fjøsnisse lived in the barn. Of course, he was so shy that he was hardly ever seen, but he was a good little helper on the farm as long as the farmers treated him well. Especially at Christmas he would expect to get a large bowl of porridge and homemade beer, in return for looking after the livestock. Often the farmers would leave the leftovers from Christmas dinner on the table so the Nisse could help himself. But if farmers failed to keep him fed and happy, the Nisse would do mischief or harm to both animals and people.
One story tells that the Nisse, upon finding that the farmer had failed to put a speck of butter in his porridge, got angry and killed the farm’s best milking cow. Later he found out that the farmer had simply put the butter in the bottom of the bowl and the porridge on top. Regretting his mischief, the Nisse then went and stole the milking cow from the neighbor's farm to replace the one he killed!
Fjøsnissen was thought to have supernatural powers. His red hat was grey on the inside, and if he wore it inside out he would become so grey that he turned invisible. The Nisse was also the one responsible when anything strange or unexplainable happened on the farm. In folklore and literature he has been described as the guardian saint of the farm. Even today it is a custom to leave a bowl of porridge and a jug of beer in the barn for the Fjøsnisse.

We all know this guy in the red hat. I am not sure if Santa or just his helpers were elves.

In the 1980s, Travelocity began advertising a man named Bill who was looking for his garden gnome.  The "Roaming Gnome" became the mascot of the company. A great campaign with a list of pranks and intrigues revolving around this little guy with his red hat.

People still collect gnomes for their gardens. Linda Langford of the UK has these two little elves on her front lawn.

Norway has a stamp showing off the little guys.

And who could forget the 7 dwarves?

Which brings us back the my obsession with the little guys in the little red pointy hats.

These are 3 of my own little pottery gnome heads.

And so, read some Nisse stories, put a gnome in your garden, make yourself a red pointy hat and...

Isobel, Adelaide, Meta


order a gnome at my web site or stop by my tent at any of the upcoming 2015 fairs for a gnome of your own.

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