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Swedish Culture

Who is Tomte?

(Nisse or gårdstomten)
December 19, 2023 By Darby Johnson

You’ve probably seen the miniature creatures with beards as long as their frames and pointy red hats around the Turnbald Mansion, but do you really know what tomten are?  

Tomte is a charming character from Swedish folklore who rules over their household with an iron thumb. 

Traditionally, tomten are known to wear grey robes and a woolly red hat. They may look like gnomes, but don’t let that fool you, tomten have many more duties than their holiday creature lookalikes. 

Tomten work overtime to ensure their space is spotless. These creatures are described as having an active hand in the caretaking of their homes and farms. They’re hard to spot on account of their tiny size and overnight work schedule as they help take care of their home properly. Their salary? Rice porridge, of course—and you better not forget the butter! 

The iconic Swedish house elf is known to be very loyal, mischievous, have a good sense of humor, and unusually omnipotent—the original Elf on the Shelf, one could argue. If a tomte believes its owner hasn’t completed their job up to a tomte standard, their grumpiness and creative punishments will become quite apparent very quickly. Legend has it that farmers have woken up to find all their animals disappearing overnight! However, when properly taken care of, they can be quite helpful—and even lucky—to have around. 

ASI’s Turnblad Mansion has their own tomten (or maybe even 3?) that have their own favorite hiding spots. Can you find them? They don’t like to be seen and are experts at hide-and-seek. There are clues throughout the Mansion to help you find them! 

If you have more questions for these cheeky holiday creatures, families can come to craft a letter to tomte and send it off in the special mailbox in the Lower Level of the Turnblad Mansion. Tomte reads these letters every year and cherishes any moment their underappreciated work is recognized! Curious to know what kind of letters get sent to tomte? There’s a collection of tomte’s favorite heartfelt messages waiting to be read on ASI’s Instagram. 

You, too, can unlock the magic of having your very own tomte! ASI’s Museum Store has a curated collection of these charming creatures, each waiting to find a home.