Gnome for the Holidays

Gnomes have a long tradition with the Christmas season, Santa himself is considered a Gnome or elf (alf) in the poem “The Night Before Christmas” where he is called “A right jolly old elf” or “Gnome”. This year we’re covering the Gnome family and their association with the Christmas season.

Today we see Santa Clause as a jolly full sized elderly man, snow white beard and hair, wearing a red cap and suit, who lives at the North Pole with his wife (who is a recent addition) eight flying reindeer and a minion of small elves who work around the clock (except December 26-31) making toys for good girls and boys. He wasn’t always as such, Santa has his beginnings as a Gnome!

In Norway, Julenisse (Nisse) looks very much like Santa Claus and is based upon the German legend of St. Nicholas (a Nisse) or Nicholas. A small fellow who hand crafted the toys delivering them to good girls and boys.

In Sweden the Jultome (Tomte) and is diminutive who is accompanied by the Christmas goat called a Yule Goat who pulls his sleigh as he delivers gifts to the children’s homes.

Denmark has a “ A Gnome King” (Nisserkongen) which is also considered The Christmas Gnome. During Christmas, each family had to be especially kind to their house hold Gnome leaving him him a bowl of sweet rice porridge. This would ensure the coming year would be sweet and bring good fortune. If they did not, like other Gnomes, he would feel disrespected or unappreciated and become upset, but this Gnome won’t commit a violent act and then simply leave, he will stay and play nasty pranks for the whole year round. Like other Gnomes, he can however be satiated by giving him a bowl of sweet rice pudding that he feels he deserves. Denmark celebrates their Gnome culture like no other, Gnomes are featured everywhere during the Christmas Holiday.

One Christmas Eve the daughter of the farmer decided she would play a trick on the Nisse, so she hid the butter at the bottom of the bowl. When the Nisse saw there was no butter on his Christmas porridge, he became enraged, went to the barn and killed their best cow. He wanted to show them he did not appreciate that there wasn’t any butter on his porridge, that he felt disrespected all his hard work and effort throughout the year was for nothing. After making his displeasure known, he began to eat the porridge and discovered the butter at the bottom of the bowl. Realizing his mistake he walked to the neighbouring farm, took their best cow and placed it in the barn as if nothing had happened.

The tradition of leaving a bowl of porridge in the barn or home is still carried out in many parts of the world, just like leaving milk and cookies out for Santa and a little something for the Yule Goat like you would leave carrots for the reindeer.

The Gnome Family

The Gnome Family is quite a large one, they come to us from across the world such as Germany (Gnome), Norway (Nisse), Switzerland (Tomte) and Ireland (Leprechauns). All Gnomes share the same description with the exception of their clothing, behaviour and where the live.

They are no taller then 2 feet, with men of a certain age dawning a medium to long beard whereas younger men, usually unmarried, are clean shaved or have a very short beard. The women wear their hair braided and pinned up while the girls sport 2 braids on each side of their head or a single long braid worn down their back as is the fashion for girls of marrying age.

Most dress in traditional red, green, brown or sometimes violet pointed hats, matching shirts and Lederhosen (small pants or tights) with or without suspenders, a black or brown leather belt and small black or brown leather boots. The Woman also adorn the pointed hats and wear dresses all of the same colours as the men with leather shoes or boots. The colours may reflect a particular family clan they belong to, much like their cousins the Leprechauns and Clurichauns of Ireland who dress in clan colours. Gnomes also wear fur from hair they have collected, its then spun like wool to make their clothing. These gnomes look after the household or farm where they live and keep the animals well looked after, especially the horses, which are their favourite. Some Gnomes (like Brownies, Leprechauns and Clurichauns) will also follow their human family where ever they go, even watching over them for generations. Gnomes love children and make the best nannies or babysitters, they are strict care takers making sure human children never disrespect their parents and will not think twice about giving the child a good talking to or a spanking when they feel it’s needed. Like many proto-pygmies they will be quick to spirit an abused child away from the home.

Gnomes have been seen on ships in the 1800’s traveling to the new world and along the shores after ship wrecks, they may be traveling to a new home with their human family or simply hitching a ride. Gnomes are crafters and artisans, making almost every thing they own.

They perfect their craft, passing down the knowledge from generation to generation. All Gnomes have a love of song, dance and story telling. They are generally happy, hardworking folk until you have offended them as they are known to have a terrible temper. Gnomes also live in cities along side us, or in the woods. These Gnomes are loosely refereed to as House Gnomes (or domestics), City Gnomes, Country Gnomes or Woodland Gnomes. Gnomes and their relatives can be found all over the world along with the other types of proto-pygmies (Little people).

It is considered good fortune to have a Gnome work or live in your home or farm, you and your household will have good fortune as long as they remain and are happy. A single Gnome or their entire family may live in your home or work on your farm. If you insult them or displease them in some way they will move. Traditionally moving days for the Gnomes are late December to late January, and this is the time of year they are seen the most. The male Gnome will visit several homes before he decides which one is best and if he has a family he will then send for them.

House Gnome or Domesticated Gnome:

The House Gnome are good nurtured diminutives helping with household chores such as cooking, cleaning, and babysitting. A single male or his entire family will help with all the chores. They live within the same home side by side with their humans.

Country or Woodland Gnome:

The woodland Gnome with or without a family spends a great deal of time gathering food and herbs, and helping hurt and sick animals of all kinds, though Gnomes are cautious when helping birds of prey. It is said that if there are an abundance of mushrooms in the forest a little person or gnome is in the area, like toadstool rings and fairies. Most Gnomes are vegetarians because of their love of animals, however they do eat fish and eggs. Other members of the Gnome family such as Redcaps or Duende do eat meat. The woodland Gnome dress in forest colours to blend in with his surroundings, they wear the traditional pointed hat or beanie.

City Gnomes:

City Gnomes are seen most often, they live in our houses, old or abandoned buildings, some have even been seen by homeless people living on the streets, city parks, high rise office buildings and apartment buildings, all described as wearing their traditional garb. Old book stores and libraries seem to be a favourite place to live or visit as well as city zoos where they also live or visit and help the animals at night.

There once was a farmer who had no hay left for his farm animals. He sat one day and complained about it when he heard a voice say, “I will help you.” The farmer looked around but couldn’t find where the voice came from. After a few days he noticed his animals were thriving although they had no food. One day the farmer decided he would take his chances and cross the ice to a neighbouring village to buy some hay. When he was in the middle of the ice a small man appeared and asked where he was going. The farmer replied that he was going to buy hay. The little man said not to worry because he would help him so the farmer returned home. One night the farmer noticed by moonlight a little man leading one of his cows across the ice to a neighbour’s farm. When they returned the cow was loaded down with hay. Then the farmer realized the little man was a Nisse (a Gnome) and he had been fetching hay for the animals.


Brownies seem to be the bachelors of the Gnome family. They lead quite lives and have simple needs, just food and a quiet corner to eat in at the end of the day. They are proud little beings that are offended by being offered anything other then food. The do not engage in conversations very often but are very wise, so when confronted with a problem a Brownie will offer the perfect solution, so listen when they do speak.

Leprechauns and Clurichauns:

For a detailed look at Leprechauns and Clurichauns check out the entry below.

Tommy Knockers:

Tommy Knockers are some of the hardest working of all the little folk. They work side by side with the Cornish men in the mines. They are skilled labourers who have been attributed to saving lives by Cornish miners. Human men always knew when a cave-in was about to happen by the three knocks that would echo through out the mines that the Tommy Knockers would make. For the men who did not make it out until days after would say these little men (no woman) would keep them company until helped arrived. The Tommy Knockers were considered an ill omen by some and blamed for the cave-ins. The Tommy Knockers wear the same attire as the human miners. They were given sweet cakes at the end of every day and even ale by the miners and their families as a reward for keeping the men safe.

Beware the Naughty Gnomes

The Red Caps or Duende:

The Red caps, also called Duende, are the Anti-Gnomes as I call them. They originate from Scotland and are polar opposite of what we know of good-natured Gnomes. In days past they lived in abandoned castles waiting for an unsuspecting human to wonder into their layer and during the night the human would be slayed in their sleep by the small pikes they would carry. They were so proud of their actions that they would soak their caps in the blood of the slayed humans, hence the name “Red Caps”. They dress in dirty, raggedy clothing, and sharpen their teeth and nails to a point even their beards are dirty and matted. They deliberately set out to do harm to both human and animals and they don’t care who sees them.

Unlike most Gnomes they do eat meat and will snatch a fish, small farm animal, a cat or small dog and eat it raw. Harassing humans is a favourite way to pass the time, from sticking sticks into the spokes of a moving bicycle sending the rider into the dirt, to frightening small children by jumping out at them from a hiding spot, usually a drainage ditch or garbage dumpster — laughing a very sinister laugh all the while. They will throw rocks and broken glass at passers by from high above. They also enjoy tormenting chained dogs, stealing food, pushing baby strollers with a baby inside, and abducting small children. They will often engage in tormenting the disenfranchised living on the street. They are fowl mouthed and will also travel in groups to cause even more havoc in an area before they part ways. They will lodge in any abandoned building, sewer or warehouse and have been reported in Mexico, Argentina, America and across Europe especially their homeland.

Rumpelstiltskin would have proud of these ones or perhaps was the founding member.  If you are lucky enough to have a Gnome working or living in your home or barn remember to show them respect for their hard work throughout the year by giving them a bowl of porridge and put the butter on top especially on December 24th. Did I mention you have to give a bowl to each one of his family members too?

Recipes to keep your Gnome Happy

Sweet Rice Porridge

  1. Whisk together milk and egg yolk in a medium pot and heat gently.

  2. Add the cooked rice, banana, vanilla, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Cook and stir for 5–10 minutes or until mixture comes to a gentle boil.

Oatmeal Porridge Recipe:

In a medium sized saucepan bring the 4 cups of water to boil. Sprinkle the oatmeal over the boiling water, stirring constantly to prevent any lumps from forming. Add the salt and reduce the heat to low and allow the porridge to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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