The Ancestral Julenisse

What are Julenisse? They’re Danish Christmas elves who hang around and get up to mischief after you’ve gone to bed; they also deliver gifts. There’s an article on the origins of them on Wikipedia. My lot seem to spend a lot of their singing and carrying on over foaming tankards, while falling off of things. One lazes about smoking a cigar; when I was a child I always put him in the china cabinet, that being the grandest place and thus the most daringly defiant one for him to carry on such a wicked activity as smoking in the house. (Also his smoke-rings wobbled unless he was propped up against the glass.)

My grandfather emigrated from Denmark in the thirties. He married in Canada and was of the generation which didn’t pass on its culture or speak its native language to its children, but he did carry on one tradition, that of putting up cardboard Julenisse to decorate for Christmas. My father inherited the family Julenisse collection. There are actually two sets. One is quite old; whether they were something my great-grandparents sent to their never-seen grandchildren I don’t know, but that’s my guess, and in that case, they’d date from either just before or after the war. The second set are more modern, perhaps from the seventies, by the style. Over the years they’ve faded, lost limbs and feet, been bent, torn, and taped back together. I made colour photocopies about fifteen years ago and carefully pasted my duplicates onto cardboard backing to clone them and import them to my own house; the copying actually re-saturated the colours, returning them to a brightness I’d never seen in my lifetime.

They’ve all developed personality over the years. They’re a bit mysterious, too. Why do Julenisse have tiny cats? Are there tiny folkloric mice for the cats to eat, or does the whole clan, nisse and cats together, live on rice porridge and beer? (And what happened to the one who was tucking into a bowl of rice porridge? I know there used to be one, of the more modern set, and he had grey cats, too.)

Most of all, there’s one question that has perplexed me all my life. Why is one of them a pig?


About K.V. Johansen

The author of Blackdog, The Leopard, The Lady, and Gods of Nabban, epic fantasies from Pyr, I also write for teens and children, including the "Torrie", "Warlocks of Talverdin", and "Cassandra Virus" series, and the "Pippin and Mabel" picture books, as well as a couple of short story collections and two works of adult literary criticism on the history of children's fantasy literature. I have a Master's degree in Mediaeval Studies, and read a lot of fantasy, science fiction, and history. Blog at
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0 Responses to The Ancestral Julenisse

  1. rodstar1019 says:

    Very entertaining article! However, I don’t think I would want these little guys running around my home. I would probably have a heartattack! LOL

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