Honoring the Tomte during the Yuletide Season
It’s the most wonderful time of the year...the time of the Tomte! ❄️
If you’re anything like us, you love gnomes. We regularly work with these spirits throughout the year to connect with the Earth, stay grounded, and to remind ourselves of the joy that can be found in the simple things. They help us within the garden and the home - often without a word of thanks! But did you know there is a specific gnome spirit that is directly tied to Yule? We’re here to explain the origins of the Tomte spirit, what they represent to us today, and how you can honor them in your home during the holiday season.
What is a Tomte?
Hailing from Nordic/Scandinavian folklore, the Tomte are solitary (and sometimes mischievous) domestic spirits who are responsible for the protection and well-being of the home and any animals that their chosen family keeps. Traditionally, the Tomte are believed to stem from the soul of the first farm owner, who then became a spirit dedicated to the farm’s never-ending care. At their core, they are ancient fae who demand respect and are intrinsically linked to the wintertime and Yule. In fact, presents were originally thought to be brought by the Yule Goat (or Jólblocker) directly through the door and to the children, but gradually the Tomte took over this role, perhaps because of its similarities in appearance to Santa. The Tomte was essentially the "soul" of the house, the spirit of your ancestor who would make the harsh winter a lot easier to bear for farming families. They helped care for the house and the farmland and the animals — as long as you also did the same and left it porridge with butter on top on the night before Yule. If you were lazy or mistreated your animals, they would grow angry and could do anything from mild mischief, such as tying or braiding the tails of cows together, to actually harming you or the animals with their “poisonous bite”. It’s safe to say that their image has softened over the years.
They’re often invisible to the naked eye, mostly due to their quiet nature, but when they do manifest in physical form they are similar in appearance to the average garden gnome. Standing at about two feet tall and depicted as an elderly man, the Tomte has a long beard, wears tattered clothing in muted colors, and dons the iconic cozy cap that we know today. From our Fae Witch’s work with her family’s Tomte spirit, she believes they take this form so that we can more easily relate to them — after all, as humans it is easier for us to connect with a spirit or energy if it is anthropomorphized.
One thing to keep in mind is that you do not need to have a traditional farm or homestead in order to host a Tomte spirit - since they are ancestral faery beings, they will take up residence in all kinds of spaces. Don’t worry if you’re in an apartment in the city...the Fae don’t discriminate! They’ll also go along with the homeowners if they ever move, as the spirit is tied to the family and not to the home itself.
What does a Tomte do?
While they have many, MANY roles, Tomte spirits traditionally guard the home, protect the animals, attract good luck, and generally work to enhance the prosperity of those residing in the household. In exchange for all of their hard work, you’re expected to leave offerings for Tomte every Yule. Although they’re often given these offerings once a year, our Fae Witch likes to put out gifts for the Tomte throughout the year as thanks for all of their hard work in the home — even if they are taking a much-deserved break in the Spring and Summer! It’s believed that they slumber under the floorboards during these months, only waking up when the days get long and cold around the winter solstice.
The Tomte has an enormous capacity for work, but one thing they will not tolerate is rudeness. Not keeping up with your home, not treating creatures, and not honoring your ancestors often enough are all things that incur their disapproval. They’re doing so much to keep the energy of your home clear and assisting in the care of our furbabies...the least we can do is handle our share of the responsibility in the physical realm! For instance, if anyone spills something on the floor, you should shout a warning to the Tomte so that they don’t fall into the puddle and then promptly clean up the spill so that you’re not making a mess of what the Tomte has already cleaned. This is a good way to acknowledge the Tomte while also showing your respect for the home. If they are ever offended, you’ll usually know right away as they’ll start playing pranks such as turning objects upside down or breaking things. You know how the Fae can be! These actions of disapproval are not meant to be harmful or aggressive, however — they are simply a way for the Tomte to let us know that we’re slipping and need to pay attention.
How to honor the Tomte during Yule
The traditional offering for the Tomte is a bowl of porridge with butter on top, left on the Tomte’s altar or stool during Yule. They ask that once a year on the Winter Solstice, they have a bowl of their favorite food (julgröt) as thanks for their protection throughout the year. A Tomte considers porridge his due and loves butter, and so every bowl of porridge offered to the Tomte absolutely must have a big helping of butter on top. In the past, butter was a luxury that was consumed only on special occasions, so offering so much of it to the Tomte was an act of pure respect and sacrifice.
There is an old folktale of the Tomte who got no butter on his Yule porridge, which is one of Fae Witch’s favorites. Legend has it that one Yule eve, a farmer decided to play a trick on the Tomte. He hid the butter for his porridge at the bottom of the bowl instead of placing it on top as tradition stated. When the Tomte arrived, they saw there was no butter and in turn, killed the farmer’s best cow. The Tomte wanted to show the family that it did not appreciate being disrespected and not given its due. Despite this perceived slight, the Tomte returned to the barn to eat the porridge anyway. When they discovered the butter at the bottom of the bowl, the Tomte felt so bad that he walked to the neighbor's farm, took their best cow, and led her back to the stable of the cow they had killed.
With that said, we generally prefer to talk to our spirits and find out what they prefer. Every winter solstice, our Fae Witch will leave a fresh bowl of Scottish oatmeal with a very generous helping of butter on top, but her specific Tomte also likes to have a daily mug of ale or beer set on his altar along with a few cookies. It’s his daily treat after a hard day’s work. If you have spirits in the home, we suggest regular meditation to connect with them so that you can ask what offerings they’d like to receive — just like humans, every Tomte is unique and they may not want the traditional offerings such as porridge. Use that intuition, baby! For instance, if you feel a sudden urge to put a bunch of cheerios or a block of cheese on your Tomte altar, just do it. Questioning the Fae is futile.
Aside from physical offerings, the Tomte can be honored through your everyday actions such as minding your manners, displaying teamwork around the house, respecting the Tomte’s space, and treating your animals well. Being mindful and considerate is extremely important to the Tomte, so take a few minutes each day to tune into the energy of your home and ask where you can better contribute or take care of things. And no, everything doesn’t have to be spotless for the Tomte to be happy. They really just want to see us honoring the home, our families, and our responsibilities as best as we can.
The tradition and magickal spirit of the Tomte is still alive today, not just in Sweden but all over the world. They are a welcome, comforting companion when the nights draw darker and preparations for Yule start. So put up your holiday lights, make it cozy in your home, and set out some porridge — you might just attract one of these wondrous spirits into your life 🎅🎄