The Origins of the Danish Julenisse (Christmas Elf)

På loftet sidder nissen med sin julegrød (In the attic, there sits the elf with his Christmas porridge) – this bearded little mischief-maker from the Christmas song is practically the rockstar of December, competing for attention with the Christmas tree and the mouthwatering roast pork. For most Danes, the elf is like the VIP guest at the Christmas party.


But why on earth is the elf crashin' the Christmas scene, and where did this mischievous character come from? Let's time travel back to the early 1800s. Thanks to the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark hit the reset button in 1813, losing its fleet and filing for bankruptcy. People were all about anything that could boost national pride.

Meanwhile, the urban cool cats, also known as the bourgeoisie, decided to spice up Christmas by importing traditions from around the world. Family was a big deal for these trendsetters, and what better way to bond than with a Christmas tree and some rad gifts?


But rewind a bit more, and you'd find a time when Christmas Eve was a bit of a free-for-all. Back in the day, there were no set traditions for Christmas Eve. Folks were on a wild goose chase for something to jazz up the new Christmas traditions and give them that authentic Danish vibe.

Enter the hero, Just Mathias Thiele, the library wizard. From 1818 to 1822, he went on a quest for old Danish folk tales and spilled the elf secrets in his publications. Originally, the elf was like the OG home security – guarding houses and farms. We're talking Viking Age VIPs here, popping up in folk tales throughout history, totally unrelated to Christmas shenanigans. But when the bourgeoisie crew read about this home guardian elf, things got interesting. Suddenly, the elf became the cool kid of Christmas. Influential Danes were like, 'Let's invite the elf to the Christmas bash!'


Enter the artists, stage left. Constantin Hansen painted elf masterpieces for a Christmas gig, and Johan Thomas Lundbye, in a stroke of genius, painted a watercolor featuring the elf chowing down on a bowl of Christmas porridge – a true culinary trendsetter.

So, Danish artists cooked up a whole Christmas myth – picture elves as the hip household gods, chilling in the attic, slurping Christmas porridge, and dropping off gifts like Santa's little sidekicks.  They even made an appearance in the old European hit, 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.' But, Denmark turned elves into Christmas stars, and you can blame it on our creative artists.


Mixing the old with the new – that's how traditions are born.  And that's the story of how the elf, armed with Christmas porridge and gifts, became the VIP of Danish Christmas – an elfin' good tradition!