Tomte is a Swedish version of Santa Claus but had a very different role in the Scandinavian countries before his Christianization. Read on to know his story before and after Christianization.


Christmas in Sweden is celebrated in a very unique and different manner, owing to the differences in its culture and traditions. Christmas celebrations there begin on St. Lucia Day, which is on December 13. Tomte comes into picture after the Christmas dinner, when someone from the family dresses up like him. Tomte, believed to live in the forests or in a farm, is known for looking after the livestock of the farmers after the Christmas dinner. Tomte was converted to the Swedish Santa Claus over a period of time and soon began to deliver gifts as well. His physical form, however, remained intact. Tomte is still depicted as a short-statured, elderly man. Much like the other characters and traditions of Scandinavia, Tomte has also undergone an absolute transformation. When Christianity took over the Pagan culture of the Scandinavian countries, many mythical characters which existed in the ancient past were recreated and given new roles. Still, the Christmas celebrations in the Scandinavian countries remain unique. It is interesting to know how the changes took place. Ancient Scandinavian folklores have always been mystifying and intriguing. Read on to know how Tomte changed over time.

The Swedish Santa

Tomte In The Scandinavian Mythology
Tomte, originally a character from the Scandinavian folklore, was believed to look after farmers' dwellings, especially on the nights when everyone was asleep. The Swedish word 'Tomte' means someone who lives in a "tomt" or a house. Short in appearance, Tomte is a man of paramount strength, and is capable of anything. He is believed to have long flowing grey beards and four fingers. Some imagine him with pointed ears and eyes which glow in the dark. The ancient Tomte's appearance is more elf-like and so are his activities and temperament.

Tomte's Nature
Tomte was quite caring in nature and was extremely helpful to the farmers, yet he was often ridiculed and taken for granted. But if he got angry, he would not spare the person that easily. He might run away with a good amount of hay or box the farmer's ears for being mean to him. Farmers who did not treat their cattle well also had to face his wrath and were beaten black and blue. Tomte's angry deeds were also featured in some children's books later. Those who thought Tomte was a na´ve person and pranked on him, got to see his other side.

Gifts For Tomte
Tomte, before Christianization, was not a gift-giver but a gift-taker. He had to be pleased with gifts, as reward for this hard work. On Christmas night, he was offered a bowl of porridge as compensation. Also, if Tomte was not paid in time, he would leave the farm or the family and do something naughty, such as breaking things or annoying the cattle. No one dared eat Tomte's porridge and the porridge had to be topped with a generous helping of butter.

Tomte After Christianization
With the Christianization of the Scandinavian countries, Tomte began to be associated with the evil. He was believed to invoke the dark gods secretly in his house. He grew unpopular after Christianization, which is not surprising. Many ancient Scandinavian characters have had to suffer such a fate. Saint Birgitta of the 14th century even warned against the worship of "Tomte Gods". Many negative references were associated with Tomte. Having a Tomte in the farmland was considered equivalent to practicing witchcraft. Hence, if a farmer was well-off, his neighbors were suspicious of him. Since, Tomte's work was in the night when he had to look after the farmland, people thought he was stealing things from other farmers and making his owner rich.

Tomte In The 20th Century
Towards the beginning of the modern century, Tomte regained his fame albeit from a different perspective. The impact of American culture, especially in the time of Christmas, was immense. Commercialization gave him the looks of Santa Claus and eventually, made him the Swedish Santa! His illustrations are put on the Christmas cards, as an elderly dwarf wearing red clothes. In many old Scandinavian societies, people still keep a bowl of porridge at their doorsteps or outside the house. He also delivers gifts to the children though not secretly; he approaches them directly. Tomte's mode of transport is a sleigh (like Santa Claus's) drawn by reindeers.

The benign and mischievous Tomte, who became a devil's child at a point of time, and the saint-like Santa much later, is one of the most loved Christmas characters now. It is interesting to note the way many ancient figures acquired totally different meanings with the passage of time. Although many characters lost their identity and significance in the transition, the presence of some could not be ignored. Tomte is one such character.