Friday Afternoon Literature Break: What the Heck is a Tomten?!

Before the clock strikes 5 and your brain starts swimming in beer, I thought I’d fill it with something useful.

A book recommendation!

Allow me to introduce you to a little ditty I like to call A Visit of the Tomten. Actually I didn’t call it that originally. Barry Johnson did. You see, he’s the author and that’s kinda sorta what authors do.

A tomten, also known a a tomte, is mythological creature from Scandinavian folklore associated with the winter solstice and the Christmas season. But that doesn’t make him an elf, so don’t make that gross assumption!


We like to think a tomten is more like a gnome. Naturally.

In Barry’s book, the tomten brings the animals some Christmas gifts. But when they’re pissed off at what they get, the tomten explains the reasons behind the gifts, The wise old bugga emphasizes the importance of thinking of others and avoiding selfishness. The animals feel crappy about themselves vows to be less prick-like.

Right on!

If you can’t get enough tomtens like us, also check out Astrid Lindgren’s book cleverly titled, The Tomten. Street cred spoiler alert: she wrote Pippi Longstocking and won the Hans Christian Anderson Award! Editorial reviews refer to this tomten as an invisible troll and a small elf-like person. 


“A tomten is a gnome like creature that stands watch while the rest of the world is sleeping. This old tale should be recommended reading for everyone. The tomten is disappearing with our grandparents and great-grandparents. This is a wonderful tale!” – Book Review by Naterby via Amazon

Tomtens are so mysterious, aren’t they?!

Apparently these tomten books are based on a poem called “The Tomte” by Viktor Rydberg. Curious how it goes?

The Tomte

Deep in the grip of the midwinter cold
Stars send a sparkling light.
All are asleep on this lonely farm,
Deep in the winter night.
The pale white moon is wanderer,
And snow lies white on pine and fir.
Snow glows on rooftop shake.
The tomte alone is awake.Gray, he stands by the low barn door,
Gray by the drifted snow,
Gazing, as many winters he’s gazed,
Up at the moon’s chill glow,
Then at the forest where fir and pine
Circle the farm in a dusky line,
Mulling relentlessly
A riddle that has no key.

Rubs his hand through his beard and hair,
Shakes his head and his cap.
“No, that question is much too deep,
I cannot fathom that.”
Then making his mind up in a hurry,
He shrugs away the annoying worry;
Turns at his own command,
Turns to the task at hand.

Goes to the storehouse and toolshop doors,
Checking the locks of all,
While the cows dream on in the cold moon’s light,
Summer dreams in each stall.
And free of harness and whip and rein,
Even Old Palle dreams again.
The manger he’s drowsing over
Brims with fragrant clover.

The tomte glances at sheep and lambs
Cuddled in quiet rest.
The chickens are next, where the rooster roosts
High above straw filled nests.
Burrowed in straw, hearty and hale,
Karo wakens and wags his tail
As if to say, “Old friend, “Partners we are to the end.”

At last the tomte tiptoes in
To see how the housefolk fare.
He knows full well the strong esteem
They feel for his faithful care.
He tiptoes into the children’s beds,
Silently peers at their tousled heads.
There is no mistaking his pleasure:
These are his greatest treasure.

tomten3Long generations has he watched
Father to son to son
Sleeping as babes. But where, he asks,
From where, from where have they come?
Families came, families went,
Blossomed and aged, a lifetime spent,
Then-Where? That riddle again
Unanswered in his brain!Slowly he turns to the barnyard loft,
His fortress, his home and rest,
High in the mow, in the fragrant hay
Near to the swallow’s nest.
The nest is empty, but in the spring
When birds mid leaves and blossoms sing,
And come with her tiny mate.

Then will she talke of the journey tell.
Twittering to all who hear it,
But nary a hint for the question old
That stirs in the tomte’s spirit.
Now through cracks in the haymow wall
The moon lights tomte and hay and all,
Lights his beard through the chinks,
The tomte ponders and thinks.

Still is the forest and all the land,
Locked in this wintry year.
Only the distant waterfall
Whispers and sighs in his ear.
The tomte listens and, half in dream,
Thinks that he hears Time’s endless stream,
And wonders, where is it bound?
Where is its source to be found?

Deep in the grip of the midwinter cold,
Stars send a sparkling light.
All are asleep on this lonely farm,
Late in this winter night.
The pale white moon is a wanderer,
Snow lies white on pine and fir;
Snow glows on rooftop shake.
The tomte alone is awake.

Well I’ll let you ponder that for the rest of the evening while you get your drink on.

The Quick Brown Fox the Gnome

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