Growing up in Denmark, I loved everything about the magic of Christmas – especially our own version of the Elf on the Shelf – the Danish way!
Elf on the Shelf the Danish Way!
Ever since I was a little girl growing up in Denmark I have embraced all the magic surrounding Christmas, Santa, and all his little mischievous elves. In Denmark, there is an entire sub-culture of elves called “Jule Nisser” (meaning Christmas elves or gnomes). They live in the forests, eat berries and fruit, and come into your home during the Christmas season to play tricks on the family.
They are kind-hearted little beings, and I have always loved reading Danish folklore telling tales of how they made Christmas extra magical for children everywhere. Elf on the Shelf – the Danish way was an integral part of my hygge-filled childhood Christmas memories.
(This post was originally published in November 2013, it was updated in December 2020.)
The Danish Elf on the Shelf Tradition:
As a child, during the month of December, we would put one of our slippers on the window sill at night, in anticipation of a quick little visit from our home’s personal Jule Nisse. He would leave a little treat in our slipper – and sometimes on the weekends, he would give us a small present. The only downside to this daily magical happening was getting up in the morning and putting on ONE warm slipper and one ice-cold slipper – because the windows were not always very well insulated. But it was a sacrifice I was willing to make – even on the coldest winter mornings.
Our Julenisse (Danish Elf):
Over time though, our personal Jule Nisse apparently got tired, ran out of creative ideas, or simply just gave up on trying to surprise me and my sister. It was a sad state of affairs – and this Jule Nisse tradition clearly took place long before the days of creativity-inspiring Pinterest.
How was any Jule Nisse expected to keep up the momentum for almost an entire month without such resources as the internet and social media?! Well, our Jule Nisse did not have the stamina required to keep two little girls in awe year after year. (Which is why I wrote this post with Elf on the Shelf tips for tired moms.)
The Beginning of the End:
Everything culminated one year, I was about 10 years old and my sister was 14. Seeing how she was a few years older than me, she was the one who brought things to my attention. After receiving tangerines in our half-frozen slippers morning after morning for well over a week, my sister pulled me aside and did what all older siblings eventually must do – she broke the news to me… Our Jule Nisse might not be everything I had imagined him to be.
- Our Jule Nisse did NOT spend the night in the LEGO house I so carefully built for him every year.
- He did NOT live off berries.
- He was NOT 357 years old.
- Nor did he wear a pointy red hat made out of felt.
- Most importantly, our Jule Nisse was losing his magical touch and excitement for filling our slippers night after night, year after year!
I did not believe her for a minute – how could all of this be true…? So she set out to prove to me that our Jule Nisse was none other than (drumroll please) OUR MOTHER!
The next morning we both collected our sad, half-frozen, and wrinkled tangerines from our slippers. My sister showed me how to make a small mark in the peel of the tangerine and then she dared me to put it back in the fruit bowl sitting on our coffee table. She had apparently done this a few times before she came to me with her revelation. And then we waited for nighttime.
We went to bed like good little girls, after leaving our fleece-lined slippers in the window – mine was green with little clowns on the front – I remember this very vividly. I woke up rather excited to prove my sister wrong. Once and for all, show her that she was just trying to rain on my magical Christmas parade… but no, that is NOT what happened.
The tangerines we got were the exact same ones as we had received the morning prior, and probably for the past several weeks – which would explain their lackluster dulling orange skin.
Our tangerines had the same little piece of peel missing as the ones we had returned to the fruit bowl the day before. The gig was up, mom!
Shortly thereafter my mom was relieved of her Jule Nisse duties, and we could for the first time in years enjoy TWO warm slippers on the cold December mornings.
Our Family’s Elf on the Shelf Today:
So with that said… this explains why I love Christmas gnomes and I fully embrace my elf duties to make the arrival of our Elf on the Shelf a little more exciting than recycling tangerines. I wish my mom had Pinterest and Facebook available in the 80s, it sure would have made her life a lot easier.
I think she follows my Pinterest board for “Elf on the Shelf” ideas now. Check it out – and follow it, so you are never stuck in a tangerine rut.
Social media might have saved the magic of Christmas for me – at least for a few more years. Hopefully, I can live up to the pressure and keep things magical for my boys – otherwise, there is always fruit in our fruit bowl.
If you are doing the Elf on the Shelf with your family, don’t miss these awesome tips for tired parents!
This post is full of awesome ways to make your Elf on the Shelf a little more magical: