As the name suggests, the Fjøsnisse lived in the barn. Of course, he was so shy that he was hardly ever seen, but he was a good little helper on the farm as long as the farmers treated him well. Especially at Christmas, he would expect to get a large bowl of porridge and home-brewed beer in return for looking after the livestock. Often the farmers would also leave the leftovers from Christmas dinner on the table so the nisse could help himself. But if farmers failed to keep him fed and happy, the barn elf would do mischief or harm to both animals and people.
One story tells the nisse, upon finding that the farmer had failed to put a speck of butter in his porridge, got angry and killed the farm’s best milking cow. Later he found out the farmer had simply put the butter on the bottom of the bowl and the porridge on top. Regretting his mischief, the nisse then went and stole the milking cow from the neighbour’s farm to replace the one he killed!
Fjøsnissen was thought to have supernatural powers. His red hat was grey on the inside, and if he wore it inside out he would become so grey that he turned invisible. The nisse was also the one responsible for anything strange or unexplainable happening on the farm. In folklore and literature, he has been described as the guardian saint of the farm.
Today, Norway also has the tradition of the Julenisse, which is a combined tradition of the fjøsnisse and the American Santa Claus. The Julenisse looks a lot like the Barn Elf with grey woollen clothes, knickerbockers and the signature red hat. He visits the home on Christmas Eve with presents and the greeting, ‘Are there any good children here?’ Often he demands the children sing to him before they get their presents, and so everyone sings “På Låven Sitter Nissen” (In the Barn Sits the Elf).
Today, a new nisse tradition has arisen with the “blue nisse”, who wear blue woollen hats instead of the traditional red. These mountain-dwelling elves were made popular through the children’s TV-series “Jul i Blåfjell” (Christmas in Blue Mountain).
The show became a huge success when it first aired in 1999 and created a fad for children, even up to their teens, to wear the pointy blue elf hats featured in the show.