Yet another nisse/tomte picture. This time I included all the different types known from folklore: Gårdbo, normal nisse, ship nisse, and church nisse. These days people will sometimes talk about a city nisse or other such things, but they're not from folklore, so these are all you'll get. This is also mainly the Danish types because I know them best.
They're a very specific type of "small people" from Nordic folklore that differs from the rest in that they live with humans and take care of farm animals or otherwise give a helping hand. They can be recognized by their red hats and they often have grey or white hair no matter age. Originally they were belived to be the size of 5 year old children, but are now believed to be around 12 cm tall.Gårdbo
Quite often people will tell you that "gårdbo" is just the old word for "nisse", which is both true and false. When you read books that really go into detail about them, they'll usually refer to the gårdbo and the nisse as two different creatures. The gårbo is the oldest, bigger and there are no stories about females. They are always male and never married. They're also slightly meaner and easier to make angry. In fact, people were rather afraid of them and did their best to please them or the gårdbo might burn down the barn or something along those lines. Worried that they might anger the gårdbo, people started giving him male names, and the most popular became Niels (it's an old Danish tradition to call somewhat mean creatures Niels, which is also why the Niels from my comics got that name) and later that became Nisse, and that's were the creatures we know today got their name from.Normal Nisse
These guys are the most widespread kind of nisse there is. They're also the only kind that has women, so that might have something to do with it.
They're usually imagined to wear traditional Danish clothes, except for the women who also wear the men's hat. That is by the way also where their trademark red hats come from, as you can see in this video of Danish folk dancers [link]
Red hats were pretty much standard back in the day and the nisse adopted that.
They help the humans on the farms or in the houses where they have chosen to live, and it is said that if the family moves away, the nisse will move with them. They're quite possibly the nicest creatures from folklore and it takes a lot to make them angry.
You do however have to feed them (usually porridge) or they'll think you don't appreciate their hard work and will cause anything from sick animals to the death of someone in the family.Ship Nisse
For some reason they're often depicted as covering their eyes with their hats. They are inspired by the German klabautermann which is why they have more pointy hats, though the Danish version is a lot nicer than the klabautermann. They lived on ships where the sailors could hear them work at night. It was said to be a bad sign if you couldn't
hear it, because that meant it had given up on repairing the ship, or might even have abandoned it. That was very bad indeed because the ship nisse also kept other unwanted mythical creatures away. Church Nisse
Ironically they were considered to be the meanest and most cynical of all nisse types. They didn't harm anyone, but when people died the church nisse could be heard laughing in the bell tower because that meant the church would get money.
There were said to be two types: one type that wore black, and one that wore white. The ones wearing white were nicer, but the ones dressed in black were the most common.