Tomten Love


How many Door County places and people does Swedish “ghost writer” Jennie Tornquist mention in this lighthearted post, “Tomten Love”?

To hear Jennie read “Tomten Love” click on the arrow of the black bar above Part I, Part II, and Part III .

Clicking on the words in blue type will bring you to websites with more information.


Goddagens mina vänner. Good morning my friends. My name is Jennie Tornquist, from Sweden. I spoke to you last julen, Christmas season, about the tomten. Tomten, short-statured folk, have lived secretly for centuries in Door County. Now, it is Valentinsdag. It is the season of kärlek, love. What do the tomten think about love? They like it.

I will now share a few of the tomten courtship practices. I am using information from the important 1976 book about the history and lives of the tomten titled Gnomes, by Wil Huygen and illustrated by Rien Pourtvliet. I also know of tomten courtship practices from my own careful observations in Ephraim, Wisconsin.

Tomten live to the age of 400 years. At age 100, when they are still young, they begin to look for life partners. Tomten admire plump figures, whether male or female. Also admired is the ability to whittle – woodworking. And tomten who are fluent in the languages of rabbit, deer mouse, and raven are considered quite a catch.

In generations past, cooking skills were a must for tomten woman. But times have changed and now tomten males who can make a classic tomten dish like fried ant eggs with peppery garlic mustard seed and sautéed morel mushroom sauce are especially popular with the younger generation.

Illustration Source: Gnomes by Will Huygen, illustrated by Rien Poovrtvliet, 1976.


It is a challenge for young tomten to meet in person, given the distance between places like Ephraim and Hedgehog Harbor. Letters of inquiry are often carried by Door County ravens. Ravens look like crows, but are a bit larger and have v-shaped tails. Crows’ tails end straight across. So, the next time you see a black bird fly overhead look to the sky and remember that the word raven has the letter v, just as the bird raven has a v-shaped tail.

And, look to the sky and listen. Awk! Awk! calls the raven in a guttural cry. The crow says Caw! Caw! Also, if you see the raven carrying a stick, there may be a scrap of birch bark wrapped around the stick. In Door County, the tomten write love notes on birch bark. Ravens carry the notes from one tomten to another. Tomten love notes often begin with the greeting, “Tack och hej leverpaj.” The rough English translation is, “Thank you and hello, liver pie.”

If both tomtens are agreeable, they travel to meet in person. Ravens, rabbits, and in modern times unwitting hooman beans provide the transportation. The rural mail carriers, who crisscross Door County, are a favorite tomten mode of movement. So is the Ephraim Yacht Club! Many a tomten stowaway has sailed from Eagle Harbor to Horseshoe Island or even Chambers Island, clinging to the top of the mast for the best view, like a crow in a crow’s nest.

Raven Illustration Source:

And, I tell you the truth now, there are also are several Ephraim residents – you know who you are – that zip here and there across Door County in red convertibles. It is so easy for the tomten to slip inside your cars when the roof tops are down, and the drivers, well, they are only looking in the rearview mirror while applying lipstick. When the hooman beans drive down Water Street, they make quite a racket. Their music blasts from the convertibles’ CD players. They sing along at the top of their lungs, slightly off key: “Kiss today goodbye.” It starts and ends with “What I did for love!” All the while, they never notice there is a tomten sitting in the back seat, snacking on the chicken salad croissant the hooman bean had planned to enjoy in Peninsula State Park, where the tomten will disembark. Well, I think I have made my point. We two-legged, tall-walkers are often unwitting transporters of young tomten engaged in romantic rendezvous.


The Wedding

Tomten are most active at night when they are less likely to encounter hooman beans. The same is true for the tomten wedding ceremony. It happens at midnight under a full moon by a special träd, or tree as you say in English. Two favorite träd  in Ephraim are the walnut träd on the north side of the lawn at the Iverson house.

In Swedish, the singular an plural word for tree/s is the same. Find an on-line language translator by clicking here.

Another favorite wedding träd is the old apple träd at the Ephraim Preserve at Anderson Pond. You can see this apple träd if you get off your rumpa and take a trail walk some fine day. It is near the site of the Aslag and Greta Anderson homestead.

The wedding ceremony is simple. Both partners wear the classic conical, pointed hat. The traditional cap color is green for the female and red for the male – though in modern times anything goes. The fashion change started in southern Door County’s Belgian community in the 1850s when a tomten bride wore a cap made of blue toile. Then, in the 1960s, a lad and lass who lived near The Rock in Fish Creek wore matching caps covered with dashiki fabric. The biggest ruckus, though, came this winter. A young tomten, unbeknownst to her mother and father, climbed aboard the back of a goose last October. She and the goose got blown off course and ended up in Arizona. She was most smitten with the southwest and told her mama she wanted wedding caps covered in southwestern style design: browns, rusty reds, and repeating stripes with geometric shapes. In other words, a southwestern fabric. “Nej!” said her parents. “Ephraim is not the desert. It is a Great Lakes community.”  The latest gossip is the family have compromised. The wedding caps will have a pattern of sailboats and fisk [fish]. And the color will be mostly blue but with rusty brown trim. Illustration above right: Public Domain.

To see a glossary of fabric pattern names and photos, click here.

To find out what dashiki fabric looks like, click here.

Whatever the cap design, there are sure to be gauzy veils from the bride and groom’s caps’ pointed peaks`. Moving within the flowing veils will be glowworms. Glowworms are very traditional at tomten weddings, and practical for they light up the midnight, moonlit ceremony. Did you know, in this year of 2021, the next full moon is February 27? Will you be brave enough to venture out at midnight, looking for the tomten? If you do, I advise you bring a sturdy walking stick and a ficklampa, a flashlight.

When will the moon be full in 2021? Find out at

In Conclusion

Mina vänner, my friends, I hope you have enjoyed learning more about our Ephraim neighbors, the tomten. That is all I have time to share today. Until next, time Tack sä mycket. Hejdä!  Thank you very much. Bye!

Submitted by “ghost writer” Jennie Tornquist. Jennie Tornquist (1883-1980) was the great-grandmother of EHF Educator Kathleen Harris. She immigrated as a child from Sweden, settling first in Elgin, Illinois then later Morton Grove. Her work life was varied, her children numbered four, but what Kathleen remembers Jennie for most was her sewing skills. Jennie created rag dolls for all her granddaughters, including the one pictured right which was made about 1960.

3 thoughts on “Tomten Love”

  1. This is delightful. Since I’m sure we have tomten at our “The 5 Js” on the south side of Ephraim, I was glad to learn more about them.
    I am also grateful to learn the differences between crows and ravens. I’ve often wondered how to tell them apart. I have regular visits from the big, black birds in Ephraim and in Illinois, so next time out will come the binoculars.
    Many thanks, JoAnne Rankin

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