Story and illustrations by Joanna Cain
When Josephine came from Norway with her big, green trunk full of linens she wove, and dresses and hats she had made, Alette, the Norwegian Nisse, packed her bags and put her wooly hand-knitted sleeping socks on and came from Moss, Norway across Canada, through Victoria, and finally to Seattle with her. A few years earlier, Viggo’s Nisse, Kai, had packed his bags and travelled from Næstved, Denmark, tucked safely in one of Viggo’s caps. They thought this new world was a little too exciting at times, but they had their job to take care of their family, but also the cats, dogs, birds and other animals that ran around in abundance in Seattle and Petersberg, Alaska. When Josephine and Viggo married and had two children, so did Alette and Kai, feasting on smoked salmon and rice pudding on December 24. Of course Alette and Kai sometimes needed a sock of just the right size for a baby Nisse or a little handkerchief for clothes and it disappeared from the laundry. But the family knew what was happening and wished them well.
The only one who could really see them was Josephine, and only sometimes out of the corner of her eye, when they jumped in for a bath when she was washing sweaters in the big tub. She was tiny herself, only 4 ft 11, but she could knit, weave, sew, make hats, do accounts, and run a business—in short, a whirlwind of activity that even the tall children couldn’t keep up with her. The Nisser loved their Josephine, and would do anything for her.
One day the chandelier starting rocking, and then the house, and all the blue plates from Denmark starting banging softly where they hung. The Nisse knew there was big trouble coming. They pushed the cat out into the yard and ran for the most precious thing, an ancient Amager shelf with its precious Danish figurines. A shelf that had the tallest figures was right below the Amager shelves which were only held up by one screw at the top of the triangle. They could hear the walls creaking and the shelves started swaying. They all ran to the lower shelf and held their arms up so when the Amager hylde came crashing straight down they caught it and carefully walked it to the edge of the cabinet below and magically let it come to rest on the carpet far below. Only one piece had a break. They ran around holding plates and making sure nothing else fell in the dining room. They could hear the chimney bricks falling and trees falling and Josephine and Viggo came running in yelling “Earthquake!”
“Oh, Josie Josie we will lose everything!” said Viggo. But they stopped when they came to the dining room. Because as they looked around, as the earth stopped moving, the plates and the chandelier, and even the family Amager hylde and figurines were all intact. It was lying carefully on the carpet, like someone had just laid it there. “How can that be???” asked Viggo. “It should have dropped down and broken everything—but the shelf is untouched and it came 2 feet out from the wall and laid down on the carpet?” Josephine wondered aloud. They couldn’t understand it. But Josephine saw a little movement of red in the corner of her vision—and she knew. Oh, the Nisser! She said. And Viggo, who wasn’t quite sure he believed in them, said “Oh, Josie!”.
But every year on Christmas Eve, every generation of the family makes sure that a bowl of exceptionally good rice pudding goes outside for their generation of the Nisser to enjoy (and they have fewer lost socks for the next year!) to thank them for their help.
Read more in Nordic Northwest's 2020 ScanFair Guide to the Holidays!
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