Look to the stars: A Nisse’s fantasy

An original Christmas story by Larrie Wanberg


Photos: pxfuel
Down through the millennia, the stars in the sky have been a source of imagination and wonder.

There was a Nisse family that lived in a garden near a forest in Nordic Land.

The grandfather Nisse stood out from the others, because he dressed like a wizard and always wore black clothes and a funny cone hat. He had heard about a mystic named Merlin, and he wanted to be respected for his wisdom and for predicting future happenings. He often carried a wizard stick or magic scepter to guide him. His family, well, they just played along with the mystic stuff, but they did enjoy the stories that he told.

The sky at night was a wonder to him and he often spent time searching the stars with his imagination. He wished more than anything that he could understand how it all came about. He dreamed about walking on the Milky Way across the sky. His dream seemed out of reach, because people would tell him to forget about it.

The Nisse family lived behind a large rock near a tiny pond used as a bird feeder at the edge of the garden. He loved his family, especially his youngest grandson who always wanted him to tell stories. The Nisse child wore a heavy knitted cap that was almost as big was he was, and most of time the cap hung over his eyes to the bridge of his nose. The family’s favorite pastime was dancing in circles and singing loudly, but the little Nisse couldn’t keep up, so the grandfather would sit with him to tell him stories.

By description, a Nisse is a mischievous little Nordic elf. Nisse children grow beards and long stringy hair and wear funny caps and red jackets. Some are older and some are tiny, like our little Nisse who could never keep his cap from sliding over his eyes. They race around the garden, singing and dancing, so sometimes the old Nisse, too, will cover his ears and pull his black cap over his eyes. He sometimes tells the younger ones to be quiet and give him peace.

One evening as the sun was setting and the stars were starting to shine brightly, the grandfather conjured up a story of wonderment.

The old Nisse started to tell this story to the youngest one, who sat quietly beside him with his cap pushed back and his bright eyes showing out from beneath the brim. One by one, the other Nisser began to drop out of the dancing circle and form an attentive group. The grandfather’s voice softened to almost a whisper, leaning forward to scan each Nisse’s face around a circle, even the older one who joined the circle.

“I have never told this story before,“ he said. They were wide-eyed. “It was told to me by another Nisse who wore clothes like mine.” “Tell us! tell us!” the children chanted.
The grandfather told everyone to look up in the sky. “Stay still,” he commanded, “and listen for sounds that comes from the sky. He told them about his dream of walking on the Milky Way and how he came upon the Big Dipper, saying that this special constellation seemed to move in a circle throughout the night. “What holds it place?” he questioned out loud.

The grandfather had them captivated. He stood up and stretched out his arms with his legs apart in a stance to resemble the points of a star. “I could be the brightest star in the sky!” he declared loudly in a tone that they hadn’t heard before.

He sat down again and leaned forward to begin a story about seven Nisser, who were sitting in a circle, when they began hearing music. The music got louder and louder and the Nisse jumped up and began dancing in a circle. The Nisser cheered and cheered at the music that gave them a tickle in their feet and they grabbed the grandfather’s hands to pull him into the dancing circle. As the dancing got faster and faster, the Nisse family twirled dizzily as if in an invisible whirlwind. Then, they all fell over on their backs because their heads were spinning.

They lay there for a few minutes and opened their eyes to search the skies. “Be still,” said the grandfather. “See that constellation with six stars forming a cup with a handle that rotates around the bright star at the end of the handle that never moves? And see the Big Dipper that circles around that constellation?” The children were fixated, staring deep into the sky.

“There is an old legend,” he said, “that once a family danced so fast that they began to lift off the ground and go higher and higher until they became a constellation in the sky.”

The Nisse children gasped! “Really?” they questioned. “That’s the story—that’s my dream” was the reply.

Everyone was very quiet. Then, the old Nisse got up, outstretched his arms, gripped his scepter in one hand and slowly began to lift off the ground, ascending slowly at first and then faster, until he was out of sight. A few moments later, one star in a constellation of seven took on new brightness, as if a dream had come true.

Over the years, the children never forgot the story. Every time they looked to the evening sky, they remembered the dancing, the brightness of the sky, and how the old Nisse told the story of realizing his dream. The grandfather’s dream had become a part of them, inspiring the little Nisser to dream big.

The family of Nisser became a new legend in Nordic Land, and in the stillness of night, faint voices could be heard singing, as if coming from the sky. This Nisse family, as told in tales, had become known as the “dancing stars” of the North.

And the littlest tyke grew into his cap over the years, so it didn’t slide over his bright eyes anymore, and he was always affectionately called “the Little Dipper,” with a dream of his own.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 11, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.