Swedish word of the day: jultomte

Here's the next word in The Local's Christmas-themed word of the day series, running from December 1st to Christmas Eve.

the word jultomte on a black background beside a swedish flag
Do you believe in the jultomte? Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, Swedish-learners were wondering, ‘where does the word jultomte come from, anyway?’

In Sweden, it’s the jultomte who is the traditional bringer of gifts on Christmas Eve (not Christmas Day). You can read more about how this mythological figure forged a firm place in Swedish festive folklore here (Members only), but if you’re curious about the linguistic history of the jultomte, read on.

The word tomte comes from the term en tomt (a plot of land). In fact, these words are both written the same way in the definite form, so tomten can mean either ‘the gnome’ or ‘the plot of land’ depending on how you stress the two syllables – and on context, of course.

In Nordic folklore, each tomt had a small gnome-like creature to look after the area and use its special powers to ensure good luck for those who lived there, and this creature was called a tomte. According to some traditions, the tomte was the spirit of the very first owner of the plot of farmland, and they were generally described as resembling an elderly human man, usually with a long white beard, but smaller than a person.

You need to watch out for the tomte though, as they are believed to have a short fuse and can be vindictive, so farmers would often leave out porridge for the creature around Christmas, in order to pacify them.

And tomte is also used in several different ways in Swedish. You might jokily refer to someone with a long beard, or who performs many different practical tasks, as a tomte, and the phrase ha tomtar på loftet (to have tomtar in the attic) means to be slightly crazy.

Around Christmas time, the traditional figure of the tomte has become slightly conflated with the Father Christmas or Santa Claus of other countries to become the jultomte (Christmas tomte) who brings presents to well-behaved children. And in homes and shops across the country you’ll find small toys and models depicting the festive bearded tomte. This popularization happened thanks to a series of poems and stories, described in more detail here.

Example sentences:

Tror du på jultomten?

Do you believe in Santa?

Jultomten är en sammanblandning av Sankt Nikolaus, Santa Claus och julbocken

The Swedish jultomte is a mix of St Nicholas, Santa Claus and the Christmas goat

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to to read more about it – or join The Local as a member and get your copy for free.

It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

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​​Swedish word of the day: ockerhyra

A word of the day which makes strange use of usury.

​​Swedish word of the day: ockerhyra

Ocker is the Swedish word for usury, and not the Australian for someone who “speaks and acts in a rough and uncultivated manner, using Strine, a broad Australian accent” for the Aussies out there who might recognise the term. 

Usury, of course, is when a lender makes monetary loans which unfairly enrich them. The term is used either in a moral sense, then as a condemnation of taking advantage of others’ misfortune, or in a strictly legal sense, where ocker refers to the crime of charging a higher interest rate for a loan than that which is allowed by the law. You might know an individual who does that not as a usurer, but a loan shark

But ockerhyra has nothing to do with loans or loansharks, at least not directly. The shark, however, might still be there, as you will see.

Hyra simply means ‘rent’ – in this case the rent you pay for an apartment or any other rental property. So ockerhyra means ‘usury rent’, but how can a rent be usurious? Well, it cannot since it is not a loan. What instead is meant here, is at least part of the moral sense of the word ‘usury’, whereby someone is taking advantage of another’s situation. 

Someone setting an andrahandshyra, a second hand rent, which is unreasonably high, would be setting an ockerhyra. This is a topic which The Local has previously dealt with, and there are instances to get help with that. The main reason people can get away with this is because many are desperate to find a place in the city, often Stockholm, and therefore will not alert the authorities. But also, owing to the fact that it is not a punishable crime, all that might happen is that the person subletting their place for more than is reasonable might be forced to pay some money back.

Furthermore, the word ockerhyra does not necessarily imply this type of scenario, it can also be used to generally complain about rents being too high. And many do complain about this.

Do you feel a bit upset about the sometimes absurd rents in Stockholm or in another city? Why not make use of the word ockerhyror in a conversation on the topic?

Just remember that the word is quite strong, so try not to accuse a friend of charging an ockerhyra – might be safer to just question whether they are charging a bit much. Good luck!

Example sentences:

Alltså, det är verkligen ockerhyror på nybyggnationer! Jag är sååå trött på den här skiten.

I mean come on, the rents on new builds are outrageous! I’m sick and tired of this shit.

Duncan, varför tar du ockerhyra på stället du hyr ut i andrahand?

Duncan, why are you charging an exaggerated rent on the place you’re subletting?

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Bokus or Adlibris.