Yes, there is a Santa Claus. His Name is Julenissen.

Do you know what a Julenissen is? I first heard this term in the summer of 2012, when Tony, Gio (hubby and son) and I spent the summer traveling around North Dakota. Even though I’m a lifelong North Dakotan and world traveler, up until that time I’d never taken the time to explore much of my home state beyond Fargo.

Gio is the 6th generation of North Dakotans in our family, and I wanted him to have a deeper connection to where and who he comes from. We called our adventure “Lost on the Prairie” and each weekend for over 3 months we visited someplace new in North Dakota.


It was an extraordinary experience that created not only a deep sense of place and connection for all of us, but a love for our state that has only grown since that summer.

One evening, while out for dinner in Jamestown, ND, we ran into a large group of Norwegians who were traveling through the state.

As we waited nearly an hour for a table we struck up a conversation with one couple, and Gio couldn’t help but mention how much the man looked like Santa Claus. With a twinkle in his eye, he replied, “Well, that’s because I am.”

Norwegian Friends in Jamestown Julenissen

He then shared with us how he was an official Julenissen (Norwegian for Santa Claus), and was even a member of a Julenissen Society. We visited and learned that he was traveling with a group of musicians who would be playing later that week at the Sons of Norway in downtown Fargo.

Julenissen accordion

Gio and I went to watch their performance, and afterward we exchanged addresses with our new friends, then went our separate ways. Imagine our surprise when, three months later (just before Christmas), Gio received a package from our Norwegian Santa, with a t-shirt, books, music and an authentic Norwegian Julenissen doll.

Gio Julenissen collage

Each year we display our treasured Julenissen and share the story of how he came to our family. I love what this doll represents: friendship, travel, adventure, heritage and Christmas. Yes, there is a Santa Claus, and I’ve met him. His name is Julenissen. Jeg tror på julenissen.

We’re celebrating Norwegian good food and words all this week, so be sure to check out our favorite Norwegian Christmas recipes and enjoy a very Merry Christmas season and a God Jul!

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