Elves and Fairies and Tomten, Oh My!


Almost every culture has its own version of magical little people who live secretly in the human world. Some are called fairies, elves, imps, pixies, and gnomes, just to name a few.  They can be loving and caring, badly behaved, or somewhere in between.  In all cases they have magical powers and are not seen by humans. But they do leave a trail of evidence that cannot be explained. Check out the stories and activities in this Tomton of fun Third Thursday!

Videos and Do-at-Home Activities

  1. Off to the Theater—Watch simple stick puppets tell the stories of the magical Little people from Africa, Hawaii, Native America, and Sweden.
  2. Be an Engineer—Build something out of cardboard and/or recycled materials. It can be something the little people did for the humans OR something completely different.
  3. Cultural Cooking—Pick a recipe from the links and make a tasty dish with your family
  4. Be a puppeteer—Make your own stick puppets and scenery and share one of the stories with family and friends.



In West Africa, the Dahomey people have stories about the Aziza: tiny, forest-dwelling, fairy-like creatures.[9] They look like regular humans, but they’re incredibly small and have wings that look like those of an insect. These magical creatures are purely nice and help out humans who are hunting. They also taught people how to make fire back when humanity didn’t have the knowledge.

In return, people would leave out fresh food for the Aziza. When people realized how useful they were, they started looking for them more often. This caused the shy creatures to retreat further into the forest and avoid human contact more.


The Native Hawaiians believe in people called the Menehune, who lived on the islands long before the Polynesians arrived.[10] They were supposed to be about 60 centimeters (2′) tall, though some were no more than 15 centimeters (6 in). They were shy and not often seen by humans, but it’s said that they liked singing, dancing, cliff-diving, and archery. If a human was angry, they’d use magic arrows to pierce the person’s heart and make them feel love instead. They were also excellent craftsmen and engineers, as they would build temples, fish ponds, roads,  and more under the cover of night.

Some stories say that the Menehune disappeared after the islands were settled by humans. However, others believe they are still there, causing mischief while hiding. In 1820, the official census of Kauai even listed 65 Menehune as part of the official population.


Many Native American tribes had stories about little people, so many that they actually deserve their own list.[3] For example, the Mohegans believed in the Makiawisug, small people who lived below Mohegan Hill in Connecticut. They are nice if they’re taken care of, so the Mohegans would leave them baskets of food. They were not to be spoken about during the summer, when they were active, and not to be stared at; otherwise, they would freeze you and steal your things. In return for the food and respect, the Makiawisug taught the Mohegans how to grow corn and use healing plants, and they kept the Earth fertile.

Nisser and Tomtar

The Norwegian nisse and the Swedish tomte are very similar characters.[2] They usually live solitary lives on farms, staying out of sight of the farmer but taking care of the buildings and animals. Often, they are pictured as small men, the height of a child, with red hats and worn-out clothing. They work very hard to make sure the farm is well-kept, especially focusing on making the horses comfortable.

In return for their work, the creatures only demand respect and a bowl of porridge with butter on Christmas Eve. This bowl is supposed to be left out in the barn so that the creature can eat it in peace.

Be An Engineer

Learn about how you can make your own objects at home from Jane and her friend Ryan!

Cultural Cooking

Enjoy some of these recipes from around the world!

Be a Puppeteer

Make your very own puppets at home to act out the stories you heard today!

Directions and Supplies for Stick Puppets

Supplies: cut out of little person, Kebob skewer or ruler, glue, tape, scissors, cardboard or other stiff material for stability, a box or other found object for stage, construction paper or plain paper and crayons.

  1. Cut out the picture of the little person or draw your own.
  2. Glue this to a piece of cardboard or stiff material.
  3. Tape kebob skewer or ruler to the back.
  4. Now make the stage. Be creative and make a sturdy backdrop.
  5. Make a forest with real branches or draw some. Whatever your imagination comes up with will be perfect!
  6.  Now practice the story…keep it simple.
  7. Share with family and friends on zoom, social media, 6 feet away, or any other way to do this safely!