A Traditional Norwegian Christmas
Norway, a magical winter wonderland with snow and reindeer, what better place to spend Christmas. Discover Norwegian traditions and how we celebrate Christmas.
Like many countries, Christmas seems to be getting earlier and earlier every year as shops and media try to capitalize on the upcoming festive season. As early as November friends, families and workplaces gather together for Christmas parties. We call it a julebord which means Christmas table. Usually, everyone brings a different dish to contribute to these social dinners with the workplace and friendship group variety often being particularly boozy affairs.
Although we Norwegians normally dress rather casually, the Julebord (and Christmas in general) is a time where we like to dress smartly. If you are invited to a Julebord, bowties, suits, and ball gowns are the normal attire, ditch the jeans for this.
When is Christmas?
The Norwegian word for Christmas is Jul (pronounced yool), and one of the biggest differences to the UK and US is that we celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December. We call this Julaften, Christmas Eve. Sound crazy? Not to us.
The 24th is a big deal. A lot of Norwegians families will start the day by dressing in the traditional Norwegian bunad, and attend a church service for prayer and hymns. Services are often packed out and repeated several times during the day.
The Norwegian word for Santa Claus is JULENISSE and on Christmas Eve, we leave out a bowl of JULEGRØT: rice porridge with sugar, cinnamon and butter.
Gifts are not exchanged until the family dinner in the early evening. Children are usually rewarded/bribed for good behavior with small gifts throughout the day before the main event in the evening.
The time between 1st and 24th of December is called ADVENTSTID. During this time we have similar advent calendar traditions but instead of eating chocolates from little cardboard doors, we tend to wrap small gifts and sweets and thankful notes to be opened one at a time on each day of advent.
Baking is a huge part of Norwegian Christmas and in particular Pepperkaker. Literally translated as pepper cookies, they rarely contain pepper and are more akin to american gingerbread. Heart and christmas tree shaped cookies are everywhere and most families (especially those with young children) will have a baking session where they roll out ready made dough and cut it into shapes before firing up the oven. It is also super traditional, and fun, to build little gingerbread houses to display during adventstid and decorate with icing and candy.
In Bergen, you can actually find the world’s largest gingerbread city which has been constructed by proud locals every year since 1991.
What’s for dinner?
This is often a huge debate in Norway with camps/families being split into two distinct groups, RIBBE (pig) or PINNEKJØTT (lamb). To avoid any disappointment some families often have the different dishes over different days during Romjul. Romjul translates beautifully as “that time between Christmas and New Year when no-one is really sure what they should be doing.”
In the run-up to the festive period, most breweries release batches of juleøl, Christmas beer. These are Christmas versions of their beers, most usually darker and spicier than their regular brews.
For those who don't drink alcohol, Julebrus is available almost on tap. This sweet soda is loved by Norwegians young and old but can also be a bone of contention similar to the Ribbe or Pinnekjøtt debate, be careful who you share your favourite with.
One of the biggest Norwegian Christmas traditions is actually in the British capital, London! Each year, Norway fells a tree in the forests outside Oslo with a ceremony usually attended by senior politicians and the British Ambassador. The tree, typically, a 50-60-year-old Norway spruce at more than 20 metres tall is then sent to London to stand proudly in Trafalgar Square as a vital part of London's festive makeover. The reason for all this? The tree is a token of gratitude for the British support of Norway during World War II.