Photo: Lydia Matzal
Fjord Tours Articles / 17 Dec 2019

The Traditions of Norwegian Christmas

Christmas in Norway is a very big deal and is celebrated by the vast majority of its residents. But Norwegian Christmas is quite a bit different than something that you could expect to experience in most other countries. There are a lot of traditions that draw inspiration from the country’s unique landscape and its Pagan roots. Here is a detailed look at what Christmas in Norway is like.

Heart-Shaped Everything

When it comes to Norwegians’ preferred choice of Christmas decorations, heart shapes are by far the most popular. Instead of being covered in circular plastic or glass ornaments, Norwegian Christmas trees are covered in heart-shaped paper baskets known as “julekurver.” These are often stuffed with various Norwegian flags and treats and then hung on the tree.

During this time of the year, they also tend to eat Norwegian heart-shaped waffles which are often covered in traditional brunost (brown cheese). Norwegians also love to make gingerbread cookies, often in the form of hearts, which you can see hanging in windows of both shops and private homes.

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Photo: Freestocks/Unsplash

Decorating the tree on December 23

It must seem crazy to many westerners that someone could walk into someone's home in the middle of December and not see a Christmas tree fully decorated in their living room. However, this is exactly what you can expect in the vast majority of Norwegian homes.

This is because tree decoration is usually something that is set aside to be done on December 23rd, which is known as Lille Julaften (or Little Christmas Eve). This day is often spent decorating the tree as a family, cleaning up the home in preparation for the celebrations, and baking or purchasing gingerbread homes to be set up throughout the house.

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Photo: Arun Kuchibhotla

Christmas Markets Are Everywhere

Just because Norwegians don't decorate their Christmas tree until December 23rd, doesn’t mean that they don't spend the entirety of December celebrating in other ways. For example, at the very beginning of December, or sometimes even the end of November, there are countless Christmas markets that pop up all over the country. These often feature homemade items from local artisans, with Christmas marzipan being a very popular item.

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Photo: Bjørg Moen Skancke

The Main Celebrations are on Christmas Eve

Despite Christmas day being the time when most other countries have their main celebrations, Norwegians choose to celebrate on Christmas Eve instead, which is known as “Julaften.” This is when families get together and eat a traditional Norwegian Christmas meal, which is usually followed by holding hands and dancing around the Christmas tree to various carols, including Så går vi rundt om en enebærbusk.

After dancing, it’s time for the kids’ favorite time: opening presents! Unlike in many other countries, these presents are not delivered by Santa Claus, but rather a somewhat similar fairy tale creature known as Julenissen. This is a short bearded creature that tends to wear a red hat and goes from door to door distributing gifts on Christmas Eve.

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Photo: Scandic Hotels

Private Dinners on Christmas Day

When it comes to Christmas Day, Norwegians tend to spend it inside with close friends and family members. It does not involve much except for the raising of the national flag in each home as well as consuming another traditional Norwegian Christmas dinner.

Lots of Meat, Porridge, and Alcohol

Speaking of traditional Norwegian Christmas dinners, there are a few key dishes that you can expect to find on every dinner table throughout Norway during the Christmas season. One of these essential dishes is risengrynsgrøt, which is normally served around noon for lunch. Risengrynsgrøt is a type of rice porridge that includes a white boiled almond somewhere in the batch. The lucky individual who finds the almond in their bowl is the winner of a prize, usually a marzipan pig.

Another common dish is pinnekjøtt, which is dried or salted lamb ribs. Pinnekjøtt is very salty and usually watered out for a night or so before being steamed in a big pot. Pinnekjøtt will often be paired with ribbe, which are simple pork ribs, and lutefisk, which is dried cod that is then soaked in lye to help give it a gelatinous texture that people tend to either love or hate.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Norwegian Christmas without the presence of Akevitt, which is a distilled Scandinavian drink that contains 40 percent alcohol. This is rarely consumed outside of the Christmas season, which is the reason why it is a special part of holiday celebrations.

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Photo: CH - Visitnorway.com

Together, these are the various traditions that make up a typical Norwegian Christmas and if you ever get to visit Norway during Christmas, then you can fully expect to participate in most, if not all, of these activities. To find out how to truly experience Norway during Christmas, visit our page about Christmas in Norway.

Happy Christmas!