Photo: Scandic hotels
Fjord Tours Articles / 10 Dec 2019

The Stories Behind Norwegian Christmas

Anyone who has never had the privilege of visiting Norway during the end of the year will likely not be aware that Christmas in Norway is actually quite different from many other parts of the world. In fact, Christmas did not exist in the area at all until the early 11th century when Christians began to take the area from the Viking locals.

Because of its heavy pagan influence, Norwegian Christmas is very distinct from other non-Scandinavian countries. Here are the various fairy tales behind Norwegian Christmas and the details of how the holiday is celebrated in this northern country.

Jul I Vinterland 2018 VO06656 Photo Didrick Stenersen
Photo: VisitOSLO/ Didrik Stenersen

Does Santa Exist In Norway?

Many countries have their own unique take on Santa Claus, so this question is somewhat complicated. They do not have the same Santa Claus as the United States, however, the mysterious, mystical figure of Norwegian Christmas folklore bears a striking resemblance to Santa in many ways.

This creature, better known as “Julenisse” is part of a much larger group of magical creatures that are called nisse in Norway or tomte in Sweden. They are very short, possess a long white beard, and often wear red hats. Essentially, they can be described as a hybrid somewhere between Santa and his elves. However, instead of living at the North Pole, they are believed to reside in nearby forests or other secluded environments.

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Photo: Mike Arney /

What makes the Julenisse special is that he is the nisse responsible for going door to door and delivering gifts to each house during the Christmas season. Instead of Santa’s typical cookies and a glass of milk, Norwegian children are encouraged to leave out a bowl of porridge for the Julenisse to enjoy.

Scandic Christmas F&B Food Porridge6
Photo: Scandic Hotels

What Celebrations Take Place During the Christmas Season?

In Norway, Christmas encompasses many traditional celebrations. One such celebration is the occurrence of Christmas markets all over the country. These markets tend to remain in place for several weeks, often spanning the entirety of December. At a Norwegian Christmas market, you can expect to see a wide range of local art, crafts, food, and plenty of mulled wine, which the locals refer to as gløgg.

Throughout the holiday season, there are plenty of holiday parties being thrown by nearly every business and organization in the country. These parties are better known as “julebords” and involve a massive amount of food and alcohol. They are also very formal events, with attendees wearing business attire. A julebord will often feature Christmas-themed food and drink, which largely consist of ribbe (seasoned pork ribs), pinnekjøtt (mutton), and juleøl (dark and spicy beer).


Scandic Norway Christmas Pinnekj¢Tt 1
Photo: Scandic Hotels

There is also an annual Christmas celebration that Norwegians participate in alongside England. The impressive Christmas tree that is erected in Trafalgar Square every year is actually a gift that is delivered from Norway. The 50 to 60-year-old spruce tree is considered a gift from Norway to Britain as a tribute to their assistance during World War II. This annual selection ceremony often involves several high-ranking Norwegian politicians, the British Ambassador, and a few other important individuals. 

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Photo: CH -

Needless to say, the Christmas season is a very busy season in Norway. If you ever visit in the month of December, then make sure that you participate in plenty of festive local celebrations and perhaps take a trip to one of the most prominent Christmas towns, Bergen or Røros!