Christmas in Norway

Minature Jul character

Wednesday 23 December 2020: In Katrine’s December Mending Mayhem podcast, we talked about Christmas in Norway. This post provides more details about how Norway celebrates Christmas.

Katrine talks about Norway Christmas traditions and food.

“When I was asked to write about Norwegian Christmas traditions, I thought ‘Oh easy, I’m after all Norwegian.’

Not bearing in mind that Traditions will variate from where you live, and that all families have some traditions on their own as well, this could easily have been a book.

So, I will describe the traditions that are more common here in my area of Norway – at the mid-west living outside of the town Åndalsnes.  

Many of our Christmas traditions is very old and were practiced prior to Christianity was introduced to Norway.

Jul takes place from Winter Solstice to January in Norway

Like our name for Christmas, Jul, it was the name of the festivity from winter solstice. Or Julablot, offerings to the old gods. This was celebrated around 12 January then people were sure the sun was getting higher on the horizon and would return.  

Good food and drinks are an important part of our celebrations, as they were for our forefathers.

The King Håkon den Gode moved the celebration of Julablot to 25th of December around year 900.

It’s uncertain where the name Jul comes from, but it might be from the god Odin that also was called Jólnir, and it was a duty to blote to the god by drinking Jul, around winter solstice  

It’s still important to have a lot of good food for Christmas. What you have will then variate from where in the country you live and your family traditions.

The old traditions were to keep the Jule food out for 13 days. Having a lot of good food at jul meant a good harvest for the following year.

The more modern version of this is the Christmas party or  Julebord, translated means Christmas table. Every company, school, sports club and social group hold their own julebord

These communal gatherings are an important part of Norwegian culture. Traditional food is often served. Large amounts of alcohol are consumed and normally followed up with a late-night party.

Norwegians normally dress fairly casually. The julebord is one of the rare occasions where we dress up in formal attire.

Preparing the house for Christmas

The first Sunday of Advent people put light in their windows and have and start preparing for Christmas. Norwegians care a lot about the time leading up to Christmas. Every Sunday in Advent we light a candle one for each Sunday. This is to mark that another week has passed. The kids will have an advent calendar, often with a tiny gift for each day.  Even on Tv there will be Advent calendars. Some of the bigger tv channels produce Christmas teamed series    with a new episode every day.

In our town there will be a huge Christmas tree in the market square and a celebration when the Christmas tree is lit.

Children and adults go around the tree and sing Christmas carols. And Nisse will stop by and bring some treats for the children. I will tell you more about the Nisse later.  There are usually light decorations in the streets and shopwindows has been decorated for Christmas.

Did you know the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree is a Christmas tree donated to the people of Britain by the city of Oslo, Norway each year since 1942. The tree is prominently displayed in Trafalgar Square from the beginning of December until 6 January.

People are rather busy before Christmas.

You should bake seven kind of cookies; this actually relates back to the nr of heavens in old beliefs’

Some Jul baking

The children are always exited to help out. Many of the cookies have old traditions and are baked in an iron like krumkake or goro. Or fried in fat, like donuts (it’s a bit different form the American version) and fattigmann, so before people had a stove. Also, the traditional lefse, is a traditional soft Norwegian flatbread. The original lefse in Norway were made with barely and oat flours, and later they were made from rye and wheat flours. Most importantly, potatoes are used in some parts of the country, though it is much less common. It is cooked on a large, flat griddle.   More common cakes like ginger breadcakes are often made. Gingerbread houses are quite popular amongst children.

More Jul baking

Even the animals should eat well during the Christmas celebration and one of the most common Norwegian Christmas decorations you’ll see in December are sheaves of wheat or oats that are hung out in the trees for birds to feast on. Often pictured in Christmas cards with Black tailed hawfinches’

The Sheaves was originally a fertility offering to the god Odin and priests tried to forbid this tradition.

Black tailed hawfinches are also often used in our Christmas decorations.

When I was young, it was a common to send Christmas cards to family and friends. This is a fairly new tradition, but due to social media it seems to disappear.

Of cause we have the traditions of buying and giving gifts as well.

There are many markets before Christmas there you can buy handmade gifts, Christmas decorations and cookies if you don’t make them yourself.

13 December is the day of St. Lucia. It begins with a procession led by the St. Lucia designee, who is followed by young girls dressed in white and wearing lighted wreaths on their heads and boys dressed in white pajama-like costume singing traditional songs.

Previous Christmas tree

This marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Scandinavia, and it is meant to bring hope and light during the darkest time of the year.

In earlier centuries the celebration of the winter solstice with large bonfires meant to scare off evil spirits and to alter the course of the sun. After converting to Christianity sometime around 1000, we incorporated the legend of St. Lucia into our celebration.

Schools and kindergarten often bake and have Christmas workshops where children make presents for parents and grandparents or Christmas decorations. And going to church listening to the Christmas gospel

Due to many immigrants, there are different religions, and so there is a new tradition debating whether to have Christian holiday celebrations in schools on social media. In Norway Christianity is a stat religion, but our law also gives freedom of religion. The law of education though says Norwegian schools should be based upon Christhian values; you can say no to attending based on religious views.  

The house should also be properly cleaned, silver polished. Though you should not decorate your hose before 23 December. This was very strict when I grew up, but now days many people will start early. As most people are working outside their home nowadays, there isn’t as much time as earlier.

Though my mum was working, she never decorated before 23 December. People who did was looked upon as weird, but it’s luckily not like that anymore. I start decorating a week earlier.

23 December is in Norway called Lillejulaften, little Christmas eve.

All your preparations should be finished before the big Celebration.

Unlike most of the world we celebrate the 24 December as the most important day.

Christmas presents will be opened in the evening, like the British royal family.

Many people do go to church on 24 December. To listen to the Christmas gospel and mark the start of the celebration.

The holiday starts in the evening, but it’s common to have Norwegian Christmas porridge (risengrynsgrøt) at lunch time. you’ll know that it’s a white, sweet version of the traditional oatmeal porridge, topped with a clunk of butter and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. In a traditional Christmas twist, an almond is dropped into the pot, and the person that gets the almond wins a prize – a pig made of marzipan.

The leftovers from the porridge can be made into a delicious desert, served later on with the supper.

You also need to put out a portion of the porridge for the Nisse.

The Nisse is a tiny guy living in your barn, or shed. And most likely relates back to the worshiping of the forefathers.   That was no longer allowed when Norway got Christian.

And it’s most likely the founder of the farm that turned into this little figure. He is not larger than a horse head. Often dressed in grey, with short pants and a red hat like most of the farmers were dressed. Having a long beard and white hair

He could be useful on the farm, for example, by tending the animals, especially if he had good food and drink on Christmas Eve. But he was also capricious and erratic and could perform pranks and mischief and harm people and animals if he was not treated well. The more modern version also brings gifts for children on Christmas eve. He doesn’t come to the chimney but knocks on the door. Asking if there are any well behaved children around. Often a family member dress up to be the Nisse if there are small children in the house.

When Christmas dinner is served, Pinnekjøtt , ribbe or lutefisk depending on where in the country you live.

Pinnekjøtt is a Norwegian traditional meat is from sheep . The word ‘pinnekjøtt’ literally translates to ‘Stick Meat’,  the name derives from the sticks that are used in the making of the meat. The meat is cured and salted over time and has quite a strong and salty taste. Pinnekjøtt is served with potatoes, mashed kohlrabi and sauce.

Ribbe, is pretty much what it sounds like; ribs of pork. The ribs are roasted to perfection, and ideally, the top layer of it is so crunchy you can hardly chew it. Ribbe is served with potatoes, sausage, sauerkraut, sauce and lingonberries.

Lutefisk is a Scandinavian dish made from dried whitefish that’s been treated with lye, resulting in the fish having a gelatinous consistency and often, depending on the type of whitefish, a very strong, pungent odour.

After it’s been cooked, the lye-treated fish is served with an array of side dishes. In Norway, it is typically served with boiled potatoes, mashed green peas, melted butter, and pieces of fried bacon.

Aquevitt is a spirit with roots in Scandinavia, and it is distilled from potatoes. It is served throughout the Christmas season, especially during and after dinner. It is incredibly strong, and naturally, an important part of drinking culture in Norway. It is served in a shot glass, yet is sipped slowly, and many believe it helps the food sink after a big meal.

It’s common to celebrate Christmas with your close family, Christmas is a holiday for family and food.

After dinner it’s time to go around the Christmas tree Carolling and then it’s time to open the presents. I can tell you the children think it’s very difficult to wait the entire day to receive their presents.

25 December is a family day, and you are not to go visit people unless you are invited. Depending on your family traditions your family might host a Christmas party.

Romjul – the Norwegian term for the period between Christmas and New Year’s that’s meant for spending time at home with friends and family.

For most modern-day Norwegians, Romjula means vacation time, or at least shorter workdays than usual. It means that families have an opportunity to spend some time together in addition to the often-hectic Christmas holidays. It means that people have an opportunity to enjoy the very few hours of light that a Nordic midwinter day can offer. Unless you have experienced a Scandinavian winter, you don’t know what a difference a few hours of daylight can make.

Julebukk is another old tradition that is disappearing. People wear masks and costumes going tom door to door, where neighbours receiving them attempt to identify who is under the disguise. In one version of Julebukking, people go from door to door singing Christmas songs. After they have sung, they are usually awarded with candy. It’s a bit like trick or treating at Halloween.

God jul [Merry Christmas] from Norway!”

Here are some recipes you might want to try:


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