How To Celebrate Christmas In Norway

Marita Solheim

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When you tell someone that you’re from Norway, they always respond with these questions: “Oh! It’s very expensive, right?” or “Isn’t it really cold there?” Some people truly believe
that we live in some kind of fairytale with trolls, elves, reindeers and a snow through the whole year.
Let’s be honest, it’s wrong! At least it makes some sense when it’s Christmas.

Advent is a preparation period which starts four Sundays before Christmas. Every Sunday during this time we light a candle and sing a song. Usually the candles and advent decoration are purple. Children have an advent calendar with chocolate or bubble gum and socks that their mom made.

During this period before Christmas, Norwegian television broadcast a lot of different shows.
Some of the most popular Julekalender (Christmas Calendar) in Norway is Jul i Blåfjell, Jul på
Månetoppen, The Julekalender, Vazelina Hjulkalender, Snøfall 
and Olsenbandens første kupp.

Julebord (literally Christmas Table) is a Christmas Party where you meet friends or colleagues
for a traditional Christmas dinner and also a party afterwards. Most people will attend more
than one of these gatherings during November and December. Large amounts of alcohol is
consumed these nights. In the run-up to the festive period, most breweries release juleøl,
(Christmas Beer) which is commonly darker and spicier than the regular ones. Skål! (Cheers)

Julebrus (Christmas Soda) is a very popular soda in Norway. There are many different brands
who produce this beverage with raspberry taste, and Norwegians have an intense discussion
every single year to find out which one is the best. Some people with a lot of self-control wait
until the first Sunday in advent or the 1st of December to have their first taste of the season.

Pepperkake (Gingerbread) and Pepperkakehus (Gingerbread House) are both very popular
during this season. In Røros and Bergen they make a city out of gingerbread houses.

Pepperkakebyen
Pepperkakebyen                                                                                                                                                              Photo Credit: VisitBergen

A nisse is a mythological creature from Scandinavian folklore, which could be compared to a
garden gnome or maybe even a leprechaun. According to tradition, they are present in farm-
houses in which they act as guardians of those living there and occasionally help with house
cores. Nisser are a typical character from Old Norse culture. Today, they’ve been assimilated
into Christian culture in Scandinavia and appear in Christmas tales, cards and decorations.

Dabbenissen
“Nissen” in our family. Yes, he had to dab last year!                                                                                     Photo Credit: Marita Solheim

Traditional Norwegian porridge is usually served for lunch the day before Christmas or on
Julaften (Christmas Eve) on the 24th of December. Some people also choose to serve it on
a Saturday close to Christmas Eve, because many Norwegians have a tradition of eating
porridge (almost) every Saturday. Julegraut (Christmas Porridge) is a little bit different.
A whole almond is hidden in the porridge, and the person who finds it wins a marzipan
candy in the shape of a pig. Every year Norwegians eat 45 million marzipan candies.

Marsipangris
Marsipangris (As you can see, Nidar chocolate factory has made this product since 1915)       Photo Credit: Marita Solheim

After eating the porridge, the leftovers are used to make riskrem (rice cream) – a dessert made
with cold rice porridge topped with whipped cream and raspberry or strawberry sauce. Farms all over the country has a long tradition of serving julegraut (Christmas Porridge) for fjøsnissen (The Barn Elf) who lives there. Santa Claus, known in Norwegian as Julenisse, is another kind of nisse.


TINE – Christmas ad 2017

On the 23rd of December, Norwegians celebrate Lille Julaften, (Little Christmas Eve) which is a
time when the family comes together to clean and decorate the house and their Christmas tree. They change the purple advent decoration with red tablecloth and put a lot of angels and nisser
everywhere. Many people decorate their Christmas tree with Norwegian flags. This old tradition
has its roots back to 1905 when Norway became an independent countryHipp, Hipp, Hurra!

Sølvstjerne
Norwegian flags                                                                                                                                                         Photo Credit: Marita Solheim

While decorating the tree this evening, many people watch Kvelden før kvelden” (The evening before Christmas) on the popular Norwegian TV Channel NRK. Around 9 pm they show the popular
British comedy sketch Grevinnen og Hovmesteren (Dinner for One) The German television station
NDR recorded a black-and-white performance of the show in 1953, which eventually became the
most repeated TV program of all time. It’s funny how we watch it every single year, even though
we’ve watched it a million times and know every single line. NRK once showed the sketch a few minutes early and got loads of angry phone calls and e-mails from Norwegians who missed it.

The sketch depicts the 90th birthday of Miss Sophie, who hosts a yearly dinner for her friends. Due
to her old age, she has outlived them all, so her butler James impersonates and drinks instead of each of the guests. As he goes around the table, James gets noticeably drunk, and repeatedly asks
Miss Sophie: “The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?” to which she responds: “The same
procedure as every year, James!” NRK has been broadcasting the 11-minute Swiss version of it every December 23rd since 1980. Families still come together every year to watch this sketch.

Julaften, known as Christmas Eve in English, is the main day of celebration for Norwegians.
Since 1975, NRK has shown the czech movie Tre nøtter til Askepott (Three Gifts for Cinderella)
Just like Dinner for One, it has become a holiday classic in Norway although it’s not even a
Christmas movie. The film was originally released in Czech and German, but NRK always
broadcasts it in Norwegian, dubbed by only one guy named Knut Risan. They’ve tried to
change this version several times, but most Norwegians hold on tight to their traditions.

Askepott
Tre nøtter til Askepott                                                                                                    Photo Credit: NRK

Many people go to church on the 24th of December. Brass bands or choirs entertain the audience.
People also visit their loved ones on the graveyard and light a candle after they’ve been to church. 
Sølvguttene 
(The Silver Boys Choir) appear on national television for their annual festive concert, and at 5 pm church bells ring throughout the cities to announce the official start of the holiday.

The traditional meal in Norway is usually ribbe, pinnekjøtt or lutefisk. Ribbe is roast pork ribs.
Pinnekjøtt consists of salted or dried lamb ribs that are soaked in water to remove most of the
salt for approximately 30 hours before consumption. It’s traditionally eaten on the west coast
of Norway, but it gains popularity elsewhere too. Similarly, lutefisk is dried from aged stock fish
that is soaked into a solution of lye in order to rehydrate it. It has a gelatinous texture, which is
both loved and loathed by Norwegian people, who seem to agree that “once a year is enough.”

After the meal, people usually hold hands and walk around the Christmas Tree while singing
carols. Julenissen (Santa Claus) comes into the living room to hand out presents. The family
and their guests then play games, sing, eat dessert and open gifts for the rest of the evening.

Romjul is the term of the days between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Most shops are
closed or have limited opening hours. Friends and family visit each other for a traditional
meal or some christmas cookies. Norwegians also typically head to the slopes for skiing
and sledding with friends and family. In my family, we always make a lot of different
chocolate truffles and marzipan before New Year’s Eve and we call it Nyttårskonfekt.

Nyttårskonfekt
Nyttårskonfekt                                                                                                                                                      Photo Credit: Marita Solheim

Some children dress up as a Julebukk or Nyttårsbukk, which is kind of like Halloween, except
the fact that they don’t dress up as something scary. Normally like a nisse. They also sing a
Christmas Carol, instead of just begging for candy by asking one question. This happens on
New Year’s Eve, but some places this tradition is held early on December 24th or in Romjula.
We celebrate New Year’s Eve like most other people. With a traditional meal, champagne,
candy, fireworks and an amazing party with friends and family to welcome the new year.

Nyttår
New Year’s Eve                                                                                                                                                 Photo Credit: Marita Solheim

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – or as we say in Norway: God Jul og Godt Nyttår!

Do you recognize any of these traditions? Leave a comment below!

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Marita Solheim

  • Emma Whittaker

    This was such a good article Marita! You really covered all of our fun traditions and made me even more excited for Christmas! I smiled the whole time that I read this 🙂

    • Marita Solheim

      Thank you so much, Emma ❤️ I’m really excited for Christmas, as well. That makes me very happy! ☺️

  • Sunniva Batalden

    Aaah, lengter hjem nå! Julebrus lenge leve!

    • Marita Solheim

      Samme her! Gledar meg til årets første julebrus ❤️