Winter is a long, dark and cold season in here in Norway, which might be why we love Christmas as much as we do. Having something to look forward to during this dark period is important for many.
Christmas lasts more than a few days in the Nordic countries. Here in Norway Christmas preparations begin already in early December and, while it’s not completely correct, an old Norwegian saying claims that it lasts until Easter.
Yule – The Viking Christmas
It’s been a tradition to celebrate Christmas long before the Christening of Norway. The resemblance between the Yuletide, a Viking festival that began the 21st of December and lasted twelve days, and today’s Christmas celebration is remarkable.
The 21st of December is the shortest day of the year and the Vikings would spend this evening celebrating that days are becoming longer, which is why they called it The Festival of Light. The celebration would consist of sacrificing animals and drinking beer, not that unlike what we do today.
Christmas in Norwegian is “jul”, a word which is more similar to Yule than to Christmas. However, with Christianity, the Festival of Light began to change and became associated with Jesus. While we still have many of our own Christmas traditions, we have been influenced by other countries and yes kids, Santa does appear in Norway too!
The Month of December
Since winter is such a long season in Norway, we begin decorating and preparing for Christmas earlier than many others. Already in the beginning of December, you’ll see Christmas lights in the streets and on people's houses. I guess you can say that this is the Norwegian way of staying warm in December.
During December it’s not uncommon to see a stressed Norwegian running around looking for Christmas gifts, preparing Christmas cakes (7 in total) and, of course, cleaning his home.
Not only will you see decoration appear in the windows, regular curtains and tablecloths are replaced with Christmas themed ones.
In the pre-Christmas period, many cultural events are arranged all around Norway. Many towns have a Christmas market that highlights local food and produce, and concerts are regularly held.
Many towns will have a parade and family-friendly party at the end of November when the Christmas lights are lit all around the town. At this event, people also gather to watch the town’s Christmas tree be lit up. Such parties are often a big winner for children as they get to attend many activities such as riding horses, baking Christmas cookies, woodwork, and dancing – to mention a few.
Norwegian Christmas Food
Food is a big part of Christmas, like in many other countries too. It’s a time when families gather and celebrate together. Being hungry during Christmas is rare and it’s not without a reason that you see a rapid increase in gym memberships in the beginning of the following year.
Every meal is well prepared during the Christmas holiday. Even breakfasts are shared with the family and the table quickly fills up with lots of tasty options. A typical breakfast table will include: Christmas bread, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, ham, brawn, anchovy and other small dishes.
The Christmas Eve dinner tradition depends on where in Norway you are but traditions are spreading throughout the country. The three most common main dishes are:
Ribbe (Roasted pork belly) is the most popular dish in the Eastern and Mid-Norway. The dish is usually served with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes, Christmas sausages, meatballs and gravy.
Along the West coast of Norway the traditional dish is salted and dried, often also smoked, lamb ribs (pinnekjøtt in Norwegian). This is the second most popular choice for a Christmas Eve dinner.
Lutefisk is a traditional Norwegian food that you might have heard about before. Lutefisk, Stockfish in English, is dried cod that has been lying in water and lye, then cooked in the oven. Typical side dishes are potatoes, bacon, mushy peas and mustard.
Many restaurants will serve these dishes in the weeks leading up to Christmas, so if you’re visiting Norway in December, be sure to stop by a restaurant and try our traditional Christmas food.
Cakes & Cookies
Already in the beginning of December, the Norwegians begin to prepare Christmas sweets. Traditionally, we bake a minimum of seven cookies that are served in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
The most common cookie to see during Christmas is the Pepperkake (gingerbread). It's simply not Christmas without it and most supermarkets start selling them already in October.
Other popular cakes and cookies are Krumkaker, Risboller, Berlinerkranser, Smultringer and Kokosmatroner.
Christmas Eve, the 24th of December, is the main day of Christmas. This is the day that we celebrate, have delicious food and open gifts.
The day typically begins as most other days. Some go to work while others run around to do some last minute Christmas gift shopping. At noon, however, the family starts gathering and you begin getting ready for the long day ahead.
At 4 pm the church bells ring throughout the city, which marks the official start of Christmas. The boy choir Sølvguttene holds their annual Christmas concert on national television.
Christmas dinner is usually served between 5- and 8 pm but children are eager to finish quickly since unwrapping gifts waits shortly after. The gifts are placed beneath the Christmas tree and are unwrapped throughout the night while the family is enjoying cakes and cookies.
Julenissen (Santa Claus) comes some time after dinner and gives gifts to the children. He will often share an aquavit with the parents before leaving to the next house!
Christmas Day officially marks the first day of Christmas. This is a day where the kids are out playing with their new toys and the extended family get together for celebrations.
The day starts with a late breakfast, which in many cases will last for hours. It’s normal for the family to sit around the breakfast table listening to Christmas carols and enjoying each other’s company.