After reading about Doctor Proctor, Nilly, Lisa and Santa, I looked into some Norwegian Christmas traditions.
Christmas obviously has similarities and connections, but the celebrations in Australia and Norway are unsurprisingly different.
Christmas in Norway
Being in the northern hemisphere and so close to the North Pole, December in Norway is often snowy and Christmas is in the middle of darkness thus is celebrated with lights to welcome the coming of spring and summer. From pagan beginnings about seasons and harvests, Christmas was slowly Christianised in Norway and surrounding countries – it remained Jul but focused on the birth of Jesus.
In Norway, to say God Jul or Gledelig Jul is like us saying Merry Christmas. In parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, they speak North-Sami and they say Buorit Juovllat.
- celebrations and present sharing are held on Christmas Eve, leaving Christmas Day as a quiet day for brunch and to read books and enjoy gifts (and I’m guessing they recover from the food of the day before if they are like us!) This includes most families going to church – even if they are not Christian or church goers
- the 23rd of December is called Little Christmas Eve (or lillejulaften)
- Christmas starts on the 13th of December with the Saint Lucia ceremony which represents thanksgiving for the return of the sun. It involves the youngest daughter of the family dressing in a white robe with an evergreen crown, then all the children serve their parents coffee and lussekatter (Lucia buns). I must say it is a nice tradition to start Christmas with children doing something for their parents
- some families give a small gift each day or December, with or without a chocolate advent calendar! This is called Adventsgave or Kalendergave
- there is a Christmas advent calendar on TV, with a new episode shown each day of December. Called Jul I Balfjell, it has been going since 1999 and is based on a fairy tale of pixies in blue hats
- families light a candle each day from Christmas Eve to New Years Day
Norwegian Christmas traditions
So, here are some Norwegian traditions and activities…
- Santa is known as Julenisse and wears a red stocking cap with his long white beard – he is more gnome than person though. He knocks on the door in the evening of Christmas Eve (Juleaften) and hands out presents after asking “Are there any good children here?”
- Nisse – a little gnome who guards farm animals. Children leave out some rice porridge (risengrynsgrot) for him or else he plays tricks on them!
- a goat like gnome or elf known as Julebukk delivers gifts – there are have been a few variants of this since the Vikings worshipped Thor and his goat, but the current one is fairly tame and friendly
- the juletre (Christmas tree) is usually a spruce or pine tree and is decorated with candles, red harts, apples, straw ornaments, cornets, tinsel and glass baubles, according to individual taste
- the same Christmas movies are played on Christmas Eve morning and evening – apparently, people got very upset a few years ago when the station suggested changing the movies that Christmas!
- Flaklypa Grand Prix is an animated Christmas movie made in 1975 that most Norwegians love to watch each year. I will have to find it and watch it, but so far all I know is that an inventor, a penguin and a hedgehog build a race car for an oil sheikh and the soundtrack is by Bent Fabricicus-Bjerre
- a sheaf of wheat may be left out to feed the birds – being winter and snow, this is more relevant in Norway than in Australia where food is generally available for wild life
- skiing is a hugely popular, and skiing events are on TV throughout Christmas – their biggest finale is in Oslo on 1 January
- they gift a huge Christmas tree to the UK every year in recognition of help provided during World War II – it stands in Trafalgar Square in London
- often children dress up as characters of the Christmas story, usually shepherds or wise men, and go house to house singing Christmas carols
- many people sing a traditional folk tune with the words of Musevisa (the Mouse Song)
- O Jul Med Din Glede (Oh Christmas with your Joy) is a children’s song with actions that any adults also participate in for Christmas!
- home made decorations are the tradition for houses – toilet roll pixies are quite common, along with star lights in windows. Keeping things home made ensures a focus on children is the belief, and it makes sense.
Norwegian Christmas food and drink
A Christmas feast, or Julebord, is held many times in Norway – it is a gathering or people with a table full of food, and can be celebrated as a work or school party through to the family and friends gathering on Christmas Eve.
- there are specific Christmas delicacies, but these vary between towns – even the special bread called Julekake can vary in ingredients across Norway. Parties can therefore include an array of different dishes when people come together from a bigger area
- Sand kager is a traditional Christmas biscuit, as is Krumkaker which are thin waffle-like biscuits curled into a cone
- gingerbread or pepperkake, is very popular in Norway for Christmas, often shaped as people or stars and a thicker gingerbread is used to make gingerbread houses as well – pepperkakebyen is a gingerbread city in Bergen!
- rice porridge is a common treat, eaten with butter, sugar and cinnamon for lunch on Christmas Eve or with whipped cream as a dessert. If you find the almond in your serve, you get a prize (bit like finding coins in the Christmas pudding we used to do) – the prize often being a marzipan pig
- some rice porridge is often is left out for the birds at Christmas, too
- Glogg is a traditional drink with red wine, almonds, raisins and spices. Many breweries also release special Christmas beers, too, known as juleol, and a soft drink called julebrus – everyone has their favourite version though!
- the main Christmas meal is usually pork or lamb or mutton sticks (Pinnekjott), potatoes and surkal (cabbage cooked with caraway seeds and vinegar). Lye-treated codfish is also popular around Christmas time.
Have you been to Norway for Christmas, or perhaps have Norwegian family and experienced some of these traditions yourself? We’d love to hear about your Norwegian Christmas in the comments below!