As the weather cools down, the festive spirit heats up and Norway glows
with Christmas markets and traditional Norwegian celebrations, both indoors and
Christmas in Norway is very special. Lit up by Christmas lights the
streets come to life with markets, foods, and ice skating. You can feel the
special joy and excitement of the season in every big or small city, where
Norwegians celebrate with Christmas trees and caroling and endless eating.
In the end of November, Oslo is decorated and prepared for Christmas,
and the city is buzzing with people doing their Christmas shopping. Christmas
trees are lit and streets decorated in the city centre during the first weekend
of Advent. During these weeks you have plenty of opportunities to catch a
Christmas concert or Christmas market.
Julebord for catching festive
During Advent it is common for companies, organisations and groups of
friends to have pre-Christmas parties, in Norwegian called julebord. The
julebord crowd fills up the city’s restaurants and clubs, making the weekend
nightlife quite busy in this period.
Here the people eat a typical Norwegian lunch, which on this occasion
should preferably consist of special Norwegian dishes some of which derive from
old regional dishes. The Christmas lunch is accompanied by beer and schnapps or
wine. At these Christmas lunches, where alcohol is usually consumed, people
traditionally let their hair down and without risk suspend some of everyday
boundaries, both in relation to the social hierarchy and generally accepted
Most Norwegians will attend one or more Christmas lunches in December.
Christmas lunches are a traditional way to extend Christmas celebrations out
beyond the close family, to friends and colleagues, and to get Norwegians in
the festive mood nice and early!
Mixture of Pagan Traditions
with Christian Christmas
Photo: Aktivoslo | Folk dance show by Norwegian
children at a Christmas market.
Christmas wasn’t celebrated in Norway until about 1000 or 1100, when
Christianity first came to the area. Before this people celebrated jul or jòl
in the middle of winter. It was a celebration of the harvest gone and a way of
looking forward to the spring. Lots of beer (juleol) was brewed and drunk in
honour of the old pagan Scandinavian gods.
Taking these old traditions, Norwegians adopted some unique Christmas
customs. In this special mixture, Norway’s traditional Christmas customs
include Nisse, a gnome or an elf guarding animals. It is said in Norway that
Nisse can have goat-like features (Christmas Buck, or Julebukk in Norwegian).
Nisse often lives in old farmhouses and wears gray woolen clothes, red bonnet
and stockings and white clogs. As a good elf, Nisse generally helps people on
the farms and is good with children but plays jokes during the holiday season.
On Christmas Eve in Norway, many families leave a bowl of rice pudding or
porridge for him so that he is friendly to them and keeps his jokes within
The idea of Julebukk is a very old one and was most likely known by the
Vikings. In earlier times during Christmas in Norway, one person dressed in
goatskin (carrying a goat’s head!) would come to the Christmas celebration
unannounced and act as if they were dying shortly afterwards.
It did not take long for Christians in Norway (and the rest of
Scandinavia) to associate the goat with the devil. They then used it only
during celebrations and were later forbidden these customs by the church and
government. A much tamed-down form of the tradition remains to this day.
Good Food is Traditional
Photo:Aktivoslo | Traditional Christmas food at Folkemuseet.
Many different types of cakes and biscuits are eaten over the Christmas
period in Norway. One of the most popular is special bread called ’Julekake’
that has raisins, candied peel and cardamom in it. Rice Porridge is eaten on
Christmas Eve either as a meal at lunchtime (served with butter, sugar and
cinnamon) or as a dessert to the main evening email (with whipped cream mixed
in!). If you find an almond in your portion you’re traditionally given a pink
or white marzipan pig.
The last two weeks before Christmas the great baking period begins and
many families are busy baking their favourite cakes and biscuits, using
traditional recipes handed down from generation to generation. Some of the most
popular Norwegian Christmas biscuits are: ginger snaps, vanilla biscuits or
The most popular Christmas Eve dinner is the ribbe (pork ribs or pork
belly, bone in), but lutefisk (cod cured in lye), pinnekjøtt (dry-cured ribs of
lamb), boiled cod, ham roast and turkey are also common dishes. Most fish
restaurants and restaurants with Norwegian food have Christmas specialities on
the menu in November and December.
A Spicy Weirdness: Gløgg
Photo: Maraire | Gløg is served after heating and mixing with some nuts and rosiner.
A drink Norwegian often serve during Advent and Christmas is gløgg – a
warm, spicy drink similar to German Glühwein. It can be made with red wine, but
the non-alcoholic version is often preferred. You can taste it in most
Christmas markets in Oslo. Gløgg is usually served with pepperkake.
A pepperkake is a Norwegian gingerbread cookie, and tons of them are
sold, made and consumed during the Christmas season. Many parents bake them
with their children, and the most patient ones also make a gingerbread house.
The house is first used as a decoration, and then eaten at the end of the
You will also see bowls of chocolate and nuts in most homes. Traditional
Christmas candy such as burnt almonds and glazed apples are rarely made at
home, but you will find them in the major Christmas markets if you would like
Singing and Watching in Christmas
A very popular song at Christmas time in Norway is the Musevisa (The
Mouse Song). The words were written in 1946 by Alf Prøysen. The tune is a
traditional Norwegian folk tune. It tells the story of some mice getting ready
for Christmas and the Mother and Father mice warning their children to stay
away from mouse traps! It became popular very quickly and is now as popular as
ever in Norway. Besides, other traditional songs are also sung by all family
members around the Christmas tree.
For a lot of Norwegians, especially families, television is an important
part of the earlier hours of Christmas Eve. Many Norwegians do not feel the
Christmas spirit until they have watched the Czech-German fairy tale Three Nuts
for Cinderella (Norwegian title: Tre nøtter til Askepott), the Disney Christmas
cavalcade From All of Us to All of You, the Norwegian
fairytale movie Reisen til Julestjernen (“The Nutcracker”) or the
comedy sketch Dinner for One. Attending one of the many stage productions of Putti
Plutti Pott and Santa’s Beard is also a very popular tradition.
Christmas Tree in London: A
Another interesting fact about Norwegian Christmas is the big Christmas
Tree that Norway gives to the UK every year. The tree is given as a present to
say ’thank you’ for the help that the people of the UK gave to Norway during
World War II. The tree stands in Trafalgar Square in the middle of London and
often hundreds of people come to watch when the lights are turned on.
When it comes to a traditional Norwegian Christmas Tree decoration, it
is usually decorated with a star at the top and garlands, tinsel and small
paper baskets made in the shape of a heart. It’s said that the writer Hans
Christian Andersen might have invented these paper baskets in the 1860s.