Hello, and Merry Christmas!
It’s the evening of the 24th of December today which is traditionally the day where Norwegians celebrate Christmas, namely “Julaften”. I’ve just sat down after a wonderful evening with my closest family and then thought of you guys. In my group of friends and in the blogosphere there are countless ways of celebrating Christmas. Some don’t celebrate, some have their own version of Santa Clause, everyone have different traditions, different cultural heritages. I’ve been thinking a lot about the unique aspects of a Norwegian Christmas, especially as an expat living abroad, and thought you guys might want to know a little bit about how we celebrate.
- “Lille Julaften” aka “Little Christmas Eve”
The evening before Christmas Eve we start the “Julaften” (Eng: Christmas Eve) preparations. As a rule we never decorate the Christmas tree until Lille Julaften. This mainly because up until Julaften itself we focus on the advent period, which plays a bigger part in Scandinavian celebrations than in most other countries (I should probably have made a post about this – coming up next year). On Lille Julaften we often eat Rice Porridge, watch the black and white sketch “Grevinnen og Hovmesteren” (Eng: Dinner for One, been on every year since 1980) and finish whatever cleaning is left. The gifts are put under the tree and once the children are asleep the adults put out stockings.
Norwegians do give their children stockings to open on the morning of the 24th, much like British or American kids get to open on the 25th. Often there might be a Christmas Comic (Nor: Julehefte) of the Donald Duck variety or any of the wide range of christmas comics that come out in December. There is of course a range of sweets and candies in the stocking, but often Norwegian parents try to add a little bit of healthier options in there like raisins and clementines. Clementines is a Norwegian Christmas staple.(Brief sidenote: Can someone please decide whether the orange thing is a Clementine, Tangerine or Mandarin Orange? I just can’t comprehend the difference and see them time and time again in british shops with different names.)
- Christmas Day Television
Like many other countries Norway has its regular Christmas television shows and traditions. I won’t mention them all, because that is an entire post in itself, but some of the following are the most important ones. “Tre Nøtter Til Askepott” (Eng: Three Wishes for Cinderella) has been shown on television every Christmas morning since 1975 and is without a doubt a Christmas must-see. Jiminy Crickets Christmas and the old version of the Norwegian film “Reisen til Julestjernen” (Eng: Journey to the Christmas Star) are also absolute must-sees that have been on during Christmas Day for as long as I remember. Norway also has a tradition of making Television Advent Calendars, or stories that go through the entire 24 days and the finales of these are usually on in the morning as well. Some morning talk-show Christmas Specials are also sent.
In the evenings most channels will send Christmas films (The Holiday, Anywhere but Here, anything with Sandra Bullock, Home Alone, Elf, Polar Express, Frozen and so on) and christmas concerts from orchestras and churches. Especially notable is “Sølvguttene”, a all boys choir who performs in Oslo Domkirke and on television every year.
- Traditional Christmas Dinners
There are many variations of Christmas dinners depending on when in Norway you are, but here up North we often have either “Ribbe”, “Pinnekjøtt” or “Lutefisk”. “Ribbe” is pork ribs roasted with the skin on, often served with gravy, sausages and vegetables. “Pinnekjøtt” is cured and dried lamb that is then watered out and damp boiled for 3-4 hours. Pinnekjøtt is quite salty and therefore served with a simple and traditional Swede mash with boiled potatoes on the side. “Lutefisk” is made out of dried stockfish treated with lye. Some might describe it as “fish jelly” and if you haven’t grown up with it it might be an acquired taste, but I much prefer “Lutefisk” to “Ribbe”. What all of these have in common is that they are based on old traditional ways of cooking and preserving meats and fish, which ads a certain nostalgic flavour too (see what I did there?).
- Father Christmas & Gifts
Today Santa Clause (The Coca Cola version) comes to every house and gives out gifts to all the children, but in Norway we have long had the concept of the “Nisse”. A “Nisse” is a cheeky little elfish creature that would live in secret on the farms and do good and bad deeds to help or to disturb the people living on the farm. The “Nisse” would have a big knitted sweater and often lived in the barn to help take care of the animals living there. On the night before Christmas the family on the farm would put out a portion of Rice Porrige as a treat to the “Nisse” and in return the “Nisse” would make sure the Christmas peace settled all over the farm. Nowadays the portion of porridge is still put out, but only for Santa Clause. In the 2000s the phenomena of the “Blånisse” (Eng: Blue Santa/Elf) appeared as well. “Rødnisser” lives on the farms and in towns, while the “Blånisser” lives in the mountains and takes care of nature and the winter light.
- Christmas Day and the week before New Years Eve
Julaften may be over on the 24th, but Christmas certainly isn’t, with family dinners all throughout the week leading up to New Years Eve. Some Norwegian people will invite their friends and family over for a “Julefrokost” (Eng: Christmas Breakfast) or maybe a lunch or maybe even a full second Christmas dinner. With so many different dishes to choose from most people will have more than one grand meal over the holidays, to make sure they have them all at least once. Very few shops are open and most people get most, if not all, of the Christmas time off so the focus is all on family.
If you’re from Norway how does your Christmas traditions differ from these, and if you are from somewhere else in the world, how do you celebrate? God jul! xxx