Christmas or as we call it in Scandinavia, Jul, is an important holiday to most of us but not because of the religious meaning. Nowadays it’s a family holiday without religion for most people. About one-third of the population see themselves as Christian, and even fewer see themselves as religious, or true believers if you will. So it’s more a matter of family tradition.
Most people take time off from work during Christmas and New Year’s, saving some vacation days to spend more time at home. Christmas Day, the day after, and New Year’s Day are official holidays.
During this time, we have a lot of traditions. Nobody does them all but we all do some of them. Since there are so many, I decided to only include some. I’ve used some questions I got from my friend Rachel when we diskussed this.
Where there’s a link, you can click to get the recipe, a picture, or a description, if you’d like to give it a go yourself 🙂 If you need a translation of something, just ask.
When do we get into the spirit?
I’ve seen that in the US people really start to get engaged and start decorating after Thanksgiving. In the stores, it’s earlier of course but I would say people start just before the 1st Sunday of Advent. On December 1st, the largest TV-stations and radio stations start running their Christmas series for kids. That really gets the kids in the mood 🙂
What decorations do we have?
- There’s the Christmas tree. Some also have a tree decorated with lights outdoors.
- Many people have a candle holder for 4 candles and light one candle each Sunday for the four Sundays before Christmas. One, then two, then three, then all four.
- We put decorations in the windows and on shelves and tables.
- Some use flowers like Poinsettia, Hyacinth, and Amaryllis. But allergies to these have become more common, so many choose not to use them.
- There are special window curtains, table cloths, and sometimes even kitchen towels for Christmas.
- Most have a paper star with a lightbulb inside in a window and an electric candleholder with 7,9, or 11 candles in another one.
- Some hang garlands from the ceiling or on the walls.
- There’s often a sheaf of Oats or other grain that we put outside for the birds.
- Some hang a wreath on their door.
- There are some that decorate outdoors with lights, but not to the extreme we see on TV.
- The Nisse is a popular decoration in all forms, as are snowmen, angels, stars, hearts, and gingerbread men/women. The colours used are mostly red, green, and white.
- Homemade/handmade things are also common.
When do we decorate the tree?
The tree is usually a Norwegian Spruce tree that’s been brought indoors and decorated with shiny balls, strands of glitter, and other things. It’s usually not brought indoors until December 22 and then decorated the next evening (which is called Little Christmas Eve). If it stood there the whole month, it would lose all its needles before Christmas Eve. It’s usually not decorated too much. You can still see that it’s a tree. The tree is usually in the living room unless you don’t have a good place to put it. Then it’s placed where it fits in. Some use a plastic tree, either because they’re allergic or because it’s easy.
When do we celebrate?
There’s often a smaller celebration on Lucia Day, December 13. Children and young people that are either in school or in a choir dress in white and sing traditional songs. They often stop by the senior center. In this village, there’s also a concert in church on the 16th where the school band and choirs perform.
There are also several bazaars before Christmas. Often arranged by sprots teams to raise money. They sell lottery tickets in the shape of wooden pieces with numbers on them, and sell coffee and cakes. They also do parties after Christmas called Yule Tree parties when they do the same. But those usually involve dancing around the tree and singing.
Companies usually have a Christmas party for their employees well before Christmas because it’s hard to book a restaurant at this time of year 🙂
There’s an older tradition called Julebukk (Christmas male goat) where youngsters (often male) walk around the neighborhood and sing songs at the doors. They’re usually rewarded with something good to eat or drink. This is almost completely gone, but some still do it.
The main family celebration with the gift exchange and a good meal is on Christmas Eve, December 24. Christmas Day is often a time when you go to relatives for dinner. People usually dress up for these dinners and families gather to celebrate and spend time together.
When does Santa arrive?
Santa usually arrives after dinner on Christmas Eve and hands out the gifts in person. Before that, the gifts are either kept under the tree or kept in the sack that the Julenisse will bring with him. Some families, like ours, don’t have a julenisse but take turns passing out the gifts.
Is it always a white Christmas?
Where I live, it is. I live in the middle of the Norwegian mountains, about 70 km or 40 miles south of Trondheim (click to see a map), and we’ve never had a Christmas without snow. There have been years when it’s come close, like this year, but the snow has always arrived. Sometimes, it’s gone away again leaving only ice but that’s not the norm. We usually have enough of the white stuff to go around 🙂 The picture is from last Christmas.
Is it called Christmas?
We call it Jul (or something similar) in the Nordic countries. It’s a modern version of the old name for the holiday at this time of year. They could never make the name Christ Mass stick here, for some reason 🙂
How do we say Merry Christmas then?
Here in Scandinavia, we say God Jul, which means Good Yule.
What do we eat and drink?
Where’s where things take off a bit 😀 We do love our Christmas food and there are many traditional dishes, baked goods, and drinks. In Norway, it’s mostly a larger dinner where you fill your plate from dishes on the table where you eat but in Sweden, it’s a buffet with a separate table where you go get your chosen dishes. I have memories from Sweden where the table was bending under the weight of all the different kinds of food in the buffet. My mother would fill the table. Swedes also have ham as the centerpiece instead of the ribs (short, thick and fatty ones).
I have memories from Sweden where the table was bending under the weight of all the different kinds of food in the buffet. My mother would fill the table. Swedes also have ham as the star of the show instead of the ribs (short, thick and fatty ones).
Some traditional Norwegian Christmas food
- Pork Ribs (English recipe)
- Lamb Ribs (video in English)
- Christmas Ham (English recipe)
- Christmas Brawn (English recipe)
- Lutefisk (rehydrated fish with a lot of condiments, English recipe)
- Cured Fish (English recipe)
- Pickled Herring in many varieties: regular (English recipe), onion, mustard, sour cream, tomato
- Mashed Turnips (English recipe)
- Pork Patties (English recipe)
- Gravlaks (Cured Salmon, English recipe)
- Creamed Peas (English recipe)
- Sauerkraut (English recipe)
- Pickled Red Cabbage (English recipe)
- Rice Porridge (English recipe)
- Sour Cream Porridge (English recipe)
Click the links for the recipes. Some people make their own mayo, mustard, and other condiments too.
Traditional baked goods
Baking, there’s another thing we love to do. Some make the traditional seven kinds, a number that most likely was meant to show that you had enough money. Others do less but most bake something. I only bake a few things, and they’re usually long gone by Christmas Eve. I did a Gingerbread House lats year. Not doing that again because I burned my finger.
- Gingerbread (English recipe)
- Gingerbread House (English instructions)
- Sand Cookies (English recipe)
- Syrup Cookies (taste like burnt sugar in the store but are delicious when homemade)
- Toffee Cookies (English recipe)
- Christmas Bread (English recipe)
- Goro (English recipe)
- Wafer Biscuits (English recipe)
- Poor Man (English recipe)
- Doughnuts (English recipe)
- Saffron Buns (Swedish Lucia tradition that’s made its way to Norway, English recipe)
- Almond Ring Cake (tower of rings from almond paste, English recipe)
- Almond Ring Cake bits (made from coarse almond paste, bake for 6-7 minutes at 225C)
Some traditional, homemade sweets
- Crack (not the drug but hard caramel which can crack your teeth if you bite down hard, video instruction in English)
- Figures made from Marzipan (nisse, pigs, snowmen, apples)
- Roasted & Candied almonds
- Candied Apples
Some drink way too much alcohol at this time of year and end up doing stupid things, but there’s nothing wrong with indulging in moderation. The kids don’t get any alcohol of course. By law, you’re not allowed to drink or buy alcohol until you’re 18 (for beer and light wine, it’s 20 for the stronger stuff).
- Mulled Wine (or non-alcoholic version, English recipe)
- Homebrewed Beer (or store bought)
So there you have it, a traditional Norwegian Jul. There are also a number of Norweigan crafts done at this time of year, but I’m saving those for Monday’s newsletter 🙂 Subscribe if you want it, you’ll find the form at the top on the right.
Now, I’d love to hear how you celebrate Christmas
Get notified when there's something new on the blog.