Norwegian Christmas traditions

Norwegian Christmas traditions

There are many ways to celebrate Christmas in Norway, but let us introduce you to some traditions and activities that most Norwegians are likely to be familiar with.
01.December 2023 Elianne Strøm Topstad

Here are some quick facts about Christmas traditions in Norway.

JUL is the official Norwegian word for Christmas

ADVENTSTID: The Advent wreath, or Advent crown, is a Christian tradition that symbolizes the passage of the four weeks of Advent in the liturgical calendar of the Western church. An additional candle is lit on each subsequent Sunday until, by the last Sunday of Advent, all four candles are lit. Many Norwegian children gets an advent calendar on December 1st. This is a calendar which they open every day leading up to  Christmas Eve, each day including a small gift or piece of candy. Another version of the Norwegian Advent Calendar is the televised one. Every year Norwegian TV channels broadcast an Advent Calendar, in the form of a Christmas-themed TV show with 24 episodes.

FJØSNISSE: Basically, this particular nisse (elf or gnome) is a small manlike creature living in the barns on the farms. He will hide in the hay, and you never see him. According to the legends, it is the Fjøsnisse (fjøs = barn) that takes care of the animals on the farm, ensuring that they do not get cold in the winter. As a token of appreciation for this, it is expected that the farmer leaves a bowl of Christmas porridge. It is very important that there is a blob of butter in the middle of the porridge, otherwise  the Nisse could get angry and the animals could get sick for Christmas.

JULENEK: Sheaves of wheat for the birds. One of the most common Norwegian Christmas decorations you’ll see in December are sheaves of wheat (or oats) that are hung out in the trees for birds to feast on. The sight of these around the naked trees is definitely something that brings the Christmas spirit.

23. DECEMBER: Little Christmas Eve. Many families have their own traditions this evening, such as decorating the Christmas tree, making a gingerbread house, or watching the traditional TV Show, Grevinnen og Hovmesteren/Dinner for One. Most Norwegians stay home on Lille Julaften.

JULAFTEN: Christmas Eve is main day of Christmas for Norwegians. The whole family gets together to eat and exchange gifts. Christmas Day is a much quieter affair. The first part of the day is often spent home preparing the Christmas dinner and  in the afternoon many Norwegians go to church for Christmas service. At 17:00 the bells ring out for Christmas, and most people have Christmas dinner at home or with relatives. The Christmas presents have been placed under the tree, and are opened after dinner.

JULENISSEN: The Norwegian Santa Claus is called Julenissen, and he is very similar to most other Santas around the world. On Christmas Eve, he knocks on the door and enters the house with a sack full of presents. Since there are only a few countries in the world celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve, he has plenty of time to sit down to relax (and be offered a shot of Aquavit). Sometimes, the children will sing him a song before he starts pulling presents out of his bag. When he has emptied his bag, he leaves. 

CHRISTMAS TREE: Many families visit a "Christmas tree farm" prior to Christmas and pick out their Christmas tree. When the family gathers on Christmas Eve it is common in many families to walk around the tree, holding hands while singing Christmas carols.

FOOD: The two most common Christmas dishes are ribbe (roasted pork rib) and pinnekjøtt (dry-cured ribs of lamb). Other popular food includes lutefisk (cod cured in lye), cod, ham roast and turkey. Many families also eat Risengrynsgrøt (Rice porridge) for lunch on Christmas Eve.

RICE PUDDING AND THE MISSING ALMOND: For dessert rice pudding are served in most homes. This is basically cold rice porridge mixed with whipped cream, served with a berry sauce. A very popular tradition is that an almond is hidden in the pudding. Whomever gets the almond wins a marzipan figure made as a pig. In the past it was common to slaughter a pig for Christmas, and pork was a symbol of first-class Christmas food.

SWEETS: Pepperkake, the Norwegian relative of the gingerbread cookie, are sold, made and consumed during the Christmas season. Many parents bake them with their children. Often people  make a gingerbread house. The house is used as decoration, and then demolished and eaten at the end of the holidays. Other traditional cookie are Serinakaker, Krumkake, Goro og Berlinerkranser. You will also see bowls of nuts, figs and clementines in many homes. And marzipan - lots of marzipan!

DRINKS: A drink often served during Advent and Christmas is gløgg; a warm, spicy drink similar to German Glühwein. Aquavit or akevitt is a spirit with roots in Scandinavia, and it is distilled from potatoes. It is served throughout the Christmas season, especially during and after dinner. Juleøl is a common drink of choice. Julebrus is a festive twist on soda. It’s a sweet soft drink, usually red or pale brown in color.

JULEBUKK: This is an old tradition, however not so common anymore. Children will dress up as Christmas-themed characters (santa, angel, shepherd) in the days between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. They walk from house to house  in their neighborhood and sing Christmas carols, getting sweets and candy in return.

ROMJUL: 25-30 December is called romjul. These days are typically spent going to brunches and dinners with family and friends.



Norwegian Christmas cookies
Homemade marzipan

Christmas tree:
Selvig juletregård
Jørgens juletregård
Voll juletregård
Bryne juletregård



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