Norwegian Christmas traditions

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Christmas in Norway is based on Christian traditions, with elements of old pagan traditions and Jewish Hannukah

Advent

In Norway, before Christmas houses are decorated with wreaths, angels, gnomes, hearts, stars. Sometimes a nativity scene or a gingerbread house can be found. Most families have a Christmas tree in the living room. It has a star at the top and is decorated with garlands, tinsel and ornaments. With the influence of the United States more and more people also decorate their houses on the outside with lights and wreaths.

During Advent it is common for companies, organisations and groups of friends to meet up for julebord or pre-Christmas parties.

Little Christmas Eve

Many families have their own traditions for the evening of 23rd December. Popular traditions are decorating the Christmas tree or making a gingerbread house. Many families eat risengrynsgrøt. This is a hot rice pudding served with sugar, cinnamon and butter. An almond is hidden in the pudding and the person who discovers the almond in their portion wins a marzipan pig.

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is the main event in the Norwegian Christmas calendar. The first part of the day is often spent shopping or wrapping Christmas presents, or in church at a Christmas service. At five o’clock the bells ring out for Christmas, and most people have Christmas dinner at home with family. The most popular Christmas Eve dinner is the ribbe (pork ribs or pork belly, bone in). Lutefisk (cod cured in lye), pinnekjøtt (dry-cured ribs of lamb), boiled cod, ham roast and turkey are also common dishes.

The risengrynsgrøt (hot rice pudding) is an old, traditional dish. In Norwegian folklore this is what the barn gnome eats. In the countryside, many people put a bowl outside for the barn gnome. If there is pudding left, it is made into riskrem. A cold rice pudding mixed with whipped cream, a common Christmas dessert served with a red sauce.

The Christmas presents which have been placed under the tree are opened after dinner.

Many Norwegians enjoy a Christmas beer with food – a malty beer that is available from November. Another drink often served during Advent and Christmas is gløgg. This is a warm, spicy drink similar to German Glühwein. It can be made with red wine, but the non-alcoholic version is often preferred. Traditional snacks such as pepperkake a Norwegian gingerbread is very popular and many parents bake them and make a gingerbread house with their children. The house is first used as a decoration, and then eaten at the end of the holidays.

Enormous amounts of marzipan are sold before Christmas. According to the marzipan manufacturer Nidar Norway’s population of less than 5 million people manage to eat more than 40 million marzipan figures during the Christmas period.

Other traditional snacks are chocolates and nuts – especially burnt almonds and glazed apples which can be bought at the Christmas markets.

Julemarked, Folkemuseet

Of course not everyone in Norway celebrates Christmas but most people celebrate more or less according to these traditions. The days between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve are typically spent visiting and eating with family and friends.