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Christmas 2017 and 2018

Christmas in Norway is referred to as “Jul,” from which we get the English term “Yuletide,” and is a long season of feasting and festivities that commences toward the end of November and runs all the way into early January.

201725 DecMonChristmas Day
26 DecTue2nd Day of Christmas
201825 DecTueChristmas Day
26 DecWed2nd Day of Christmas

Jul begins with “pre-Christmas” parties called “julebords,” which can take place at private homes or at public restaurants. Technically, this pre-Christmas celebration has to do with the Advent season on the Christian calendar, but the focus is often on feasting and enjoying oneself with friends and family.

Later, on December 23rd, comes “Little Christmas Eve.” The eve of Christmas eve is the time to decorate the tree, make gingerbread castles, eat hot rice pudding with cinnamon and butter on top, and if luck is with you, find an almond in your rice pudding, which entitles you to win a tasty marzipan pig.

When “real” Christmas Eve arrives, it is time to rush out and finish off your last-minute shopping and prepare for a large festive meal in the evening. Many Norwegians will also attend services on Christmas Eve and dine and open presents later that night.

The presents are brought by “Julenissen” and his assistant “Nisse.” The former is the Norwegian equivalent of Santa Claus, while the latter are gnomes or hobgoblins, which stand in for elves. Rice porridge is kindly left for the gnomes to find after they deliver the gifts. In rural areas, the gnomes are especially useful and well worth feeding since they guard the farm animals.

In some parts of Norway, children will go carolling, while costumed as shepherds, one of the Three Wise Men, or other characters from the Biblical story. They may even wear paper star hats on their heads to remind of the star of Bethlehem.

Christmas decorations in Norway typically include wreaths, lights, nativity scenes, gingerbread houses, paper hearts, nisse (Santa’s gnomes), Heavenly angels, and trees decked out with tinsel, garlands, and various other ornaments.

Last but not at all least, we should mention traditional Norwegian Christmas cuisine, since it is so central to Norwegians’ Yuletide activities. You will find pork, codfish, lamb ribs, roasted ham, turkey, “surkal” (a cabbage dish), potatoes, “Julekake” (sweet Christmas bread with raisins in it), and of course, hot rice porridge are all very popular dishes.

Between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, there will be yet more feasting, and some people even light a new candle every evening until the new year arrives.

Things to do if in Norway for “Jul” celebrations include:

  • Tour Oslo, the capital city. There are many shopping opportunities, and the streets will be well lit with lights for over a month. You can then visit some of Oslo’s many Christmas markets, where snacks like glazed apples and roast almonds combine with unique buys like traditional Norwegian Christmas decorations for an unforgettable experience. There will also be numerous Christmas-themed concerts and plays to attend this time of year.
  • Stop by in local Norwegian restaurants to taste a Norwegian Christmas. Most establishments will have special Jul menus during November and December, bringing you the full array of traditional dishes.
  • Learn more about and take part in popular Norwegian traditions. For example, you can hear the Carpenter Andersen, which airs on TV and in local theatres all over Norway; learn the kids song Musevisa (“The Mouse Song”), which combines folk music with the story of Mother and Father Mouse warning their young of the dangers of mouse traps; or learn to make “Julekurvers“, which are paper heart-shaped baskets hung on Christmas trees and purportedly invented by Hans Christian Andersen.

Norwegian Christmases go by a different name, “Jul,” last over a month in total, and put great emphasis on frequent feasting and family togetherness. While many traditions are the same as in other Western lands, tourists will enjoy the unique aspects for their inherent “enjoyability” as well as for their very uniqueness.