A Norwegian Christmas is filled with many celebrations and traditions, old and new. As the snow falls, the white landscape is the first sign of Christmas and Norwegians start to prepare for their long season of juletid.
As the snow comes, Norway enters the Christmas season early with a series of Christmas parties. Work, clubs, schools and every other organisation hold their Christmas parties throughout November/early December. It is usual for Norwegians to attend several parties over this time. The children also have parties at school and kindergarten called nissefest.
Every year, usually at the end of November when the dark season has set in, many cities have a lighting of the City Lights ceremony, complete with parade and an honorary person pulling the big switch to light up the city streets.
Advent means ‘coming’ and is a preparation time for Christians to celebrate Christmas. The Advent Season starts on Advent Sunday which marks four Sundays before Christmas. A candelabra that holds four candles is used to commemorate each Sunday. On the first Sunday the first candle is lit. On the second Sunday the first two candles are lit and so forth. At each lighting of the candles a special song is recited.
Song: The Advent Song – in Norwegian with English translation
This season starts Christmas decorating. Norwegians get together in their families and communities to have Christmas workshops to make cards, cakes and decorations. It is also typical for Norwegian homes to have Advent calendars or Christmas calendars to count down the days to Christmas. These are filled with presents and goodies.
Advent also starts the Christmas concert season. In every city, practically every choir, band and classical music group have their annual Christmas performances in churches and halls throughout the city.
Lighting of the Christmas Tree
In each city a huge Christmas tree stands tall in the centre square. Usually on the first Sunday of Advent, the township gathers together for the Lighting of the Christmas Tree celebration. When the tree is lit the people hold hands and dance around the Christmas tree singing carols. Julenisse (Santa claus) makes an appearance and hands out gifts to the children – normally chocolates and clementines.
Throughout Christmas carolers may sing to the townsfolk and children in school groups often dance around the town’s Christmas tree and enjoy boller and warm chocolate milk. The tree stays up until the 13th January – the official end of the Norwegian Christmas season.
St Lucia Day
Lucia Dagen is celebrated on the 13th December every year in schools around Norway. A girl (or now a boy too) is chosen to represent St Lucia and wears a wreath of candles around her head (electric lights – for fire safety). As the children sing the St Lucia hymn, the girl leads the precession of children through the classrooms handing out treats – special Lussekatter (Lucia sweet bread/boller).
Song: Sankta Lucia – in Norwegian with English translation
Little Christmas Eve
This day is on the 23rd of December and is when the decorations are hung and the Christmas tree is lit in the home. This is generally a whole family affair in preparation for Christmas Eve. Hot chocolate is a common treat and decorations include hand-made heart baskets and paper chains, pepperkaker (gingerbread) and also a string of little Norwegian flags. Norwegians prefer to use real Christmas trees as they give off a nice smell throughout the house. They do make a big mess, especially keeping them inside for nearly four weeks so a special tree mat underneath is used to collect the needles. The trees don’t go to waste – at the end of Christmas they are used for firewood.
Christmas Eve is only half a normal day. People go about their daily routines, go to work, and finish their shopping. At 4 pm the church bells ring throughout the city which means Christmas has officially started. This also starts the first Church service for Christmas. Christmas Eve is the main day of celebration for Norwegians at Christmas.
The Sølvguttene (the Silver Boys Choir), have their special annual Christmas concert on national television.
Christmas Eve dinner is set on the table with ribs, white Christmas sausage, lutefisk, pinnekjøtt or ham, winter vegetables, sour kraut, rich gravy and cranberry sauce. Gløgg, (mulled wine with spices, nuts and fruit) is a common Christmas drink. The family sit and enjoy dinner together with Christmas carols playing in the background.
It’s then time to sit around the Christmas tree. Julenisse comes to the home and the family sings a Christmas song to him before he hands out presents and treats to the children. The family open presents, play games, sing carols and spend the rest of the night enjoying one another’s company.
Christmas day is a time to visit family and friends. Churches have services and children play with their new toys or go outside in the snow. For dinner, extended family come together for a big Christmas feast.
Christmas Day officially marks the first day of Christmas. Following are 20 days of juletid (Christmas time) celebrations. This day is also a flag raising day in Norway. Many Norwegians have flag poles in their front yards or attached to the house for hanging the national flag on special days of the year. Normally the flag goes up at sunrise and is taken down at sunset, however, since there are no sunrises or sunsets during the dark season in Northern Norway, 10am and 2pm are used as the standard times.
This is known as Andre juledag (the Second Day of Christmas) and is also a public holiday to relax and enjoy family. This day is also a flag day.
The time from Boxing Day until New Years Eve is called Romjul (Christmas Space) which is the ‘space’ between Christmas and New Years. It is the quiet time of Christmas where the streets are bare and the shops have limited hours as Norwegians spend this time with family. The local sledding hills and parks are filled with families skiing and sledding, and having bonfires and BBQs in the snow.
Unfortunately a dying tradition, julebukk (yule goat) is a childrens activity that shares the joy of Christmas. In old Norse tradition julebukk is the symbol of the pagan goat and represents the ghosts of winter nights. Much of the elements of today’s Julenisse (Santa Claus) comes from the traditions of the julebukk such as giving presents, receiving sweet treats, picking out who is naughty and nice and, of course, magic. When Christianity appeared the pagan rituals of julebukk were replaced by children wearing masks to go from house to house to receive treats (similar to Halloween). Today children dress up and sing carols at doorsteps. They often give gifts as well as receive them.
New Years Eve
Norwegians watch the television broadcast of the annual address to the nation by the King of Norway.
Family and friends celebrate the New Year with fireworks and parties. It is usual to have the whole neighbourhood out in the street socialising. A turkey dinner has become tradition in many families to celebrate New Years.
New Years Day
This day is a public holiday. A broadcast of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert is shown on national television, followed by the international ski jumping competition at Garmisch-partenkirchen. This day is also a flag day.
13th Day of Christmas
The 6th of January is Three Kings Day – the traditional day of when the three wise men visited the baby Jesus in the manger. This day is often used as a premature end-of-Christmas party for those who can’t wait until the 20th day to take down and chop up their Christmas trees.
20 days of Christmas
On the 13th January Christmas is officially over. Decorations are put away and the Christmas tree is chopped into firewood and used in the fire. The final Christmas parties are held. Children and families sing carols and dance around the Christmas tree one last time. Julenisse makes his last appearance to hand out the last of the Christmas treats. And the greeting ‘God jul‘ (Merry Christmas) is used for one last time.