Julebord is the adult version of Nisse parties; a work Christmas party to celebrate the year. They begin as early as November and can be extravagant, in big hotels or conference centres, or low-key, in a local hall or even a mountain cabin.
Julebords are notorious for being a little risqué in Norway. For a lot of people it is time to let loose, (a bigger deal in Norway than other countries as it is Norwegian character to be reserved in all other areas of life) and they are not afraid of a little, well, a lot, of party spirits.
There are many myths and legends about julebords floating around. A lot of alcohol is consumed at julebords and where there are adults ready to make the most of it, all sorts of mischief is ripe. Actually, the P4 radio said on their 27th Nov broadcast that julebord season is the peak for infidelity and that four out of five infidelities happen at julebord. At one particular julebord one of us went to in Oslo with a big security company (we won’t mention names), two of the head-honchoes had taken their wedding rings off for the evening. And we have just heard on the news about the first ‘julebord casualty’, which happened because of a full-on brawl involving four men in Norland (three of them now charged with second degree murder). But stuff like this is very unusual, the exceptions.
But no julebord is the same. We have been to many over the years in different cities – Oslo, Harstad, Tromsø, Alta – and all have their own traditions and customs (like Oslo tends not to allow partners but Alta encourages them to come). All-in-all, it is Alta, way up in the cold North, where the julebords have been the best for us. They are a mixture of local tradition, great comfort food and just plain good fun.
Last night we went to Moose’s julebord, which kicked-off the Advent season perfectly. The party was at the Scandic (the most ‘luxurios hotel in Alta) and started at 7pm. Parties at any hotel always take longer to progress than at private places, so Moose and I rocked up at 7.30pm and jep, everyone was still in at the foyer bar having their ‘introductory’ drinks. By 8pm we were stamped and in the door.
Seating was arranged so we had to find our place names – harder than you think with 150 other people trying to do the same. Once settled our MC for the night introduced himself. He was a local comedian who was popular in traveling revys (a Norwegian form of cabaret). In between dinner and speeches he provided entertainment with comedic sketches about local culture and people. He was very entertaining and went all the way with costumes and audience participation. He certainly earnt his money.
But, for the first of the night, we all had to sing! It is tradition for every julebord (wedding, conference, actually, any gathering for party purposes) to make up their own songs using a familiar tune. The songs are usually funny and relate to the working life or employees of the company. Singing songs in public is a part of everyday life in Norway. There are no party-poopers, everyone joins in to add spirit to the event. Public singing is one of the lovely customs Norway has, everyone grows up with, so it is second nature to Norwegians to open their mouths and join in the chorus.
The director of the local branch, (Moose works for the biggest mining company in Norway), made his impressive statistical speech. The company had done very well over the past year with a huge increase in profits. An interesting introduction was of the Scandic staff, standing and waiting to serve, even the apprentices were introduced to everyone. Then there was a raffle to win two different gifts – a NOK600 gift voucher at the hotel and a weekend stay for two (which I though was a little odd as who stays in a hotel only 10minutes away from where you live?)
While all this was happening, our glasses were filled on the table – three of them – water, red wine or beer and a hard liquor, Aquvit. I was very amused. All this on an empty stomach, it seemed we were expected to get drunk. But alas, Moose and I don’t drink, all our full glasses didn’t deter the waiters from setting more drinks in front of us during the night, another two aquavits and coffee. Halfway through the night we went out to get cash for the babysitter and when we got back our drinks were empty. Later, a man from our table apologized so elegantly for drinking them, or as he put “took care of them”, he thought we had gone home.
However, there was a good reason for the Aquavit. This spirit accompanies the Christmas dish Lutefisk. Julebord literally means Christmas table. It is a spread of Christmas food, and Norwegian Christmas food in Alta is roast ribbe, pinnekjøtt and http://mylittlenorway.com/2009/12/lutefisk/. That’s what was served on the warm buffet table with minted potatoes, mashed swede, sauerkraut and Christmas pølse. Nothing special, in fact, it was exactly what you make at home – not ‘restaurant quality’ but the same ingredients that you’d buy at the local supermarket. This is one of the reasons why not many eat out in Norway. Usually you’d go out to a restaurant to eat food that you can’t make, or don’t make, at home. However, I’ve found that most local restaurants serve food exactly they way you make at home (but costs ten times more because someone else has made it). In bigger cities it is a little different, but all julebords that we have been to have ‘home-cooked’ food.
We also had a cold buffet (on the dance floor, which freaked me out, being a dancer and all). It was what I would call an Aussie Christmas lunch, which I was very excited about. Cold cuts, and ham off the bone, a cold turkey, and a selection of rustic bread that you carved yourself. They also had a seafood table, (which I generally stay away from because I’m allergic) which had prawns, smoked fish and crab. The salad, well, a Waldorf without the walnuts, coleslaw and a mixed green salad was over powered by the rest of the meat selection. Interestingly, there were no cheeses or other gourmet foods such as paté or hummus, mainly flesh foods. The platter decorations were gorgeous, make of fruit and vegetables, a tragic waste. These foods that I’m used to eating in a summer Christmas. After asking the chef I got to take back to my table some fresh fruit including passion fruit. The Norwegians at my table thought it was very odd that I could eat a passion fruit on its own. Passion fruit is only seen as a flavour or decoration for cakes in Norway. It is not really a fruit to eat like an apple. (Boy, they are missing out!)
After dinner there were more comedy sketches (about the bosses), more talks, and then the band started up – a four piece ‘dance band’ from Burfjord. Dance band music is a typical North Norwegian style of swing music. It is not Jazz Swing from America, but folkeswing music. Folkeswing is a North Norwegain swing dance that has developed over the years. It is the most popular dance form in the North and at one time or another, most Norwegians have taken lessons enough to do the basics on the floor. As a teacher of ballroom dances for the last 25 years, I find the folkeswing is still very primitive. The dance has organically evolved, which is what a good social dance must do, but the knowledge of the day, such as ergonomic movements for comfort and to protect the body, are not present in the dance. The dance is very rough, puts strain on one arm and the knees and is very limited in styling. The dance can fit to any 4/4 music, but not the waltzes, 3/4 and 6/8. Danceband music for folkeswing can get a little boring because they keep the same tempo, rhythm and style for every song With that said, if you are in Norway, you must go to a folkeswing lesson just for the experience because the atmosphere and the people are the best! Though, on the floor with the folkeswingers, we were able to dance a few Rumbas, a Cha Cha and an East Coast Swing before dessert was served at 11.30pm.
Following the comfort food of the main course buffet, we had a dessert buffet of ‘soft sweets’. Marzipan layer cake is always a must. Restaurants always serve a gelled caramel pudding, sometimes chocolate. Moltekrem, which is just whipped cream and cloudberries. There were brownie squares and strawberry cheese cake squares, but the surprise of the night was trollkrem (troll cream). This is a fun dessert that kids love. It is uncooked meringue with a mix-in of lightly stewed berries, usually cowberries because they are very tangy.
After all the sugar we called it a night. The rest of the party-people were just getting going, it seemed. It was expected that the night would go until 2.30 in the morning. We were home before we turned into pumpkins, we had a big First Advent Sunday planned with the kids, but we were very content with the night, from the good company, good entertainment and the comfort food in our bellies.
My work Christmas party is a little later in December. We have the same food, play games and hear speeches, but because I work for a culture school, we generally have a mini concert with the teachers performing musical items or skits.
Anything goes at julebord. But remember, anything that happens at julebord, does not stay at julebord!