Christmas in Norway

On December 24, all work comes to a halt late in the afternoon. Everyone puts on their finest clothes to greet the season and the largest sheaf of grain is hung out for the birds to make their Christmas merry, too. Christmas Eve dinner begins with rice porridge which contains one lucky almond. A bowl is also set out for the barn elf so that he will continue to watch over the animals and not turn mischievous. A Christmas pig provides most of the meat dishes.

The worldwide popularity of Santa Claus has caused the resurrection of an ancient Norse figure called Julesvenn. In ancient times he would come during the feast of Jul to hide lucky barley stalks around the house. Now, called Julnissen, he has multiplied into a group of gnomes who come on Christmas Eve to bring gifts to good children.

A "Julebukk" made of straw is a very popular Christmas decoration. It is named for the goat that drew the cart of Thor, the god of thunder in Norse mythology.

In olden days, Norwegians kept the season bright with a huge Yule log, which extended out from the fireplace into the center of the room. As it burned, it would be pushed farther and farther into the fireplace to provide light and warmth throughout the holiday season. Today the Christmas tree, introduced from Germany in the early part of the 19th Century, has replaced the Yule log in most homes.

Here is a report from Christian, a friend in Norway:

TRONDHEIM --- Christmas in Norway starts with the Advent season. This is the time allotted, sort of, to Christmas preparations (at least that's when most people start, despite promises to the contrary last year: Next year I WILL start earlier...) Decorations in most Norwegian homes are sparse during most of December. The following is the norm in most homes:

1. The Advent stake: A light-decoration composed of seven lights looking like candles, arranged in a fashion similar to Jewish Hanukah-lights. It is displayed in a window.

2. The Advent Star: An electric fixture as well. It is shaped like the star, and is meant to hang in the most prominent window. It represents the Star of Bethlehem. Walking through a typical rural town in Norway, you'll see a star in almost every house. It exists in many shapes and fashions, depending on which store it was bought in. Most of the time it has seven points.

3. The Advent Candles: These are four candles in a candleholder. On the First Sunday of Advent (There are four, the last one will be as late as 24th dec.) the first candle is lit, and allowed to burn a quarterway down.

On the Second Sunday of Advent, that and one more candle is lit, and allowed to burn a further quarterway down. This continues through to the Fourth Sunday of Advent when all the candles are lit, and allowed to burn out.

4. The outdoor tree: If the family has a garden or a yard with fir(s) or spruce(s) in it, they will often place lights on them. A lit tree covered with snow can be a sight to behold. The lights used for Christmas trees and the other decorations in Norway are rather larger than those in the US - they are large enough to look a bit like candles.

Close to Dec. 1st, shops start putting up their Christmas decorations. It is considered untasteful to put up Christmas-window decorations earlier than this. The streets are decorated for Christmas as well, in a style recognazible for most people, with lights, garlands, and the like. The Christmas-street, as they call it after the transformation, is opened with some ceremony, particularly in larger cities. Most communities also have a public Christmas-tree, which is lit on whichever is first of First Sunday of Advent, or Dec 1st. Sometimes the two are done simultaneously.

By the 23rd, time is getting short. This day is called Li'l Christmas Eve. The Christmas tree must be brought indoors on the morning, at the latest, to acclimatize it. Everything needed for Christmas MUST be in the house before the shops close (Closed shops on Christmas Eve seems to be making its way across Norway), and the Christmas decorations are brought out of storage. This day is also the most common day for making the porridge. The Christmas tree must be put in the holder, and fitted to both holder and to the living room. Then it must be decorated. Things are hectic, with high levels of stress, and it is one of the more dangerous days for relationships and marriages.

Now TV-traditions start kicking in. On TV, normally at around 10 p.m., they show a 10 min. program that has been broadcast every year since we've had TV in Norway. It is "The Countess and the Butler". The butler ("Same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?") serves at the dinner party of Miss Sophie ("Same procedure as EVERY year, James!"). Invited are Sir Toby ("Cheerio, Miss Sohpie!"), Admiral von Schneider ("Schkaull!"), Mr. Pomeroy ("Happy new year, Miss Spohie!") and Mr. Winterbottom ("Well, here we are again, and here's to one of the nicest women that ever lived!"), all of them quite dead, with the butler having to stand in for them at the drinks. The menu is Mulligatawnysoup, followed by fish, fowl, and fruit. Everybody watches it.

The Christmas tree is decorated in the evening, or during the night (some families still stick to decorating the Christmas tree when the kids are asleep). During the night, parents will also fill a stocking with candy and hang it at the head of the bed, while the children are asleep.

Come christmas morning, the children will wake to find a fully prepared house. The children will be busy watching TV most of the morning, with such classics as "Tri Orisky Pro Popelku" ("Three Nuts for Cinderella" - a Czech movie version of Cinderella), and Disney's "From All of Us to All of You", but before this, NRK has its own Christmas childrens programme, live from studio, with HRH Princess Märtha Lousie as guest. There are many good Norwegian movies on as well, with the best being "Flåklypa Grand Prix", known in English as "The Pinchville Grand Prix", a puppet animation movie, and "The Journey to the Christmas Star". At 5 p.m., the boys choir Sølvguttene sings the Christmas in, as church bells all over Norway peal the Christmas in, and people gather for dinner. At midnight, NRK transfers to the Midnight Mass broadcast from St. Peter's Church in the Vatican.

Christmas morning is otherwise used to get showers and to get everything prepared for Christmas dinner. It is now allowable to read the Christmas albums as well. These are large, landscape-format comic albums issued for Christmas. Longtime favourites here include Beetle Bailey, Snuffy Smith, the Katzenjammer Kids, Bringing Up Father, and Blondie, and many others of international and Norwegian origin. The No. 1, however, is "Nr. 91 Stomperud", about one Private No. 91 Stomperud, who is the typical Norwegian serviceman doing his compulsorey primary service with the army.

The rice porridge is normally for lunch, for those families that have it. Christmas dinner differs greatly across Norway. My family has ribs, medistersausage, medister patties, Christmas sausage, sossiser (small handmade sausages), with gravy (the thin deep brown European type), potatoes, and vegetables. Some areas have poached cod. Some have pinnekjøtt (lambribs prepared in a special way), some have lutefisk, some have Smalahove.

The barn elf is called fjøsnisse, or simply nisse, and in many places functions as Julenisse (Santa Claus). Christmas presents in Norway are placed in a huge heap under the Christmas tree.

Song: Paa laaven sitter nissen

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