The Christmas season is a unique time of year in Norway and filled with many heartfelt and highly anticipated activities. For some, the most highly anticipated event of the work-life social calendar is the annual company Christmas party, better known as the company julebord. This is the event where company employees share Christmas cheer with each other julefryd and salute a productive year together. The event often times includes pre-drinks, dinner and dessert and some form of entertainment. Speeches by employees in the company are also quite usual.
The literal English translation of the word julebord is “Christmas table”. This is because tradition of the company julebord grew out of the Norwegian tradition of an annual company Christmas feast served at a long, rectangular table.
This annual event is the one time all of the company’s employees are sure to ‘let their hair down’, or relax and have a good time building social bonds with each other. The event is often times held at a hotel or restaurant and can range from quite formal to casual. The norm however is somewhere in-between, or more semi-formal. The night is broken into various stages including welcome drink/pre-drink, dinner, speeches by employees in the company, dessert and coffee then entertainment.
A before dinner beverage, pre-drink or a welcome drink, is usually served at the bar of the location holding the event or in the lobby or sitting room of the restaurant. Here guests are usually served champagne or a typical Norwegian Christmas drink, a mulled wine called gløgg. Gløgg is a warm, mulled wine drink served in a coffee mug with slivered almonds and raisins placed in the bottom of the mug before being topped off with the warm, spiced wine. A small snack such as gingerbread cookies pepperkake may also be served alongside the warm gløgg. However, this is not always the case as the forthcoming dinner is quite substantial. This is the time to drink, be merry and have casual conversation to ‘warm up’ for the night. When the dinner portion of the event begins, you will be asked to take your seat at the table you will dine at and given a formal welcome by one of the company/department bosses or managers. The chef who prepared the dinner menu may also introduce the food by explaining what’s on offer and how the meal will be served.
Speeches and Dinner
At some julebord events, you will hear a mennes tale and/or kvinnenes tale, the speech written for the men in the room or written for the women. This is a unique Norwegian tradition as the short speech is normally a humorous account of life from the male or female point of view. There may also be speeches given by others to highlight a special event in the company, recognize achievement or prep the guests for the fun night ahead. The tone of the night is light-hearted and fun, so the speeches and any presentations given will be light in tone as well.
Depending upon where your julebord is held (hotel, restaurant, etc.) or how formal it is, the dinner may be served buffet-style or with table service. You can expect to be served traditional Norwegian Christmas foods such as roast pork rib (ribbe), salted and boiled lamb or mutton rib pinnekjøt, swede mash kålrabi stappe, Christmas sausage (julepølse), meat balls and gravy and of course, boiled potatoes. Lutefisk is also sometimes served, but is becoming more of a rarity. Wine is usually served with dinner and drink tickets – usually two and in addition to the wine served at dinner– is quite normal. Non-alcoholic beverages are also available, but be sure to ask for them from your server/bar wait staff person.
Traditional for dessert is riskrem, Norwegian rice pudding, with raspberry sauce, although you may have the option of a dessert buffet. Strong, black coffee accompanies dessert as does cognac or aquavit. If you have food allergies or food sensitivities (vegetarian, pork-free, etc.), notify your boss or the organizing person in your office. Entertainment in the form of a live band or comedy act is also quite the norm. This portion of the night usually begins while dessert is being served. After the entertainment, a live band or DJ may begin to play music for dancing. Enjoy the evening and dance the night away into the early morning hours.As most Norwegians ‘let their hair down’ and make a full night out of the wining and dining associated with julebord, it is expected that you will as well. You should feel free and open to have a memorable time with your colleagues during the evening and enjoy the event to the fullest.
If your julebord is held in a hotel, be sure to ask if the hotel has rooms available for the night at a discounted rate. Depending on where you live, it may be easier spend the night at the hotel rather than arranging transportation home after the night out. This is quite common and for some a better option than taking a taxi home in the early morning hours.
Remember to clarify if partners are allowed to join the festivities at your company’s julebord. As perhaps uncommon in your home country, in Norway, partners are not always included in work-related social functions. The invitation will most likely explicitly state whether or not partners are allowed, but again ask the julebord organizers to be sure if it is not clear.
What to Wear
Depending on whether or not the julebord you will be attending is formal or more casual, Christmas time and all activities connected to it require dressy, somewhat formal garb. For men this means suits, ties and smart shoes and for the ladies it means a semi-formal dress, skirt and blouse outfit or dressy pant suit along with heels or high-heeled boots as standard fare. But you may be asking yourself-how formal should I plan on dressing? Popular fabrics for women’s outfits include silk, organza and velvet along with anything sequenced or shiny. It is not uncommon for men to wear cufflinks too, but a suit is required. For those who really like to “dress to the nines”, anything shiny and over the top is also acceptable. If your colleagues are older than you, you may want to dress nice but a bit more conservative. Some newcomers report being expected to “just know” what to wear but don’t be afraid to ask a same gendered Norwegian colleague if you have doubts.
A Word on Gløgg, Bubbly and Everything Drinkable
Some newcomers also report a slight apprehension to joining in on the festivities at julebord due to the difference in work-related social cultures in Norway versus their own culture in their home country, especially when it comes to drinking with work collegues. With that said don’t over do it but do join in and fully enjoy the night. Don’t worry about seeming inappropriate or out of place. Socializing with your colleagues is a big part of work-life balance in Norway and it is expected that you enjoy yourself. This is the event of the year for some companies and your Norwegian colleagues look forward to sharing their Christmas traditions with you. If you do not drink or choose not to for the night, you will not be excluded in the julefryd, but be sure to smile, keep conversation and enjoy the evening as well.