If there is one thing life in Norway has taught me, it’s that Norwegians love Christmas. And I mean really love Christmas also known as jul in Norwegian– a lot. Christmas in Norway is all about the getting the right ambiance, mood and vibe of the Christmas season, something Norwegians call julestemning (colloquially known as “getting into the Christmas spirit” in the English-speaking world) and sharing that vibe with the people you care about most.
If you can’t travel to Norway this Christmas, but still want to celebrate Christmas the Norwegian way, try incorporating one of my seven tips into your celebration this year.
1. Bake Norwegian Christmas cookies with your friends and family – especially Norwegian gingerbread.
I’ve written about this in the past but the Norwegian seven sorts (syv slag til jul på norsk) tradition is still widely hailed as a surefire way to get in the Christmas spirit. Do like the Norwegians do and gather your closest friends, family or members of a civic or school organization and bake Norwegian Christmas cookies, especially Norwegian pepperkake, together. These gingerbread type cookies will leave your house smelling delightful and the dough is best made at least a day in advance.
Add Norwegian gløgg to your afternoon of cookie baking and you’ll really have the Norwegian way of celebrating Christmas in full swing.
2. Host your own Norwegian julebord.
Julebord, literally translates to Christmas table, and is the welcomed, festive annual Christmas party. Many Norwegians enjoy this company-sponsored party after a long year of hard work and tight deadlines. The event is often 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 schedule for the night is commonly broken into various stages including welcome drink/pre-drink, dinner, speeches by employees in the company, dessert and coffee then entertainment.
While many Norwegians enjoy these parties with their work colleagues, the julebord tradition also extends to close groups of friends who may only see each other very few times a year. People gather, and drink beer especially brewed for Christmas, soft drinks only available during Christmas time, bake cookies or have a fancy sit-down dinner. These parties can be casual or formal but tend to go on into the late hours.
3. Light candles for Advent.
Like many other Scandinavian countries, Norwegians observe the Advent tradition and light candles around a tabletop wreath for the four Sundays leading into Christmas. Celebrate like the Norwegians do and light your Advent candles.
4. Watch a Norwegian Christmas movie.
Norwegians spend a lot of time relaxing during the Christmas holiday which usually amounts to watching annually recurring Christmas movies such as Reisen til Julestjernen-1976 (Journey to the Christmas Star) . This classic movie was filmed in several different locations in Norway and is shown by the Norwegian Broadcasting Association (NRK) every year.
5. Decorate your Christmas tree with Norwegian flags.
The flag of Norway was officially adopted on July 17, 1821 and has been used for generations as part of a garland for decoration on Norwegian Christmas trees.
6. Add to your Norwegian Christmas foods to your Christmas menu.
Unlike most of the English-speaking world, the main Norwegian Christmas celebration takes place with a big Christmas dinner on December 24. The best foods on the Norwegian table come out at Christmas, so if you can, add these foods and dishes to your holiday season menus.
Here are some of my favourites:
Mandarin oranges – Norwegians eat these by the kilo during the month of December – several kilos per person every December. Mandarins are sold in all grocery stores during this time of year and tie back to the Norwegian tradition of seamen bringing mandarins back on ships from Spain when they came home for Christmas.
Pinnekjøtt – This is one of the most popular main dishes eaten at Christmas dinner in Norway, although once eaten almost exclusively on the Western coast of Norway. As the name suggests, this “meat on sticks”, or rib meat comes from the salted and dried ribs of older sheep which have been reconstituted in water, then boiled with birch sticks. Pinnekjøtt might be difficult to obtain outside of Norway but there are a few re-sellers on Amazon as well as specialty grocery stores in the American Midwest region and cities such as London.
Ribbe – Another common main dish for Norwegian Christmas dinner is ribbe, or pork ribs. The meat is normally seasoned with only salt and pepper but what makes this dish a favourite is the extra crispy crackling formed when the dish is in its final cooking stages.
Risgrøt – Warm Norwegian rice porridge is eaten the morning of the 24th and topped with cinnamon and sugar. For many Norwegians Christmas just isn’t Christmas without risengrøt. A few years back I learned how to make this porridge in the oven, set at a low temperature but haven’t posted the recipe to the blog yet. Check out this recipe from Matprat to learn how to make this delicious dish in the oven. Any leftover rice porridge is mixed together with whipped cream to make riskrem topped with red sauce, a Christmas dessert served cold.
Fenalår – If you like cured meats, you’ll love this salty, dried leg of lamb for your Christmas table. Some areas of Norway cold smoke the leg to change the flavour before salting and drying fully. Fenalår is normally sold as an entire leg and eaten in very thin slices with potato salad, sour cream porridge or scrambled eggs as accompaniments.
7. Make and give homemade gifts instead of buying them.
It is very popular in Norway to give handmade gifts instead of more commercial ones bought in a store or boutique. Knitting is still a common hobby in Norway and both men and women spend the year knitting Christmas gifts for friends and family. Other handmade gifts are bought during Christmas fairs at schools, churches and civic organizations.