It’s almost Christmas and time to tell you how we Norwegians spend Christmas!
Now, some of these traditions might be familiar to some of you - maybe you have them where you live too - or you’re totally unfamiliar.
When I was a little snotty kid (who wasn’t?), I was more concerned about the presents than anything else. Since I have become an adult now (though I'm still a child according to Vanessa), Christmas for me has become less about the presents and more about the food. Therefore, that’s where we will start.
Traditional Christmas Food
There are generally three types of food that are connected with Christmas and those are Svineribbe (pork ribs), Pinnekjøtt (lamb meat) and Lutefisk (Lutefish).
Svineribbe is one of my favorite foods and every Christmas I eat so much of it.
The meat from the pig is served with the rib bones and the crust.
It has become a tradition in Norway that the crust has to be crispy. Ribbe is usually served with boiled potatoes, sour cabbage or red cabbage, different sausages, some kind of meat cakes and sauce/broth.
Usually one drinks aquavit (Scandinavian schnaps that is made from potatoes and gets it characteristic taste from different spices) with the food.
Pinnekjøtt (lamb meat) is traditionally salted or dried lamb ribs.
The difference between ribbe and pinnekjøtt is that ribbe is cooked as one huge and whole piece of meat, while pinnekjøtt is smaller bites of meat.
It is steam boiled over sticks of birch wood, which gives its signature taste.
This is served with potatoes, mashed turnip and broth from the water.
Lutefish is perhaps one of the weirdest food we Norwegians eat. It is stock fish from cod or clip fish and has a long preparation method.
First, it has to lie in cold water for 5-6 days with daily changes of the water. Then the water filled fish is put in cold water which had caustic soda added to it for two days. During this time, it reaches its traditional consistency and taste, but it has a ph.-value of 11-12, which is poisonous.
To make it eatable, it has to water out for 10 days in simple cold water. Its consistency then is like jelly. It is traditionally served with potatoes, bacon and mashed peas. Sometimes people add a white sauce to it.
Of course people eat other food during the Christmas period too, but these are the most traditional dishes. Some people have started to eat turkey and according to a survey that was performed a while ago, some like to eat pizza Grandiosa on Christmas Eve too.
No wonder they call it the national dish of Norway.
Christmas traditions - some nice and jolly and some not so much
One Christmas tradition that has started in recent times, is Julebord (“Christmas Table”). This is an evening of the serving of traditional food combined with large servings of alcohol.
It is usual for colleagues from work to plan a Julebord together. They eat good food but a lot of the times it’s the alcohol people are most obsessed with. This is also a time where the people who usually don’t drink so much during the whole year, try to drink as much as possible.
When I worked as a bouncer, I saw a big difference from a normal Friday/Saturday the rest of the year and Friday/Saturday during the Julebord season. In fact, the police in Tromso released their 10 tips for the Julebord season recently, which says, don’t drink too much and don’t pick any fights because it’s apparently not common sense already.
Over to a much happier tradition, gingerbread. More specifically, gingerbread houses.
Gingerbread Houses & other goodies
During Christmas time, Norwegians get obsessed with gingerbread - baking them and glazing them. Some do it as late as the day before Christmas Eve and some do it early. In fact, the kindergarten where I work at, just delivered a contribution for a gingerbread house competition, as early as December 6th!
It’s a way to spend time with your family, making gingerbread and houses and eating them. In addition, we also make a lot of different Christmas cookies, such as Krumkaker (Crumcakes), Sarah Bernard (small cakes that have an almond cake bottom with chocolate cream and are covered with melted chocolate), doughnuts and rice buns that are covered in chocolate.
Another tradition is the Christmas cleaning. More specifically, the time when the whole house is vacuumed, washed, scrubbed and gets a nice smell. It’s an event where every part of the house that’s either not used so much or areas of the house that never get scrubbed, finally are cleaned before the family arrives for the festivities.
Other traditions during Christmas are going out to town after Christmas Eve and partying, exchanging the Christmas gifts that you got but did not like/need, going to church, going "Julebukk" (carolling) and eating rice pudding.
Now traditionally, there’s always an almond hidden in the pudding and the person who finds it wins the traditional Marzipan pig!
Sami Christmas Traditions
My family does not carry out any special Sami Christmas traditions but there is an old custom of putting out a bucket of water for Stallo (a supernatural creature that would do bad things, such as stealing the reindeer herd, stealing wood, stealing food) so that he could quench his thirst and would not do anything bad.
Most Sami celebrate Christmas like everyone else in Norway except for that reindeer herders can’t take a long holiday as they still need to watch their herds.
Are you Team Ribbe or Team Pinnekjøtt? Any Norwegian Christmas traditions you would like to adopt?
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Simon has lived his entire life in Norway and has grown up between the Norwegian/Swedish and the Sámi way of life. He currently lives in Tromso working in a kindergarden, helping with the blog and exploring the North with Vanessa.