Long before Norway was Christianised, Scandinavians celebrated the pagan holiday Yule (winter solstice), as it meant days would start getting longer and the nights shorter. Wintertime in the far North of the globe means only a few hours of sunlight a day, and in arctic Norway you won’t even see the sun for a month!
Starting in late October or early November, you will start seeing Christmas decorations popping up in Norwegian shops and supermarkets, sometimes crashing with the Halloween decorations still up. Although a month too early for most people, it sets the mood for a long Christmas! As winter starts to set in you will see an increase in ginger bread, Christmas-beer and -soda, aquavit and traditional Christmas foods.
On the first Sunday/advent in December, which is the first of four advents, most cities and villages in Norway have an outdoor celebration as they light their public Christmas tree. If you are lucky you may get some candy from Santa Claus on this day!
On December 13th Scandinavians celebrate Saint Lucia’s Day, a light festival to chase away the darkness, where young girls and boys dressed in white with burning candles hand out sweet rolls made with saffron.
23rd December is called “little Christmas” in Norway, and is normally spent with your closest family eating Christmas porridge (you win a price if you find the almond in your bowl), constructing a ginger bread house and decorating the Christmas tree. One portion of porridge along with cookies are set up outside the house for the Nisse, so he won’t cause mischief the coming year.
24th December or Christmas Eve is the big day: Eating Christmas porridge (again), drinking gløgg (mulled wine), watching re-runs of Christmas movies for the 100th time and getting ready for the dinner. At dinner you are supposed to wear your nicest clothes, often the national costume, a dress or a suit. Some chose to eat only with their closest family members, others gather as many cousins, granduncles and nieces as can be found. After dinner you dance around the tree before Santa Claus comes to hand out presents.
Although most of the Christmas holidays are spent with family, there is also room for friends! In the months before Christmas Eve, you will find the city streets full of intoxicated Norwegians returning from Julebord, Christmas parties organized by companies, organizations or group of friends, consisting of a feast of food and drinks. This event repeats itself on Boxing Day, when you meet up with childhood friends you haven’t seen since last year. On New Year’s Eve you again gather with friends and family for celebrations.
Christmas officially ends 13th January, when the families are supposed to dance around the tree and then throw it out. Along with Yule Goat, a tradition where children and youth dress up as Christmas characters and walk from door to door exchanging songs for candy, the tree dancing is slowly dying out in Norway.