24 December 2011

Scandinavian Christmas: The Tradition

Every country has its own distinctive Christmas traditions. In Norway, the Christmas season starts with decorating the house. It is quite common for Norwegians to organize winter gatherings for a shared handmade decoration experience. Advent calendars are very popular as well to count the days to Christmas. On the fourth Sunday before Christmas, when Advent starts, all local and national choirs and bands start their annual Christmas performances in churches throughout the country.

Photo. VisitOSLO

In every Norwegian town a huge Christmas tree is lit on the first Sunday of Advent, followed by a big celebration. When the tree is lit people hold hands and dance around it in a circle. It stays up until the 13th January – the official end of the Norwegian Christmas season. Traditionally Oslo sends 3 Christmas trees as a symbol of friendship to Reykjavik (Iceland), London (UK), and Rotterdam (Netherlands). The trees are Norwegian spruces and are decorated in traditional Norwegian style, with white lights.

Photo: kanelstrand

On December 23rd is Little Christmas Eve and on that day the Christmas tree at home is lit. The whole family takes part in its decorating. The decorations include handmade heart baskets, paper chains, Norwegian flags and gingerbread figures. You would rarely find a home with a plastic Christmas tree in Norway. Norwegians prefer to use real Christmas trees. The needles sure make a big mess, so a special tree mat is placed underneath to collect them. The trees don’t go to waste – at the end of Christmas they are used for firewood.

Photo: kanelstrand
At 4 pm on Christmas Eve the church bells ring to announce that Christmas has officially started. This also starts the first Church service for Christmas. Christmas Eve dinner is set on the table with traditional dishes - ribs, white Christmas sausage, lutefisk (literally lye fish), pinnekjøt (cured, dried and smoked lamb) or ham, winter vegetables, sour kraut, rich gravy and cranberry sauce. Gløgg, (mulled wine with spices, nuts and fruit) is a common Christmas drink. The family sit and enjoy dinner together with Christmas carols playing in the background.

When Julenisse (Santa Claus) comes the family sings a Christmas song to him before he hands out presents and treats to the children. The family open presents, play games, sing carols and spend the rest of the night having fun.

Christmas day is a time to visit family and friends. Churches have services and children play with their new toys or go outside in the snow. For dinner extended family come together for a big Christmas feast.

Photo: kanelstrand

Christmas Day is the first day of Christmas. Following are 20 days of juletid (Christmas time) celebrations. This day is also a flag raising day in Norway. Many Norwegians have flag poles in their front yards or attached to the house for hanging the national flag on special days of the year. Normally the flag goes up at sunrise and is taken down at sunset but since there are not sunrises or sunsets during the dark season in Northern Norway, 10am and 2pm are used as the standard times.

The Second Day of Christmas, Boxing Day, is also a public holiday to relax and enjoy family.  From Boxing Day until New Years Eve it is called Romjul (Space Christmas) which is the ‘space’ between Christmas and New Years.  It is a quiet time of Christmas where the streets a bare and the shops have limited hours as Norwegians spend this time with family.  However, the local sledding hills and parks are filled with families skiing and sledding, and having bonfires and BBQs in the snow.

God Jul 
is how we say Merry Christmas is Norwegian.
I wish you warm and shared moments filled with love!

How are you celebrating Christmas in your part of the world? Share with us in the comments.