10 Norwegian Christmas Traditions Explained

Being an international student in Norway means a whole new Christmas. Here are 10 Norwegian Christmas traditions you need to know!

Hoang-Dung Nguyen from Hanoi, Vietnam, knows all about it. He took his master in Quantitative Techniques in Economics and Management (QTEM) in 2019, and now works in the banking industry in Ho Chi Minh City back in Vietnam.

– Norway has always been ranked as one of the happiest countries to live in, that was part of my decision when choosing BI. But Vietnam and Norway are really different in so many ways culturally, and many things will appear to be really strange for you at first, he admits.

– Also, Norwegians might appear to be a bit reserved in the beginning, but people will welcome you into their circles with open arms if you really show an interest in their culture and language.


Christmas time in the small mountain town of Røros, 150 km south of BI Campus Trondheim. Photo: Visit Norway

Christmas time in Norway gave Hoang-Dung a very special glimpse into a different culture:

– The Norwegian Christmas dinner in 2017 at one of my QTEM friends' house was probably one of my most memorable experiences! These friendships with the locals are the ones I will cherish for a lifetime.Hoang-Dung Nguyen

So, if you follow in Hoang-Dungs footsteps and arrive in Norway for your studies, here is 10 Christmas traditions you should know:

1: They celebrate «Julaften» on the 24th

In Norway, the focal point of the celebration is very much the evening of the 24th December. At 5:00 pm in towns all over the country, church bells ring, signalling the start of Christmas Eve festivities. Families get together for Christmas dinner, while the kids wait for the presents to be opened. For Norwegian kids, no dinner ever feels longer and slower than this one.

2: They light an advent candle every Sunday

Norwegians countdown to Christmas by lighting one candle on each of the four Sundays of advent. Special advent candle holders make sure that the four candles are on display for the entire advent period. Every Sunday, one more of the candles is lit – to the tune of one more verse of the classic advent song.

3: They dance around the Christmas tree

After dinner on Christmas Eve, it is still common to join hands and dance around the tree together while singing classic Nordic Christmas songs. The old, traditional songs often consist of a lot of verses, while most people only know the first one by heart. The one still singing along on the seventh verse, is usually the oldest one in the room.

4: They eat pork or lamb on Christmas Eve

On the dinner table on Christmas Eve, it's mostly either roasted pork ribs or salted, dried lamb ribs. Not a turkey in sight. The Norwegian Christmas food traditions are largely defined along regional lines, with lamb being the rule in Western Norway, pork in Eastern and Central Norway – and cod being a more usual alternative in the North.

5: They crave seven types of cookies

According to classic Norwegian lore you should have no less than seven types of homemade christmas cookies or pastries ready during Christmas. The cookies in question often include gingerbreads (pepperkaker), waffle cookies (goro), «Berlin wreath» butter cookies (berlinerkranser) and syrup snaps (sirupsnipper).

6: They love weird, old tv shows

Every Christmas Norwegians gather around the tv to watch two rather weird shows: One is an 18-minute-long, more than 50-year-old black and white skit about a rich old lady and her butler. The other is a dub of a 1973 Czech adaptation of Cinderella, with all characters voiced by one man – and Cinderella being a skilled hunter that receives three magical wish-granting nuts. Yeah, it’s weird!

7: They search for almonds to win a marzipan pig

Christmas porridge for lunch? Yep! With a twist: A single almond is hidden in the rice porridge and whoever ends up finding it in their portion wins a prize – usually a marzipan pig. This tradition adds a nice layer of suspense to the meal, with everyone scanning the faces around the table for the first signs of triumph.

8: They serve the barn gnome

The barn gnome is a small, man-like crossover between an elf and a gnome – a shy, guardian spirit that takes care of the animals on the farm. As a token of appreciation for his presence, a bowl of Christmas porridge is left on the steps of the family house or in the barn itself. If not, the barn gnome will wreak vengeance by tying the cows' tails together. Better serve that porridge!

9: They welcome Santa through the door

The Norwegian Santa doesn’t come down the chimney. On Christmas Eve, he knocks on the door after dinner and enters the house with a bag full of presents. Mysteriously, a dad or uncle is never present when Santa arrives, as he had to leave for the bathroom a few minutes before. Also: Santa's shoes often resemble the shoes worn by the dad or the uncle. Go figure!

10: They feed sheaves of wheat for the birds

Christmas is all about caring for your loved ones. In Norway, that includes the birds. This is why sheaves of wheat or oats are strung together and hung out in the garden trees for birds to feast on. The red chested Bullfinch, the Great Tit and the Yellowhammer are regular guests in these decorations, and hence also popular motifs on Christmas cards.

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