Christmas in Norway

Christmas in Norway

Christmas in Norway is associated with white snow, candles, Santa Claus, decorations in red, green and gold, and the smell of homemade cookies.

Christmas is definitely the number one family holiday in Norway. Half the 24th, the 25th, 26th and half of the 31st are national holidays in Norway. The schools have a lot longer vacation, usually lasting two weeks.

Santa Claus in Norway

... is called “Julenissen” and looks very much like the Santas found elsewhere in the world. However, there exists another character whose name ends with “nisse” in the Norwegian folklore exists - a peculiar figure named the “Fjøsnisse” (the barn “nisse”). For a long time, when most Norwegians were farmers, this “Nisse” was believed to be a secret helper in the barn. If the family on the farm was nice to him and left him a bowl of porridge every Christmas eve, he would be kind to them and help them the next year. If they didn’t, they could expect accidents, sick animals and mysterious noises.

This superstition has been mixed with the commercial Santa Claus, leaving the Norwegians with one name covering both figures and the mutations in between them - “Nissen”. Today one may often see Christmas displays where there is one head-Santa (Julenissen) surrounded by many other Santas (versions of fjøsnisser), or even entire Santa families!
However, the commercial, Coca-Cola made Santa Claus dominates the displays in the big shopping malls.

Drøbak, a city in eastern Norway claims to be Santa’s hometown. Drøbak shares this claim with Nuuk (Greenland), Reykjavik (Iceland), Mora (Sweden), and Rovaniemi (Finland). There are special Santa Claus post offices and/or Santa workshops in all of these towns. Oh, well, maybe Santa lives in the desolate arctic areas on the North pole!


In December every year in Bergen, the inhabitants are invited to participate in the making of the world's biggest gingerbread city. Schools, kindergartens, anyone who wants to can make a gingerbread house and bring it to "Galleriet", a local shopping mall. All the gingerhouses, gingerboats, gingerschools, gingerpeople, and gingerconstructions are put on display in the top floor, together making up the largest gingerbread city.

Santa Claus and some of his helpers are present every day.

Visiting and admiring the city is possible from mid-December. Admission is free.

The Norwegian children have Advent calendars with 24 doors. They open one door in the calendar each day from the December 1st to 24th. The 24th, Christmas Eve, is the day the Norwegians open their presents and have their big Christmas meal.

Behind each door in the Advent calendar is a small chocolate, or if it’s a homemade calendar, something else, like a pencil or other type of little gift.

The TV station NRK has since late 70s sent an advent series from December 1st to 24th. The later years the station has produced the series itself, and these series are said to be some of the more expensive productions. There is also made a special advent calendar to the advent series. Each episode is 30 minutes long. The religious message is toned down to make it more including - one doesn’t have to be Christian to watch and enjoy the show.

December 13: “Luciadagen” - Day of St. Lucy:

This is a Swedish tradition which the Norwegians adopted in the 1950s. The day is mostly celebrated in kindergartens and schools. The children dress up in long, white costumes and one or more girls have a “crown” on her head. This crown is traditionally decorated with candles, but since this is pretty dangerous, electric, candle-shaped lights have become normal to use instead of the real thing.

The children line up and walk in a sort of procession, girl with the crown in front. As they walk they sing the “Lucia sangen” - the song of St. Lucy. They also hand out “lussekatter” - very yellow buns with raisins - which they have made the day before.

Christmas preparations...

The shops start putting up their Christmas decoration in mid November, but the big rush to buy presents doesn’t start until mid-December.

...At home
As the time gets closer to Christmas Eve, many families bake Christmas cookies. The tradition is that there must be at least seven different kinds of Christmas cookies on the table on Christmas Eve.

Making marzipan or marzipan figures dipped in melted chocolate is also a popular way to prepare the holiday season.

...In schools
Many schools arrange Christmas workshops some days before the holidays start. This kind of activity is found in grades 1-7 almost without exception, but it can be found in grade 8-10 if the students ask specifically for it and the teachers have time for a day of making Christmas cards and decorations (presents?).

Before the school’s Christmas vacation starts, the pupils in grade 2/3 - 7 perform a play for their parents. The play is a version of the Christmas Gospel. The show also includes some Christmas carols, and usually end with everyone being served cookies.

The last or the second last day before the vacation starts, the church holds a special Christmas service for each school. The subject of the priest’s preaching is usually something more connected to the children’s everyday life and incidents at school than the religion itself. The older students have an active part in the service too, reading the Christmas gospel aloud, lightening candles, and playing musical instruments.

December 23rd: “Lille julaften” - “Little Christmas Eve”

Most Norwegians decorate their Christmas tree in the evening of Dec. 23. The decorating of the house and the tree is done by the entire family.

There is a start in the top of the tree, and electric candles-shaped lights on the branches. Tinsel, hearts, angels, nisser and sometimes flags are a part of the tree decoration. Heart shaped christmas baskets made of colored, glossy paper is a decoration which s widely used.
Learn how to make this kind of basket.

December 24th: Christmas Eve

When the children wake up (usually very early), they open the last door in their advent calendar. In many, many, many families the children then wait for the Christmas specials on TV to begin. The Christmas specials consist of a bunch of cartoons (in the traditional NRK special there is a lot of Disney’s Christmas Cards), some dramaseries for youngsters and a movie for the whole family.

Many families go to church this day at 3 o’clock. A lot of people also use this day to lay flowers on the graves of their loved ones.

Christmas dinner:
While the kids are busy watching television, the parents prepare the Christmas meal in peace and quiet. The Christmas dinner varies throughout the country:

The Christmas dinner is like a family reunion. The grandparents, parents, children (also if they are grown-ups) and sometimes aunts and uncles gather around the table.

In western and Northern Norway, “Pinnekjøtt” (salted and steam boiled ribs from lamb) is served with potatoes .
In the Eastern parts of Norway pork extremely is common, while in other areas “lutefisk” (fish steeped in lye!) is the main dish. These last years more and more have started having turkey for Christmas.

After dinner:
Before the presents can be opened, the family walks around the Christmas tree holding hands and singing carols. Afterwords, they gather around the table where cookies and coffee have been put, and may as soon as they want to start opening their presents.

The way the gifts are distributed varies from family to family :
Many families put the presents under branches of the tree before the dinner starts. When the caroling is done, the gifts are handed out, one by one, and opened so everyone can see what was inside (Each present is marked with a little tag saying "To:", "From:" and "Merry Christmas")-

In other families, especially where there are small children, the father, grandfather or an uncle excuses himself after the meal and shortly after re-enters dressed as Santa Claus. He’ll bring a bag of gifts, deliver them, get a cookie, then leave for so to re-enter as father/grandfather/uncle (“Oh, Daddy, you just missed Santa!! You’re never here when Santa arrives...”).

December 25th:

Is a quiet day spent mostly with the family. Some go to church. Many go to family Christmas parties.

December 26th:

More Christmas parties, but now with friends. At the Christmas parties, games including singing and dancing are often played - or at least they used to be, the tradition has gradually started to disappear.

December 31: New Year’s Eve

At 5 o’clock the children go outside dressed in wacky costumes. They go from door to door singing carols and are rewarded with candy, cookies or oranges. In a way, it resembles a mixture of trick & treating and caroling. In some parts of Norway, the children don’t do this on New Year’s Eve but in the afternoons between the 27th and the 30th. The tradition is called to go "Nyttårsbukk".

The fireworks start some hours before midnight, around 9pm and from it just builds up. Generally everyone can set off fireworks, but in certain areas where the houses are very close or made of wood, fireworks are restricted or illegal (for obvious reasons). December is the month when most fires occur in Norway, due to fireworks and a large number of knocked-over candles.

January 6

The 13th day of Christmas - the day for taking down the decorations and getting rid of the tree if it hasn’t been done yet.

“Christmas tree parties” - “Juletrefester”

Many firms, companies, organizations and other institutions throw parties for the children of their employees (or members) in Early January. These parties are called “Christmas tree parties”, and even though it’s already past New Year, the theme of the party is always Christmas. The children are served hot-dogs and cookies, sing Christmas carols, play games, and form large circles and walk around a giant Christmas tree. Afterwards, Santa arrives with presents and candy to everyone.

Did you know that..

The Norwegian word for Christmas is "jul"? You can find all sorts of constellations with that word.

"Merry Christmas" in Norwegian is "God jul".
Gingerbread city: One tiny piece of the world's biggest gingerbread city
Gingerbread city: One tiny piece of the world's biggest gingerbread city
It's a Santa world after all?
A "Nisse"-boy helping out - he's feeding the forest birds.
A Nisse-girl playing in the snow.
A Nisse-girl playing in the snow.
A Nisse-baby
A Nisse-baby
Christmas decoration
This type of Christmas decoration is very common in Scandinavian countries. These heart-shaped Christmas baskets come in many different colors and styles, they are hung from the branches of the Christmas tree. Learn how to make one yourself!
Christmas eve: Girl
Christmas eve: Girl "examining" the Christmas presents
New Year's Eve
New Year's Eve - Fireworks are set off around midnight, New Year's Eve, giving the New Year a banging salute!
Two photos of Nyttårsbukker: These Nyttårsbukker just finished singing and are now waiting for their reward.
Smaller Nyttårsbukker
Smaller Nyttårsbukker. The girl to the left is dressed up as a nisse-girl. When the clock strikes midnight, it is costume to say "Happy New Year!", "Thanks for the old one!", and of course to make a New Year's resolution!

Step by Step instructions showing to make a Christmas tree decoration from paper


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