Traditions on the 23rd of December
Traditionally, the 23rd of December is when Norwegians perform a last thorough cleaning of their homes for the Christmas period during the day and decorate the Christmas tree in the evening. Real Christmas trees are generally preferred – they also keep the home smelling fresh. Never had a real Christmas tree before but plan to start this year? Read this for tips on how to care for a real Christmas tree!
The whole family joins in to decorate the tree. Some Norwegians I spoke to reckon that the late decorating of the tree allows the entire family to be present (ie to fly in from all corners of the world) to join in the festivities. Hot chocolate, Christmas snacks and drinks are served while the tree gets decorated. Of course, many other families already have the Christmas Tree up and decorated earlier on in the month.
Decorations include hand-made baskets and paper chains, pepperkaker (gingerbread), other ornaments and usually also a string (or a few strings) of little Norwegian flags. Lights will usually be white for the natural feel since in the olden days, candles were used.
Presents will magically appear under the tree, placed there on the night of the 23rd, much to the children’s amazement when they wake up on the morning of the 24th.
Families may spend the evening chatting or watching TV. Kvelden før kvelden is a popular TV program with songs, music and guests. Other Norwegians might spend the evening with friends instead of family.
Today is also the final day when families have to ensure that they have enough groceries for the next 3 days as majority of the shops will only be open for half the day on the 24th and closed on both the 25th and the 26th.
Traditions on the 24th of December (Julaften)
If there are children in your household, you can be sure they will be up extra early today. Even very young children can sense the excitement in the air. The children will open the last window on their Advent calendar or receive their last gift and settle down to watch the Christmas specials on TV. Adults too tend to cozy up on the couch watching Christmas films and movies in the day. Some Norwegians might also stress on this day to complete Christmas gift and grocery shopping.
Some families might serve risgrøt (rice porridge) for lunch. This may also be served on other days of Christmas. The fun part about this is that one bowl gets an almond in it and whoever gets the almond wins a prize! The prize varies from family to family – but it could be a marzipan pig, a piece of candy, or a small present. If there are children in the home, parents usually make sure that the almond gets in to the child’s bowl.
Some families attend church services on this day, others visit the graves of their loved ones to pay respects and to set wreaths or flowers on the gravestones.
While the children are busy watching television, the adults prepare the Christmas meal in (hopefully) peace and quiet.
It is usual to dress up for Christmas dinner – men wear shirts and ties, some even suits and women are in semi-formal or formal wear (even if the dinner is in one’s own home).
Christmas dinner starts around 1600 – 1700, the typical Norwegian dinner time. Some families only start eating after the Christmas bells have been rung at 1700 and the Sølvguttene (Silver Boys) have sung on TV (NRK).
Before the presents under the Christmas tree can be opened, some families may walk or dance around the Christmas tree while holding hands and singing carols. Later on, they gather around the tree and start opening their presents.
Coffee/tea and other cookies, cakes and candy will usually be served for the rest of the evening.
The way the gifts are distributed varies from family to family :
Many families put the presents under the Christmas tree on the night of the 23rd of December, the morning of the 24th or 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.
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 might bring a bag of gifts, deliver them and leave or give them out one by one then leave.
After the presents are all opened, it’s usually time for the children to go to bed while the adults stay up chatting. Some families might also visit other family members during this time if they live close by.
25th and 26th of December (Første Juledag og Andre Juledag)
These 2 days are usually quiet days spent with family and friends:
Children get to play with their new gifts, as do the adults if they are not nursing a hangover from the night before. Some families might prepare an elaborate Christmas breakfast, brunch, lunch or tea. Some might visit friends and other relatives or invite friends and relatives over to their homes.
Other families might have another proper Christmas dinner on these days, especially in divorced families. Children might get to spend the day with the other parents and open even more presents! Other families might have another Christmas meal with the other set of parents (ie dinner with the wife’s parents on the 24th and dinner with the husband’s parents on the 25th or 26th).
Others might even have parties and BBQs on these days.
Christmas specials will feature on TV for those who would rather stay home, relax on the couch and enjoy the day.
27th to 31st December (Romjulen)
Romjulen is the period between 27th Dec to 31st Dec.
This is a time when smaller stores may still be closed while the bigger stores generally go back to their regular opening hours, most people will still be on holiday from work or out of town with family. Shopping sales start this week so some might even head straight to the shops! And for those who are dissatisfied with their Christmas presents, this period is commonly used to exchange gifts for something else.
This is generally a period to relax, play and enjoy the snow if you have it! Meeting with and having meals with family and friends are common.
Some families might also travel during this time, either abroad or to their cabins.