The Christmas season is a special time of the year in Norway filled with many activities, events and traditions. Workshops, parties and dinners are a big part of this season.
Juleverksted (Chrismas Workshops)
Over the course of November and December, you will hear of many juleverksted (Christmas workshops) going on around you. What exactly goes on in these workshops?
It is a tradition in many Norwegian families and communities to have juleverksted in the weeks leading up to Christmas (back in the days, this was a way to help one another finish Christmas preparations. Also, with all the evil spirits present in the dark season, it was much safer to be with others than be alone). Juleverksted also take place in preschools, schools, churches and other institutions. Your children might come home from daycare or school with a little handmade present for you from the Christmas workshop!
Making your own Christmas cards, decorations (stockings, tree and table ornaments) and even presents is part of the preparations for Christmas. Baking can also be done at these workshops. These workshops provide one with Christmas spirit, company, good fun and ideas. There is no limit to what you can make, let your imagination whisk you away!
Warm soup or porridge, Christmas goodies, hot chocolate, gløgg and other Christmas drinks may be served at these workshops. The workshop will of course not be complete without Christmas music streaming from the speakers.
If your church or child’s preschool/school teacher or the parents’ committee informs you of an upcoming nissefest, it simply means that there will be a Christmas party for the children. Nisse is a humanoid mythical creature of Scandinavian folklore. Nissefestusually occurs in the children’s preschools and schools during the day. The teachers/parents will prepare Christmas snacks – gingersnap cookies (pepperkaker) and Christmas porridge (julegrøt) will usually be on the menu, activities such as story-telling, singing, dancing around the Christmas tree or watching a heartwarming Christmas movie and sometimes even little Christmas presents for the children! Depending on the institution, parents might be asked to contribute to the nissefest with cakes or other desserts.
Nissefest is also the day where children can dress up as little Santa Clauses, Santerinas or even little elves and fairies. Some of them get to have their faces painted with rosy cheeks and freckles.
Your Norwegian friends and neighbours might also invite you and your children home to them for small parties.
The Julebord is a tradition in Norway. Literally translated it means “Christmas Table”, a tradition that grew out of the Norwegian tradition of an annual Christmas feast served at a long, rectangular table. In the present day, it is a term used to describe the annual company or institution Christmas dinner (or in many cases, party!). This is an event open to company employees and/or members (and sometimes their partners as well, depending on the company. Be sure to check the invitation or ask a colleague) to socialise, share Christmas cheer and joy with one another and to celebrate a productive year together.
Magnitude of the Julebord
Smaller companies will usually have a julebord for all of its employees at the same time while larger companies may split their employees into different departments/sections and have the julebord at different times and locations. The number of people present at a julebord can range from 12 up to the thousands.
The cost of the julebord is usually borne by the company, although some companies/departments are known to ask for a small amount from its employees (egenandel) to help cover the costs. For companies which have branches around Norway, they might even fly in the employees (with or without partners) to the city of the company’s headquarters and pay for a hotel stay. Whether or not the cost of alcoholic drinks are paid for by the company also varies. Companies might pay for all the alcoholic drinks, just the first few drinks or absolutely no drinks at all.
Julebord is usually a formal or semi-formal affair where guests are expected to make an effort and dress to impress; jeans and t-shirts are not acceptable. For men, this means suits, ties and smart shoes. For the ladies it means an evening gown, a semi-formal dress, skirt and blouse outfit or dressy pants suit along with heels or high-heeled boots. If you are new to Norway and this is your first julebord, don’t be afraid to ask a Norwegian colleague if you have any doubts.
The Evening’s Events
The night of the julebord is a time for major consumption of fun, food and drinks! The event usually starts with welcome/pre-drinks, dinner (with speeches scattered in between) which can either be buffet style or table service, dessert and for some companies, entertainment.
Some people even have pre-party (vorspiel) drinks at one’s home before heading to the location where the julebord is being held.
Welcome/pre-drinks are usually served at the bar, lobby or sitting area of the location where the event is being held. Guests can be served drinks such as champagne, wine and gløgg. Some finger food might also be served. This is a great opportunity to loosen up and be merry. Norwegian company structures are generally pretty flat and non-hierarchical so you can be expected to meet and socialise with all members of the company, even top management.
When dinner is about to start, everyone will be asked to take their seats (it can either be free-seating or allocated seats) at the dining table. A welcome speech may or may not be given by one of those in top management. The chef (or other staff) who prepared the meal might make an appearance to introduce and explain the food that is about to be served. For some dinners, different wines will be served with different courses so the sommelier might also make an appearance to explain the different types of wine that will be served that evening.
The food can be traditional Christmas food like pinnekjøtt, juletallerken or ribbe or something else entirely.
You might hear some speeches by different employees of the company, these can be a mennes tale and/or kvinnenes tale, the speech written by the women for the men in the room or written by the men for the women. These are usually short and humorous accounts of office life or life in general from the male or female point of view. There might also be a ‘Takk for maten‘ (thank you for the food) speech after dinner. Other speeches can be about achievements in the company, employee performance and maybe dishing out of awards to deserving staff or to inform guests of what lays ahead for the evening.
After dessert and coffee/tea, there may or may not be entertainment in the form of a band, live DJ, a comedy act, dancing or even performances by the company’s own employees! Most Norwegians really do let their hair down at these events and party the night away. You should feel free to do so too. After the julebord, some employees might even take the party to the clubs in town or have an after party at someone’s home.
Practices in Other Companies
Some companies might do away with the julebord and pay for their employees to go on a short overseas trip together. Alternatively, some companies give out expensive presents (such as tablets, laptops, cameras, etc) to their employees instead of having a julebord.
And of course, in times of crises, many companies also opt to have something much smaller, like a julelunsj (Christmas Lunch) or nothing at all.
Attending an event like this is a great way to get to know your Norwegian colleagues on an informal basis.