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A Christmas tale, Norwegian style

Christmas in Norway lasts more than a few days: it’s a whole season with specific rituals and preparations. The snow that covers most of the country and the dark nights add a magical touch to the holiday spirit.

The smell of clementine peels and spruce branches. The warmth from open fires. The sound of children playing in the snow.

Everybody loves christmas, but you will have to look hard to find nations that gorge in the holiday season as much as the Nordic countries. After all, we need something special to look forward to during the short days, the long dark nights and cold weather of winter.

Like most countries, Norway has christmas traditions that should not be broken, at any cost. Christmas, called “jul” here, actually predates the christianization of the country, and although we don’t know much about how the old heathens celebrated, we know that they used to sacrifice animals and drink beer. In other words, their rituals weren't totally different from ours.

The preparations for the modern holiday season begin in early December, with the baking of Christmas cookies (seven different kinds, at minimum), buying christmas gifts and the significantly less fun act of cleaning houses and apartments. Needless to say, a Norwegian stressed out of his mind is not an uncommon sight during December.

But pre-Christmas is also a time for coziness. A variety of Christmas concerts are held in churches and concert halls all over the country, while the Santa Lucia celebration on December 13th is a highlight for children in schools and kindergartens.

The essential day, however, is Christmas Eve (December 24th), where most have a big family dinner. The dinner usually consist of ribbe (pork ribs) or pinnekjøtt (lamb ribs), or in some parts of Norway; cod. A lot of restaurants offer these dishes in the weeks before Christmas as well. If you want to taste Norwegian Christmas cookies, you can look for goro, krumkaker or berlinekrans in bakeries and supermarkets. Read more about the Norwegian cuisine.

Anyway, the Christmas dinner is usually cut short when there are children in the house, as they often have a hard time sitting through the meal due to great anticipation of what's to come after: Opening of the gifts waiting under the Christmas tree, and sometimes even a visit from the "Julenisse" (Santa Claus) himself.

Some hotels and restaurants are closed from December 24th to the 26th, but you will find plenty are open as well - at least in the mountains and the big cities. And even though Christmas doesn’t last all the way to Easter (as one of the famous traditional Norwegian Christmas carols claim), the whole month of December is characterized by a unique holiday spirit with the New Year's Eve as a concluding climax.

Christmas Window Hotel Continental Norway
Hotel Continental, Oslo
CH - Visitnorway.com
Christmas at Frognerseteren
Frognerseteren, Oslo
CH - Visitnorway.com
Gålå in Gudbrandsdalen
Gålå, Gudbrandsdalen
Terje Rakke/Nordic life - Visitnorway.com
Gingerbread Town
Bergen
Bergen Tourist Board - visitBergen.com

Yule love it! Christmas shopping in Norway

As in many European countries, most Norwegian towns and cities also offer Christmas fairs and markets.

Most decorate the streets with lights and garnish, and some take it even further. In Bergen for instance, kindergartens, schools, businesses and thousands of individuals have contributed to a gingerbread town every year since Christmas in 1991.

A visit to the wooden town of Røros will probably put you in the right mood, while Tregaarden's Christmas House in Drøbak is a Scandinavia's only permanent Christmas shop. Outside Oslo you'll find Hadeland Glassverk, where visitors can purchase handmade glass from local artisans.

The ultimate gift: The northern lights

Many dream of a white christmas, but have you ever dreamed of celebrating christmas while enjoying the spectacular northern lights?

In 2009, the Travel & Leisure Magazine voted Tromsø as one of the best places in the world to spend Christmas, not least due to the possibility of seeing the northern lights.

But chances are you will be able to see the lights in many destinations above the arctic circle, and maybe in Trøndelag too. Some cruise ships are known to offer northern lights-themed travels during the holiday season as well.

See for yourself

#norwegianchristmas on Instagram
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