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Plate of pinnekjøtt with side dishes
A serving of the traditional Christmas dinner Pinnekjøtt
Photo: Sara Johannessen / Matprat.no
Photo: Synøve Dreyer / Matprat.no

The taste of Christmas

Norwegians are known for being a happy people, and we surely celebrate Christmas in the most diverse ways. Some immerse themselves in the sacred aspects of the season or enjoy a quiet time with family and friends, whilst others embrace the party.

Still, there are some specific tastes, flavours, and traditions that need to be in place for the Christmas spirit to truly take hold of Norway’s homes. The traditions vary wildly from the north to the south and from the east to west, and here are some of the major ones. Are you ready to cook? Warm up for your tasty holiday with The Norwegian Cookbook.

Mutton versus pork

The most eagerly anticipated meal of the year? To many, that would be the dinner on Christmas Eve.

In Norway, two traditional dishes are contenders for the most popular Christmas dinners – “ribbe” (pork rib) and “pinnekjøtt” (lamb or mutton rib). Whilst the former has been the overall prime choice for years, the popularity of pinnekjøtt grows for each passing year. Many Norwegians get a taste of both dishes during Christmas.

Pork belly roast with traditional side dishes
Ribbe, Christmas dinner.
Photo: Alexander Benjaminsen / Matprat.no
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Plate of lutefisk with bacon and potatoes in Norway
Photo: Matprat.no
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Two glasses of gløgg with cinnamon sticks and mandarins pierced with cloves
Photo: Matprat / Mari Svenningsen

The Norwegians’ also have their own take on mulled wine. “Gløgg” is usually made up of hot red wine and/or aquavit, sugar, and spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, and bitter orange. The drink is served with almonds and raisins. Children get a non-alcoholic version made with fruit juice instead of wine.

The hungry elf in the barn

The chubby, generous and kind Santa Claus has become a central part of the modern Norwegian Christmas celebration. “Fjøsnissen” (the barn elf) is a more mischievous and slightly sinister character that was important when Norway was still a farming community.

Drawing of the barn elf Fjøsnisse with a big plate of food
Photo: Julius Holck / National Library of Norway

You’d be well advised to stay friends with this short, bearded guy. If treated well, he would help make sure that the farm prospered. If unhappy with the swing of things, however, he could exercise the most brutal forms of revenge, such as striking the dairy cattle dead.

This is why farmers used to bring rice porridge and home-brewed beer to the barn every Christmas, a tradition that continues on Norwegian farms to this day.

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