Christmas greeting from Ambassador Anniken Ramberg Krutnes
ON THE EDGE: An opinion column about current issues in Norway and the United States
ANNIKEN RAMBERG KRUTNES
Norway’s Ambassador to the United States
The holiday season is a special time for Norwegians. As a culture, we love our traditions, and over the course of Norway’s history, we’ve developed so many that the days leading up to New Year’s Eve have almost become a country-wide celebration. While most Norwegians celebrate Christmas, seasonal activities are open to everyone, no matter what religious affiliation you might have.
The truth is that we use the winter holidays as an opportunity to focus on enjoying the present moment, spending time with family and friends, and letting our hair down a little. We’re happy to find any excuse to visit a Christmas market, watch a favorite holiday film, attend a party, or bake cookies to share with friends and coworkers. As Americans like to say, it really is the most wonderful time of year!
One of the most popular ways to celebrate in Norway is the julebord, which is a Christmas party hosted by various workplaces and organizations. It’s often a bit more formal than most American holiday parties, though it can get just as lively as the night goes on. Speeches are delivered, guests provide musical or comedic entertainment, and if there’s a dance floor, it’s never empty.
Baking is also a big part of the season, and it’s long been said that every good Norwegian should make syv slags kaker, or seven types of sweets. The traditional selections are gingerbread, butter cookies, donuts, syrup snaps, ginger nuts, waffle cookies, and sugar cakes, but these days, people are just as likely to make other holiday treats. Christmas bread, or julekake, is always popular, as is anything involving chocolate.
In addition, many Norwegians eat julegrøt, or Christmas porridge, for lunch on Christmas Eve—an important meal, since that is the main day of celebration in Norway (rather than Christmas Day). Many people like to hide a single almond in the porridge pot for someone to find. That lucky winner traditionally receives a marzipan pig.
For the big Christmas meal, there are several common options, which vary according to preference and what part of Norway you come from. The most beloved Christmas dinners are probably ribbe (roasted pork belly) and pinnekjøtt (lamb ribs), closely followed by cod – and some do still like their lutefisk!
Like Americans, Norwegians also have strong opinions about which movies are most important to watch as the holidays draw nearer. Two films that have been given especially iconic status in Norway aren’t Norwegian at all, though they have worked their way into our culture nonetheless. The first is a 1962 British comedy sketch called Dinner for One, featuring an elderly woman and her butler toasting deceased friends. The second is a Czech fairy tale movie, Three Wishes for Cinderella, which is entirely dubbed by late Norwegian actor Knut Risan. Why these films are so popular in Norway is up for debate–but it just isn’t Christmas without them!
Here in Washington, D.C., the embassy employees and I are keeping up our usual traditions, but we’ve also added one: the lighting of the Christmas tree at Union Station. This staple of the local holiday scene began in 1997. As a way of thanking the United States for its support during World War II and recognizing the strong bond between our two countries, Norway committed to presenting a Christmas tree to the city every year. In late November or early December, we meet at the station to enjoy speeches, live performances, and the magical moment when the lights go on at last. It’s a special time, and one I’m proud to be part of.
I wish all of you god jul, happy holidays, and a wonderful New Year!
This article originally appeared in the December 2, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.