Norway celebrates jul

Which of these Norwegian Christmas traditions is the strangest?

Donald Duck

Photo: Peter Griffin / PublicDomainPictures
None other than Donald Duck is the star of Christmas Eve in Norway.

The Local

UNUSUAL NEWS: Experience jul in Norway through the eyes of an uninitiated Brit:

A Norwegian Christmas is a lot more than gingerbread, gløgg, and tasteful decor.

From dressing up as a goat-like devil when you go out “julebukking” to leaving porridge for your ill-tempered house spirit, Norway has certainly kept more pagan jul traditions than many other Christmas-celebrating countries. 

Here are some of the country’s weirder traditions.

Marzipan pigs

There’s something gloriously bizarre about the prize traditionally given to whoever finds the almond Norwegian parents drop in the special Christmas porridge. And speaking of bizarre, last year, two Norwegian artists took the tradition one step further by making a world-record marzipan pig, complete with a giant pile of marzipan poo.

Watching ancient Disney cartoons

It’s only in the Nordic countries that anyone knows who Ferdinand the bull is. But that’s because everyone has watched the exact same 10 cartoons every Christmas Eve since 1953. Disney’s Donald Duck og vennene hans, or Donald Duck and His Friends, goes out this Christmas on NRK at 3 p.m., as it has done every year for as long as anyone remembers. To those who aren’t in on the joke, this is very odd, indeed.

Trick-or-treating at Christmas

There’s little difference between what Norwegians do when they går julebukk, and what the rest of the world does at Hallo­ween. Children travel in costume from house to house, singing in exchange for sweets. If adults go, too, they are ideally so well disguised as to be unrecognizable. They then drink a glass of aquavit at every house, ideally until they are incomprehensible.

Eating ribs instead of roast

When Norwegians sit down for their Christmas meal, it’s either pork (julribbe) or lamb ribs (pinnekjøtt) for the main course. Not a turkey in sight.

Dancing around the Christmas tree

Foreigners who marry into Norwegian families can be disconcerted when asked to join hands and dance around the tree. The strangeness is only increased when accompanied by songs from God Jul, the 1967 album by Norwegian show band Dizzie Tunes.

Watching Tre Nøtter til Askepot

Norwegians would feel their Christmas was incomplete without watching Tre Nøtter til Askepott, or Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella, an East German-Czech adventure film from the early 1970s. If anything, this is even weirder than the cartoons.

Making terrible attempts to play Santa

At Norwegian Christmas celebrations, Santa Claus, or julenissen, actually turns up. How can Norwegian children believe in Santa Claus when they get to meet him face-to-face? After popping out “to get the paper,” a parent or other relative returns with a fake beard and some kind of heavy coat and hat. Few children are deceived.

Going overboard on julekjeks

According to some traditions, Norwegians are supposed to bake no fewer than seven varieties of cookies in the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve. Indeed, so important is the pre-Christmas bake, that Norwegians have even spurred butter shortages with  their hoarding.

Leaving porridge out for the nisse

If the nisse, the  gnome-like guardian spirit who lives in Norwegian barns, doesn’t get porridge left out for him with a big dollop of butter on top, Norwegians believe he will wreak vengeance by playing mean tricks, such as tying cows’ tails together. It’s a much more serious matter than forgetting to leave a glass of sherry for Santa.

This article was originally published on The Local.

This article originally appeared in the December 27, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.