Skyte inn jula

Welcome in Christmas with a bang!

Skyte inn jula

Image: Nils Bergslien / Wikimedia Commons
In days of old, Christmas Eve was believed to be a magical and dangerous time.

The Norwegian American

A few years ago, the Norwegian public broadcaster, NRK, reported that Christmas Eve was celebrated in a somewhat unusual way in Selfjord in Telemark, when in the late afternoon, shots were heard being fired outside a farm there. 

No, there wasn’t any dangerous wildlife that had suddenly appeared on the property there, and no violent crime was taking place. It simply was the revival of an old Christmas custom that began to die out in Norway during the mid-19th century, but apparently not everywhere. It was time to shoot in Christmas—skyte inn jula.

This ancient custom is known from various locations in Norway, including Hedmark, Oppland, Agder, Rogaland, Hardanger, Hallingdal, and Telemark, but how many shots were fired varied from place to place, and from farm to farm. 

By why start firing gunshots on Christmas Eve? The answer was simple: Christmas Eve was a magical and dangerous time, a time the preternatural beings were out and about and up to no good. There were trolls and other wild creatures, who were on their way to eat up the Christmas food and bring you bad luck, and there was no other way to stop them than to fire a few shots. 

Very importantly, these shots needed to be fired toward the north, from where all evil came.

The worst would be to get a visit from the Åsgårdsreia, the Norwegian version of the wild hunt. Its terrible beings could sweep you away, to be lost for all eternity.

Thus, the men and older boys would head out with their rifles. Five o’clock was deemed to be the optimal time. Night has just fallen, everything was ready for the Christmas celebration, and everyone had taken their annual Christmas bath. In many homes, a good bowl of porridge had already been served, and a solemn prayer and the Christmas gospel had been read. People have been sitting together playing cards and chatting with each other.

And what better time to come and visit? The men and boys often traveled from farm to farm, announcing their arrival by firing their rifles, bang, bang, bang. They were often invited inside and offered a good scoop of beer or a shot of Christmas spirits.

While it may sound like fun, we are by no means suggesting that you get out your gun on Christmas Eve. It’s simply fun to know about these old traditions, as we sit down and celebrate together. We can reminisce about times gone by, and enjoy the good food and drink, warmth, and camaraderie.

These days, church bells are ringing all over Norway to announce the arrival of Christmas Eve. Wherever you are, may the sounds of the season bring you warmth, harmony, and happiness, as we welcome in Christmas with a big (metaphorical) bang of joy this year!

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 17, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.