Stuck in Oslo for Christmas? What on earth to do?! Here’s our guide to Christmas-Oslo and an explanation to some of the odder Norwegian Christmas traditions.
The Norwegian word for “Christmas” is “jul” and you’ll quickly begin to recognize it as most things related to Christmas contain this word in some or other form, like “God jul!” (Merry Christmas!)
Advent – the purple holiday
The four weeks before Christmas we, as many others, celebrate advent and the big it-colour is purple. In the church this color symbolizes repentance and improvement, but even though most people probably don’t think too much about that we still all stock up on purple candles for our advent candlesticks. Every Sunday we light a new candle and we have our own advent songs with new verses for each new candle we light.
There’s a lot of baking before Christmas and some people still try to fulfill an old tradition of making all “de sju slagene” (“the seven sorts”). Many a housewife- or man have sweated and sworn in their aprons trying to get all the cakes ready in time for Christmas. Wanna give it a go? “De sju slagene” are goro (traditionally means good advice), krumkaker (curvature cakes), fattigmann (poor man!), sandkaker (sand cakes), sirupsnipper (syrup cakes), Berlinerkranser (Berlin wreaths), smultringer (donuts). But the most is probably to only bake one, two or three sorts and pepperkaker (gingerbread) is the most popular. You’ll also find a lot of the sorts for sale at shops, bakeries etc.
Romjul?! Does that mean we drink rum?
In Norway Christmas eve, the evening of the 24th is the big day and the 25th is mainly spent trying to polish off the last of the Christmas dinner and trying out our new presents. Christmas eve is called “julaften” and we also have quite cute names for the days leading up to julaften: 23rd of December is “lille juleaften” (little Christmas), 22nd is “bittelille julaften” (tiny Christmas).
The period following Christmas eve is called “romjul” and for many there’s a tradition of going out to party or club the 26th. Perhaps because people by then are getting tired of just sitting around stuffing their faces? 24th and 31st of December most shops are open half the day and some people also people work half days. 25th and 26th of December are the only actual holidays, so all other days most shops will be open.
Vinmonopolets (The wine monopolies) opening hours:
All of Vinmonopolets shops are closed 24th-26th of December, 31st of December and 1stof Januar 2013. You’ll find opening hours for all their shops here.
What do we eat?
Every family have their own traditions. Some swear to pork, while people from the west coast often eat lamb ribs. Other yuletide hits include lutefisk (dried white fish) and cod. Turkey has also has become a big thing here, though most people probably save this for New-years eve.
The desert classic is riskrem (rice cream pudding), often with a red sauce. And usually people hide a blanched almond in the pudding, and the person who finds it wins a marzipan pig. Yes, a marzipan pig!? Not kidding!
You probably can’t go to an Norwegian Christmas party without being offered gløgg (mulled wine). The most used type is Tomtegløgg that can be bought at all shops and spiked up to your own liking with wine or spirits. The more hardcore make their own and there are thousands of recipes on the world wide web. Gløgg is usually enjoyed with nuts and raisins.
There’s a lot of good christmas beers to be had. Our favourites include Nøgne Ø’s “Underlig jul” and Handbryggeriets “Nissefar” (Santa dad) and “Nissemor” (Santa mum). If your budget can’t handle expensive beers how about trying some julebrus (Christmas soda)? Most local breweries have their version, so it comes in every variation of colour and taste – all on the intensely sweet side of things! And people are very patriotic when it comes to defending their julebrus as the the best one on the market.
And last but not least: to burn off some of the fat people often have an aquavite after finner – often combined with a beer! Mmm.
Other odd traditions
Land of the Christmas tree? Yup, that’s us! But even though we export trees to other countries some people still love their blinking plastic trees. Whatever tree you have traditional decorations often include homemade paper decorations, lights, norwegian flags and a star on top. And after Christmas dinner we “går rundt juletreet” (walk around the christmas tree) singing Christmas carols. This can take ages and some have long lists of songs and song activites they have to go through. Following the going around the Christmas tree session time usually has come for Christmas presents. Finally!
In “romjul” you might get unexpected visitors at your door, as people go their rounds of “julebukk” (Christmas buck), a kind of Christmas caroling. Most people dress up as Santa or the likes, but some kids just turn up and ask for sweats so make sure you’ve stocked up!
What can you do?
Become a Norwegian – go skiing! Oslo is surrounded by woods perfect for skiing and we also have several parks and other places calling you to sledge and make snowmen. Try Korketrekkeren, the old bob track where you can rent your own sledge! For more winter acticities check out the winter section of Streetwise!
Christmas Shopping! Still haven’t got all your presents in order? Check our Streetwise-guide for tips to good places to go shopping. And try to avoid the big mall Oslo City unless you want some hussle and bussle. Otherwise there’s also a big Christmas market in Karl Johanns gate, right in front of Grand Hotel. Here you’ll find both food and gifts and all kinds of Christmas things.
Do something for someone less fortunate: put some money in “julegryta” (the Christmas pot), The Salvation Army’s pot for collecting money to warm winter boots, food, fire wood etc. There are several spread around town, but you should find one in the middle of Karl Johannsgate. Or buy the street magazine =Oslos Christmas special. The magazine comes out monthly and speaks the voices of the poor, drug addicts and other disadvantaged groups. They’re sold from most street corners and half of the money goes directly to the sales person.
And how about Christmas Eve? Join somebody elses celebrations! Christmas is all about sharing.
God jul og godt nyttår (Merry Christmas and happy new-year) from all of us at Use-It Oslo
Text: Tara // Photos: sxc.hu
Wednesday the 19th of December