Christmas is the biggest celebration we have in Norway. Usually the Christmas stuff arrives in the stores in October and then just pile on from there. It’s getting more and more commercial, but there is also a big trend in making your Christmas presents yourself. This is what people used to do when Norwegians didn’t celebrate Christmas, but “joul”. That is where our name for this celebration, “jul” comes from. It’s also called “vintersolverv”, the celebration of the fact that the sun is “turning” and the days are getting longer/more sunlight. It’s very important in a country so far north.
The giving of gifts happens at the evening on the 24st, no waiting until morning here! We do have the Santa Clause tradition, but in stead of him sneaking in at night we get to see him. It’s usually an uncle or the neighbor or something, and most little kids gets VERY scared by this red monster with a mask on, and the bright kids figure out who it really is.
Other traditions involve TV. The ratings are high on NRK (the government-owned TV and radio company) main channel where they show classics we watch every year. It’s kids TV all day showing movies like “Reisen til julestjernen” (The journey to the Christmas star), Tre nøtter til Askepott (Three nuts for Cinderella, the worst dubbed movie ever, but I still watch it every year!) a Disney show with old classics from the last 60 years (witch we also like to watch on Swedish television if we can an hour later), until it’s time for the most famous choir in Norway, “Sølvguttene” (“the silver boys”), to sing the Christmas in. At that time most people get ready to eat dinner with their families.
The food eaten on the evening on the 24st vary from family to family, but usually it’s either “ribbe” (made from pig), “torsk” (cod), “lutefisk” (fish prepared in a very special way) or “pinnekjøtt” (sheep). These traditions come from different places in the country, but are getting mixed up. One thing you really should know about your partner before it gets serious is what they eat for dinner on Christmas eve.
Our decorating is very personal, most people use the same stuff year after year, and the tree decorations are very different from house to house. Sometimes it’s a theme, some like color coordinating, some have stuff from 50 years ago, some use what their kids have made for them and so on. My tree is decorated with silver and red ornaments, all in plastic because or our horde of tree climbing fat cats. The tree is often not decorated until December 23th, and most people start decorating their house on what we call “Første søndag i advent”, the first of four Sundays before Christmas. If Christmas eve is on a Sunday, then that is the fourth one. So usually it’s sometime in late November/early December. Many also have advent calendars in some kind, the cheap ones with just a small chocolate every day costs about one US dollar, and from that the price range has no limit, because many of us make one for their loved one/kid/friend with 24 wrapped gifts that can be anything.
Over the last years it’s been more and more outside decorations. We are not going totally insane and covering our hoses with lights just yet, but we are slowly getting there. I usually hang a rope light on my house and leave it at that. Others put lights on a tree in the garden, or have some kind of figurine.