Our Christmas in Norway was not as uneventful as we had hoped for and certainly did not plan, and not in the good way where Santa surprises you with something you didn’t realize you wanted but absolutely have to have now that you’ve got it.
It was wrought with missed flights, a stinky airbnb, and a birthday celebration that didn’t happen. However, at the end of the day – we were celebrating Christmas in Norway! That made everything special regardless of the circumstances.
Christmas in Norway
Everything You Need to Know for a
Festive Scandinavian Holiday
After fleeing from the stinky airbnb in Part 2 of our Christmas Saga, and finding our happy ending in Part 3 of our Christmas Saga we settled in for the next two days to celebrate Christmas in Norway with a mix of our family traditions and incorporating Scandinavian history and traditions also.
► Ranking: #cleandiaper
Christmas in Norway
Official Travel Guide to Christmas in Oslo
What Not to Do
When we celebrated Christmas in Iceland four years ago we only participated in Icelandic traditions. We didn’t bring presents, and we skipped over Christmas day until we got home.
This was a huge mistake, and we regretted it instantly. Fortunately we made this mistake when our twins were still under two years old, and they didn’t know the difference. But for us, when we got home the spirit of Christmas had past and we couldn’t quite grab onto it.
Christmas in Norway
We knew we wanted to do things differently for Christmas in Norway, so we planned to celebrate Christmas in our Mother Country of Norway; complete with a Christmas feast, presents and Norwegian traditions.
Our intention was to celebrate as much of Christmas in Norway as the Norwegians do. We had to modify a few festivities, but in the end, it was a unique, amazing and wonderful Christmas to remember!
This is everything you need to know to celebrate a Scandinavian Norwegian holiday at home, or abroad!
In Norway, they say God Jul or Good Christmas. It is pronounced Gooh yoohl, and is a festive greeting heard all over the country!
Since 1947, the country of Norway has gifted a 20 meter, 50 year old spruce tree to London as a thank you for their assistance during World War 2. The tree stands in Trafalgar Square from the beginning of December until the 6th of January.
Similarly, Norwegians also celebrate Christmas at home with a fresh cut spruce! December 23 is the traditional day set aside for trimming the tree.
Our host in Tromsø had promised us a small lighted tree, but since we couldn’t make it out there due to the glorious joys of standby life, we had to make due on our own in Oslo.
How We Celebrated
We arrived on December 23, so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
Gabriel went out into the dark, late in the evening on a stormy and snowy evening, to pick up a small living tree. He carried it home on his back, and we erected it on the kitchen table. He picked it up as close to the woods as possible; at the local convenience store. Well, it’s a Christmas tree, and you can order them online, but going to the store and handpicking them gives all the Christmas vibes, I guess.
It ended up being just about a foot in height. It had no lights but it was a planted living tree, and we loved it.
Lights are hung everywhere in Norway to celebrate the holidays! Since the vast majority of the country spends the holidays in the polar night, the lights are used to brighten the festivities and cheer up spirits.
You’ll find lights strung both inside and outside, though mostly inside. Lights will be hung framing the interior windows, door frames, as garlands, basically everywhere. If there’s a particularly humorous family, they may even put up some funny neon signs to make everyone laugh and usher in the cheerful atmosphere. Of course, lights are also hung around the tree!
Trees are adorned with straw or sheaves of wheat, paper woven baskets often shaped as hearts and filled with goodies, and ornaments. Wreaths are hung on every wall with red and green paper chains to match, and gingerbread and marizpan fills every kitchen.
How We Celebrated
We improvised lighting our home with strings of a different kind. The kids drew tiny yellow balls horizontally on paper and we strung them all over the house.
We drew red and green wreaths for the door, and we made paper chains to hang all over the place.
We spent Christmas Eve drawing and coloring ornaments to hang on the tree. The twins even colored hooks on the paper, cut them out expertly and the ornaments hung beautifully. Due to the size of our tiny tree, it wasn’t able to support paper baskets, but we still practiced weaving them as part of our celebrations!
We also added hand-drawn pictures of Santa Claus, (Julenissen) his reindeer, and elves to hang on the tree and around the house. Had we gotten our hands on a few wall decals that screamed Christmas spirits, we may have bought them and decorated our interiors.
Everything looked wonderfully festive.
Julenissen – Santa Claus
Julenissen is Norway’s Santa Claus. He throws everything upside down for American’s and his shenanigans had no part of our celebrations.
Christmas festivities in Norway are actually celebrated on the 24th. Christmas Day is reserved for time spent with family, eating, playing and relaxing.
Well, actually so is Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Eve, Julenissen walks unexpectedly through the front door with a bag of presents hoisted over his shoulder. He hands out gifts and drinks with the adults while the children unwrap their presents. He is in no hurry and has plenty of time to enjoy the company of everyone and leaves when he’s good and ready.
How we Celebrated
For this Christmas tradition, we did not partake of the Norwegian celebration of Julenissen. We sent our kids to bed and they woke us up on Christmas morning so we could all discover together what Santa Claus left us like a thief in the night.
Marzipan and gingerbread are the two other essential Christmas items that every single Norwegian celebration must have.
40 million marzipan pigs to be exact. That is how many marzipan delicacies are consumed by the five million people in Norway during the holiday season. The are sometimes shaped as fruit instead of pigs, but they are enjoyed, given as gifts and eaten as treats throughout the Christmas season.
Gingerbread, or pepperkake, is the other festive Christmas delicacy celebrated not only in Norway, but just about everywhere in the world. The city of Bergen, Norway however, builds the largest gingerbread town every Christmas!
How we Celebrated
We made sure to have both marzipan and gingerbread for our celebrations.
As mentioned, we arrived late into town on the 23rd and had a rough time finding a suitable airbnb for our family of 5. The first smelled like stinky shoes and was filthy. While we were trying to sort things out with airbnb, we hurried to the grocery store before everything closed for two days for the Christmas holidays.
I was busy trying to find groceries and talk on the phone to airbnb. Gabriel was wrangling the kids and getting his share of the list, but fortunately had the foresight to search out some marzipan without me knowing. Considering I spent half the time at the store on the phone with airbnb, it was easy to do.
He coyly pulled them out after we unloaded all our things and we had a tiny birthday celebration for me! (Not pictured in the video: The awful airbnb! This was our new one!)
As far as gingerbread goes, we didn’t build, decorate, or adorn our very own gingerbread houses. We did the next best thing.
The cookie is made of gingerbread and it’s filled with a chocolate frosting. The combination is perfection. While you can get traditional Pepperkaker (gingerbread cookies) year round, the chocolate filled ballerina versions are only available at Christmas.
No Christmas in Norway is complete without pork or fish on the dinner table served alongside boiled potatoes, sauerkraut, sausages and/or ham, and cloudberries served with cream.
Pork belly is the most common dish served, with lutefisk second in line. Lutefisk is typically cod soaked in lye for 6-8 days. Yes, the same lye that is used to make soap or get rid of a dead body. Delicious!
Boiled potatoes are served with every dish, every day and for every occasion in Norway. Christmas included. Sauerkraut is almost as common. Norwegians like their meat.
The cloudberries add sweetness to the meal, but no additional color. They are like orange raspberries.
How we Celebrated
We opted for something just as common, just not quite as grandiose.
Our airbnb wasn’t quite as equipped as a standard cook’s kitchen, but we did find one mixing bowl and a few pots and pans. Just what we needed to make Medisterkake: Pork Meatballs.
Our festive meal also included the requisite sauerkraut, sausages, ham, boiled potatoes, salad and fruit with cream. We couldn’t find cloudberries, so we made due with frozen blueberries and raspberries.
I know. Why couldn’t we find cloudberries in Norway?
Norwegian Christmas Cookies
No less than 7 different types of cookies are expected for Christmas celebrations in Norway.
Cookies are a very festive way to celebrate the holidays! Regardless of the final number of cookies you make, it must be an uneven number and representative of how wealthy your family is.
In many families, each person is responsible for one type of cookie. Then when everyone is gathered together, each brings their unique tray of cookies to add to the stash.
These are not the snickerdoodles, chocolate crinkles, toffee bar squares, and sugar cookies you expect in the states. The Christmas Cookies in Norway are elaborate, folded, curled, and imprinted cookies, sometimes scratch made doughnut cookies, wreaths made from three different types of dough cookies.
- Smultringer – A type of doughnut
- Hojortetakk – Crullers made with hartshorn salt
- Sandkaker – Almond cookies baked in fluted tins
- Sirupssnipper – Diamond-shaped gingersnaps with almonds
- Berlinerkranser – Wreath cookies
- Goro – Waffle imprinted cookie
- Krumkaker – Pizzelle shaped into a cone (why don’t they fill these?)
- Fattigmann – Doughnut
How we Celebrated
Seriously, dozens of different cookies? This was a dream come true to me, but sadly, our airbnb didn’t even offer one single baking tray! We made due by wrapping the oven drip tray in tin foil, and whipped up one lonely half batch of cinnamon and sugar cookies.
Traditionally, cinnamon and sugar are a Scandinavian flavoring, so if we could only make one type of cookie we wanted to make it count!
They turned out delicious! We made a few for Santa and enjoyed the rest for a Christmas treat!
In Norway, instead of leaving a stocking for Santa to fill with goodies, children leave out their best boot or shoe.
An old Norwegian folktale sings: “Let’s dance around this old boot and hear our Granny sing. Each mouse should use its right paw, to take its neighbor’s tail. Then listen as Old Granny sings a lovely Fairy tale.”
The Christmas boot has a long tradition in Norway. The boot is an important faction of life in the cold regions of the snowladen fjords. The boot is placed in front of the fireplace to be warmed up from the day’s travels, and filled with rewards from St. Nicholas if they child has been good.
How we Celebrated
We loved having one less thing to pack, and the children thought it was so unique to place their boot under (or in this case, near) the Christmas tree in anticipation of what it would be filled with.
► For Kids: While we may not have been able to participate in as many traditions as we hoped for this year celebrating Christmas in Norway, or escape our airbnb to visit the sites and attractions in Oslo, we loved waking up on Christmas morning in Norway to see our boots filled with treasures and that Santa had found us so close to his home in the North Pole.
It was chilly, snowy, festive, exciting, and filled with the misadventures that come with traveling and celebrating life with three little ones.
After spending all night looking for the Apotek1, we were thrilled when our children slept in until noon on Christmas morning. Still suffering from jetlag we welcomed the additional sleep and were excited to celebrate Christmas together.
After opening presents and eating chocolate oranges for breakfast, we played with our new gifts, read books, drank Jule Brus, and enjoyed a festive Christmas dinner.
► What We Learned: We didn’t need a huge shiny tree, or a warm fireplace to have an amazing Christmas in Norway. All we needed was each other, and a little Christmas Spirit.
Have you celebrated Christmas in a foreign country? Did it still feel like home? What did you bring with you and what did you leave behind?
► Nap-Time Version: Our Family Christmas Celebration in Norway.
We loved participating in other rich Norwegian winter traditions such as sailing through the Arctic Ocean on the Hurtigruten and husky dog sledding in Tromsø during the polar night.