Norwegian Holiday Traditions

Princess netbutikk

Princess julebutikk

Today is the first Sunday in Advent and the Christmas season in Norway has officially begun. The Norwegians call it, Juletid. Four purple candles, symbolizing anticipation and preparation are progressively lit each Sunday counting down the four weeks until Christmas.

A wall hanging with twenty-four numbered pockets representing the days in December, before Christmas is used as an Advents Kalender. The pockets are filled with little treats and sweets for the children to take each day.


It’s not typical for Norwegians to put Christmas lights on their houses, although they do sometimes light up a front yard tree with white lights. They also put electric candles in their windows.


December is a dark month and the sun can no longer be seen in the North. I live in the South and while the sun never gets very high, we still manage to see daylight. Lighting candles, playing music and buckets of tea, help  a lot during this time. By March, the days will start getting longer and by June, we’ll be going to bed with the sun still shining… It’s a pretty fair trade.


This is also the time of year when Norwegians like to bake Christmas cookies. They’re called Småkaker, which translated means small cakes. Since I mostly bake American cookies, I went around to few of my Norwegian friends (Marita & Anja) and took pictures of their cookies. I even got to sample and take some home. There are many different types, here are just a few:

Pepperkaker (Gingerbread)


Sandnotter (Sand nuts) which are not made with nuts, but with potato flour!


Kakemenn (Cake men) which can be cut into different figures, here are some pigs:


Fyltekjekks (filled cookies) two wafers filled with icing. And Brunepinner (Brown sticks) which is a brown sugar cookie and my favorite.


December 23, is called Lille julaften, or little Christmas Eve. This is when most Norwegians decorate their tree and eat Risengrøt (rice pudding). The grown ups drink Gløgg, which is a mulled wine with spices, nuts and fruit… And sometimes a dash of spirit (brandy, rum or vodka).

On the evening of December 24, families gather for a festive dinner. A traditional Christmas dinner for this area of Norway is; Pinnekjøtt (lamb chops) Ribbe (rib roast) and a white sausage, winter vegetables, cranberry sauce and rich gravey. In my house it’s turkey (after all – we did miss out on Thanksgiving) Riskrem for dessert, it’s made by mixing whipped cream and cold rice pudding together and topped off with a sweet red-berry sauce. There is an almond hidden in the bowl and who ever finds the almond in their dish, wins a prize.

Afterwards, the children wait while their father takes a quick trip to the neighbor… And that’s when Julenissen (Santa) always seems to come knocking on their window. They open the door, invite him in and giggle at the sight of him.

Julenissen, unlike Santa is neither fat nor jolly, he wears a red robe, a mask and mumbles when he talks. His first words are always, “Are there any good children in here?”

He open’s his sack, hands out a present to each child and shakes their hand. After asking for directions to one of the children’s friends houses, he leaves and their father returns, cursing for having missed Julenissen, AGAIN!


From the first day of December until the last, I play Christmas music, in my house and in my car, non-stop! I love it.

En Stjerne Skinner I Natt (A Star Shines Tonight) is my favorite Norwegian Christmas Carol and is sung by The Oslo Gospel Choir. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do…

God Jul (Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays)

About maggiemyklebust

I grew up on the Jersey Shore and now live in Norway. I have also lived in Houston and the Netherlands. I have written a memoir called Fly Away Home.

Posted on December 2, 2012, in all things Norsk and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.

  1. This is a Wonderful post, Maggie. I enjoyed every word of it. I adore the build up to Christmas, so much more than the day itself (sad, eh?). I love the festivities and the music and the happiness that people seem to feel towards one another. It’s brilliant to read about the traditions in Norway and how you manage to incorporate a few of your own things in there.

    I have so much respect for you being able to cope with the harsh, lightless winters of Norway. I find it hard enough in Scotland but as I write this I’m fortunate enough to be experiencing some winter sun lighting up the back garden which, in itself is just beautiful! 🙂 Enjoy this, your first Sunday of Advent 2012. 🙂

  2. PS I also really enjoyed the song. 🙂 A very pretty sound to it.,

    • I know, even before I understood the words, I loved this song. It has a very emotional feel to it. I stop in my tracks every time I hear it, while other Christmas songs make me dance around the house 🙂

  3. Wonderful post. I lived in the north for many years and so I know how difficult December can be when it is dark all the time. But cookies and Santa help a lot!

  4. Loved this post Maggie, helped me feel a little Christmassy on this miserable cold morning in the UK

  5. I loved the post it made me want to light a fire and bake cookies. I never knew of these sweet Norwegian traditions. Americans are so commercial….bah humbug!

  6. oh mags, i love learning about norway!! i have been on the ride at epcot but that fell slightly short!! purple candles?? perhaps i am displaced?? hehe

    the music is beautiful!!

  7. annie siersema potter

    love it maggie! it’s like i’m back in your home enjoying christmas! thanks for sharing your norweigian roots! like all people around the world..tradition and family so lucky we have both! xoxo

  8. I, too, love your post, Maggie. It’s warm and inviting, and makes me want to come to Norway! Thank you for giving us a look into your Christmas.

  9. Hi Maggie,
    This is a wonderful post! I love to hear all about your Christmas traditions, but my favorite story was about Santa’s visit! Thank you for sharing this!

  10. Thanks so much for sharing these traditions!! The filled cookies look amazing to my sweet tooth! I love Santa’s arrival and dad’s missing it AGAIN….so sweet ♥ If there is anything from “home” I need to send your way that you are missing for this season….let me know SOON! ♥

  11. That’s so sweet of you to ask…
    For years now, my mother has been sending me a bag of Pepperidge Farms Stuffing, for my turkey. My kids love it!
    Last year she sent me a recipe -How to make your own stuffing and a note that said, I can’t keep this up forever. I’m getting old and its expensive to mail.
    So now it’s become my daughter Michele’s job (she lives in WV).
    When she gets fed up with the job, I’ll be sure to contact you Paula 😉

  12. You have some great traditions for Christmas and it was fun reading about them. the pictures are great too! I would go for those iceing filled cookies!

  13. Have a wonderfully happy Christmas season! I enjoyed reading about your traditions and I love rice pudding. (though not as much as our traditional Christmas pud)

  14. Love the post and all the wonderful comments!!! Merry Christmas! “Christmas, my child, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it’s Christmas. “Dale Evans

  15. Aw, beautiful post, Maggie! It is the perfect time of year for candlelight, dimness or not. The warmth of tea, cookies, family and celebrating, and yes such gorgeous and festive music–ah how I love all that, too. Makes me happy to think of you there all cozy enjoying the same sorts of things! The world is so big, and so small 🙂 ~ Lily

  16. Ah… thanks Lily, you have such a warm heart. I wish the the very best Holiday Season too.

  17. A wonderful post that left me feeling very festive. I love that for Norwegians Christmas is about the traditions, and clever, simple & delicious touches. I got the commercial shopping part done by the end of November this year so I can just enjoy the festive feel. My tree is up, the gifts underneath and we have a advent calendar full of goodies. Your post reminded me what it really is all about 🙂

  18. The cookies look tasty!!
    I love the run up to Christmas!! 😀

  1. Pingback: Flyawayhomebook gives us some fascinating Norwegian holiday traditions…check it out!:) « Thomas Rydder

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