Illustration: Ole Johnny Hansen. No use is permitted on another platform without the consent of its author

All I want for Christmas is…more voices in Tre nøtter til Askepott

Illustration: Ole Johnny Hansen. No use is permitted on another platform without the consent of its author
Illustration: Ole Johnny Hansen. No use or copy of this illustration is permitted without the consent of its author

“Oh my God, I am so excited that Christmas is coming!” says my flatmate. “Me too” I told her. “I love Christmas because I meet my family and we eat oysters and snails”. As I guessed from my flatmate’s disgusted face, that is not what Norwegians eat for Christmas. I started an investigation in Norwegian Christmas: What do you guys eat? What do Norwegians watch? What do Norwegians believe in? The answer is respectively: a lot of fat, crazy wolve-headed men dancing, and little julenisse eating rice porridge behind the barn.

It all starts 2 weeks before Christmas eve, during the traditional julebakst. For this you will need many kilos of butter, as well as sugar, and almonds in order to make the kransekake which you should avoid if you are diabetic. There are many different cakes and pastries (7 I think) that families bake, sometimes every week end before Christmas. Many Norwegians buy pepperkaker dough ready-made in boxes in stores. Are pepperkaker made from a ready-made box with lots of palmoil and E-støffer as koselig as a homemade pepperkaker made with love? I don’t think so.

Then comes the main course: it can be lutefisk, a white fish that looks and feels like jelly and tastes like “lute”. Very strange but actually quite okay and exotic even with some brunost, lefse and liquid sugar. Then comes the hardcore fat food (pinekjøtt and ribbe) which is actually perfect hangover food except that for Christmas Norwegians eat it before or while being drunk. Thank god aquavit is there to serve its purpose: make the fat go down and help it disintegrate in your stomach in order to make you ready to move on to the next meal. Also, it will get you drunk enough to enjoy all the movies you have to watch, all the speeches from relatives you have to sit through, and help you make all the “ros” or compliments you will have to make about the wonderful food (Always remember Norway’s unwritten rule number 22.4: Compliment Christmas food whatever it tastes like. Remember that it was made with love and Christmas stress).

The must-see movie for Christmas in Norway is something called “Three hazelnuts for Cinderella” (yes you read the title well) or “Tre nøtter til Askepott” in Norwegian. This is an eastern-Austrian and Tcheque movie from the 1970s, and you might ask yourself why on Earth this has become a must-see during Norwegian Christmas time. After watching the Norwegian version I was even more confused as it is a single man dubbing all the characters, and he is doing quite badly. Example: the fat lady with a white paper thing on her head: when he dubbed her he didn’t even respect the movement of her lips so you end up with a person speaking on screen without any sound coming out of her mouth, and then suddenly Norwegian words come out when she is still (yes, words in a male voice). The good thing is that the dubbing was made over the original voice, so we can still hear the female voice there in the background. Note to the foreign reader: do not, under any circumstance, say that this is ridiculous (I do it because no one knows who I am). According to “Norway’s unwritten rules” by Egil Aslak Aursand Hagerup, Rule number 22.2: It is not allowed to think that the voice in Three hazelnuts for Cinderella sounds lame (Is it allowed to think the title or anything else in the movie is lame?).

There is a Russian movie called Rock’n Roll Wolf, also from the 1970s. This movie is something I understood even less than Tre nøtter til Askepott, but it is definitely more entertaining and more colourful. The voices are fine there, but the characters have wolf or rabbit furs on their heads and make-up to look like animals. Sometimes they try to speak with a cat or a sheep’s voice, and they jump a lot with rock music in the background. They end in a ballet. What do Norwegians put in their sirupssniper? One definitely needs to be high to enjoy this movie at its full potential. My advice: you might want to get really really drunk before watching this. Not all of us grew up with old fashioned eastern European movies as cult movies for Christmas.

Then the Donald Duck cartoon From all of us to all of you, from 1958, watched by a minimum of 68% of Norwegians on Christmas Eve… At least there is some kind of Christmas feeling here, but I guess this is more for children.

Norway is a developed country, why isn’t there a guy who paid to get Tre nøtter til Askepott movie dubbed properly? Or is it part of the julekos now to listen to this single guy make all the voices? Who knows! And why are none of the cult movies for Norwegian Christmas actually from Norway? You guys are the country representing Christmas, with snow and Lapland and nisse. Can’t you make your own cult movies?

Steming: always koselig. Actually anything below kjempekoselig is unacceptable. That is what it has to be like, with candles, many many candles to light up the darkest time of the year, the best cream for the cakes and the best meat pieces for the mølia (??). A Dutch guy told me about this bouillon but I probably misunderstood his Dutch pronunciation of a Norwegian word. Everyone also needs to dress nice, so drop your comfy sweatpants and hiking shoes. Christmas is a celebration and worth dressing up with your best tie and your nicest dress.

Julenisse and risgrøte
A julenisse is not Santa Claus, at least not as Coca Cola imagined him. In Scandinavia, the julenisse is a small bearded man who is kind most of the time. He usually lives in a barn and is kind to animals. In order to show him gratitude and make sure he does not get angry or want to seek revenge many Norwegian families put a bowl of rice porridge outside for him to eat on Christmas eve. Does he bring gifts? I don’t know. But what I do know is that people believe in nisse, and many could swear having seen one. Just throw the topic in a dinner “Are nisse real?” and just see what people tell you.

Also, for dessert or in an evening with friends Norwegians traditionally eat rice porridge with crushed almonds, cinnamon and butter, but only one single full perfect almond. The person who gets the full almond wins the pig. Not a real pig, but one made of marzipan. I mean you just ate 5000 calories, why not add 500 more! Usually adults who get the almond place is discretely in a child’s plate for him or her to be extra happy. Make sure you tell foreigners they are supposed to look for the almond, otherwise they will just eat it, thinking the cook forgot to crush that one in little pieces.

I am afraid I cannot write much more a Norwegian Christmas it as I have never been for Christmas in a Norwegian family. I have in a Danish family though, and that was “superhyggeligt” as they say. We ate rice porridge, the grand ma of the family almost choked on the almond put inside, and we all sang and danced around the Christmas tree. I thought they were already drunk when they all got up to dance while holding hands but it turns out they weren’t yet. The most exotic Christmas I’ve ever had.

After Christmas: feeling guilty and going back to intervalltrening.
On the day after Christmas you’ll start seeing the sports fanatics already, counting the rounds to get rid of all these calories. Running at 7am on the ice. We are tough we can do it. Every year newspapers give us info on how many calories Norwegians have eaten during Christmas and how many stairs/km you’ll need to run to get rid of it. Don’t worry, next time you’ll be socially authorised to do and eat and drink whatever you like it will be for 17th of May: 5 more months to lose all that baby fat and start all over again!

This article was featured in Norwegian in VG Kronikk: Alt jeg ønsker meg til Jul

A Frog in the Fjord: One Year in Norway Book

25 thoughts on “All I want for Christmas is…more voices in Tre nøtter til Askepott

  1. You asked for norwegian christmas movies, what about “Reisen til julestjernen”? It usually screens right after Askepott. Btw, the Askepott movie IS bad, but traditions are traditions. Personally I watch it for the music team wich brings out memories of my childhood christmases 🙂

  2. Actually I do understand the tradition of watching three hazelnuts for Cinderella. But perhaps mostly because it’s also almost a tradition in southern Bavaria, where I come from. It’s the Christmas-fairytale number one, not because of the story, but because of all the snow. Though I prefer the original Grimm’s tale, in my opinion it’s the best movie version of it. Perhaps you can find the movie with subtitles instead of being dubbed by one guy. 😉
    Glædelig Jul! 🙂

  3. I always enjoy reading about these European traditions – they are very intricate and interesting. I can see why newcomers would be confused by all these different traditions, but they are fun to read about. And I guess some of our traditions are a little crazy too. That almond is sort of like the naked baby from the King cake at Mardi Gras – I found it last year, so now I have all this anxiety because I HAVE to bring the next king cake, but I don’t know if I’ll actually be invited to a mardi gras party, so I may have to just throw my own so I can complete my obligation and not have bad luck.

  4. I love your observations about Tre nøtter for Askepott! I think you have skipped several Norwegian cult Christmas shows, though: Tante Pose, Flåklypa, Reisen til Julestjernen, and the newer Fridtjofs jul and Hjem til jul. And most importantly, Snekker Andersen og Julenissen! The Rock’n Roll wolf I have never heard of, but I left Norway in 1999, so that might be a newer tradition?

  5. I absolutely adore your blog! I’m from Norway, but an exchange student in California for the year. I found your blog after looking for other exchange blogs, and you have helped me explain a lot of different things about Norway that I had no idea how to! You are basically the only blog I actually read and not just skim through. It’s like Christmas every time there is a new post! Please never stop

  6. I love the way you write and observe all the things 🙂 I live in Norway for 4 months now as an au pair and it is really funny to see that I’m not the only who sees those differences and weird things 😀 Jeg ønsker deg en riktig god jul!

  7. Rice porridge with with crushed almonds is a Danish tradition, not Norwegian. In Norway it is usually eaten only with red sauce. Some do put a whole almond in it, but more common is an almond in the porridge eaten for lunch on Christmas eve. Also common desserts on Christmas eve is cloud-berry cream which I imagine is strange for foreigners.
    Oh, and most stores have removed the palmoil from the gingerbreadcookies now, haven’t they?
    Other than that you have our tradtions spot on. 🙂

    1. The crushed almonds are indeed danish, but red sauce?
      Are you sure you are not talking about 2 different things?
      You have 2 types of “risgrøt”, the one served cold as dessert, often with red sauce; and one served warm with cinnamon butter eye and maybe an almond (or some other indicator under the bowl if someone is allergic).

      I might just have misread what you wrote though. I don’t know…

  8. It’s amazing how cultures are so diversified. In Portugal we also eat rise pudding, but we don’t eat it with almonds. We have a similar tradition with a cake – Bolo Rei, which means, The kings Cake – instead of a almond we put a fava bean. The person how gets the fava bean has to buy the next cake. 🙂

  9. “The rock’n roll wolf” is a russian-romanian-french production from 1976. the actors from the Bolsjoi-theater and som other russian theaters. The norwegian title is: Med Grimm og gru

  10. This is one of the topics everybody has to tell something about. Also in Germany we have three hazelnuts among the standard Christmas films. You have many chances to the see the movie in the time before Christmas, but not necessarily exactly at Christmas as many channels have it in their program. Why this film? No idea, maybe because it is still fresh though it is so old already.
    We have fortunately the original voices, no dubbing. By the way it is an East-German/Czech produktion, the Austrians have nothing to do with it. And there is an exhibition about the film making in the castle, which is shown in the film. This exhibition is tremendous popular, especially in the time before Christmas, they had already more than 100,000 visitors. I’ve seen a queue of more than 50 metres length to get in!

  11. I just wanted to note that the “julenisse” is a completely different concept than the “nisse”. The “julenisse” IS in fact Santa Claus, while the “nisse” is like the like “gnome people” from our folklore. The reason for this (which I’m sure is confusing), is that that the two words come from the same source (it’s from the men’s name Nisse, a variation of Nils), and to Norwegians Santa Claus reminded us of the “nisse people”.

  12. Oh wow, so Norwegians dub their movies just like we do 😀 It was hilarious to see how it appears to someone unaccustomed to one-voice dubbing. In Poland only movies for kids get different voice actors (we’re talking about foreign movies, ofc) every other production has one translator reading all the lines.
    Never questioned the way it is 😀

    1. We don’t usually. But this movie has to be dubbed and continue being so – it’s all about tradition and the feels… 😉

  13. I was reading something else on your blog, and this was one of the links, and… you all know how it goes 🙂
    !!Long post!!
    Tre nøtter for Askepott: it exists with “proper” dubbing, but it wasn’t popular at all. I actually like it like this, it feels more like a storytelling than dubbing, especially since you hear the original voices in the background.
    My norwegian family does not make kransekake, but eats pepperkake. As another frog in the fjord, I obviously agree that non-homemade pepperkake is atrocious and goes against the norwegian principle of making stuff “koselig”, so I made-up a new/old tradition of my husband making the dough and we make a house and a lot of pepperkake with our girls. That is kjempekoselig 🙂
    I also force my husband to make lucia cakes, another christmas thing. Eat the ones made with safran, they are SO much better.
    The ribbe/pinekjøtt/lutefisk is the christmas dish depending on which region of Norway you come from/what is your family tradition. In my family it’s pinekjøtt. They absolutely have to have it: one year we went to spend christmas in France, they packed some. I personnally can’t stand the smell, so they make me something else each christmas, because they are that nice. You also forget the “kålrabbistappe” (kohlrabi mash, purée de rutabaga) which is a must. It can be very bad, or very good according to how it’s prepared.
    Christmas in Norway is a big thing. We think about it at the end of the summer, because it’s what’s next. It’s starts on the 23rd with the “small christmas eve” (lillejulaften), where we decorate the tree and ends on the 26th, which is the “second day of christmas” (andre juledag). There are a lot of presents involved: adventkalender, the normal presents, the presents from the Julenisse, the ones from the cat, the ones from “pakkeleken”… Oh wait that may just be my family ^^
    There is also Julebrus, a kind of soda only available during christmas season (well, from october in the shops). Kind of like christmas beer but for everyone.
    Another big norwegian christmas tradition is “julebord”,”christmas table”, literally. It is the christmas party you have at your workplace, with your sports club, your hobby association, or any kind of group you’re in. Norwegians are big on “at work parties”, and for my husband all those occasions are an opportunity to eat pinekjøtt (he tries to eat it as often as he can each year), and get wasted like a norwegian 😉
    A last thing I have to mention, because I think it’s so nice, it’s the tradition of visit the graves and putting lights on them. If you’re a christian you do this after the christmas mass, which is not at midnight, before you go eat your load of whatever. The cemeteries look awesome and not sad at all.
    It’s sad that you have not been in a Norwegian family, but it makes me understand more some “inaccuracies” in your blog. It makes it also very interesting, our experiences of Norway are similar, but very different. You got a lot of norway from outside, I got a little from inside!
    Norwegian christmas is awesome for people who like christmas 🙂
    I’m stopping here, but there is way more!

  14. I love your blog, it’s so entertaining! Especially now that I live in England and really kinda miss Norway. I love Askepott, always have, always will. Every year the man dubbing it throws me off for like 2 minutes, then it’s all good again. Christmas is ruined if I don’t get to watch this thing, I’m telling you.
    We used to give our nisse porridge, and he used to leave a marzipan pig and a note to us – I was so bummed out when I finally realised that the hand writing was my mum’s!! Lol. Also I’m sure you’d be very welcome to spend Christmas with us, in Trøndelag, if you ever wanted to. 🙂

  15. I was starting to read your blog from today, and got roped into listening to Xmas music on my Echo, and I head to your Xmas post. I currently live in the US, which is very different from Norway. My first year, I had salmon for Xmas dinner. What a disappointment!!! It was good, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t say Xmas. So I went straight ahead, and found several companies that could provide pinnekjøtt and fenalår and other Xmas stuff, such as marzipan, kransekake, lefse (well, not exactly Xmas, but it’s at least Norwegian), and cloudberry jam (it is impossible to find the berries over here). The latter cost a whopping $16 a jar (~140NOK), but it’s worth it to get my Xmas dinner.

    I also found I missed my TV-traditions. So of course, I went looking for “Dinner for one” or “Grevinnen og hovmesteren”, which I found on! It is now online, so it can be viewed on the 23rd (why we watch it on the 23rd, I don’t know, it’s new years show!). I found “Snikker Andersen og julenissen”, “Donald Duck og vennene hans” as well as “Sagan om Karl Bertill Johnsons jul” (it’s Swedish, but still). What I had the biggest problem with was my Cinderella story!!! What to do! Well, I got it from NRK! Yay! Dubbed and all. But before I got that, I found the original with subtitles on, and got it. To my surprise it didn’t give me that feeling you know. It must be dubbed 🙂

    I am really looking for Jul, I am going to “storkose” me, with pinnekjøtt, akvavit and cloudberry cream! Of course I have a marzipan pig ready for my lunch. Yes, I do rice pudding/porridge for lunch as most Norwegians, but I only have sugar and cinnamon, and of course an eye of (Irish) butter! Almond included 🙂

    I have kept my Norwegian traditions away from home. It’s hard some times, but it’s worth it. Makes me feel like I’m home, and it’s super koselig 🙂

  16. The reason why “Tre nøtter til Askepott” is dubbed in the first place, is that the casting consists of Czech and German actors, who say their lines in their respective languages. It would be ridiculous to subtitle, as the different characters would speak in different languages but seemingly understanding each other… As for Knut Risan’s effort in giving the different characters in the movie some identity… Well, I guess if NRK had the slightest idea this would become such a holiday classic in Norway, they might have dubbed it properly, with several Norwegian actors lending their voices. On the other hand, it’s a child’s movie, and in the 70s children’s TV wasn’t much of a priority (I know, I was there ;-)), and hiring a big set of actors to dub it would be too expensive – and not very common those days, anyhow. Children’s TV was either subtitled or dubbed by one person.

    The exception being Disney movies. You mention the “From all of us to all of you”-show, that also screens on Christmas Eve here. I have never really understood why the clips from the Disney classics have had to be subtitled, since Norwegian dubbings for the movies exist. The subtitles also suck, since they neither rhyme nor make rhythmic sense when it comes to singing. Nevertheless, the essence here is that the SOUNDS of these movies make up the soundtrack of Christmas Eve to grown-up Norwegians – in the 70s and 80s we only had ONE TV channel, screening these classics (the programme for NRK1 on Christmas Eve has stayed basically the same for 40 years), and even if I spend most of the time in the kitchen as these shows air nowadays at Christmas, I need the TV on, loud, to give me that good old Christmas feeling. “Bella Notte” from Lady and the Tramp is not a Christmas song – but it’s on my Spotify Christmas playlist, because it is as firmly linked to the 24th of December as the smell of crusty pork rib.

    And my children are brought up the same way, and woe to the person switching channels – the remote is fixed on December 24.

  17. I have seen your reference to this Russian movie a lot, but I don’t remember seeing it anywhere on tv at Christmas… maybe its a TV2 thing?
    in our household, we mostly watch NRK in the morning and then the tv is off from 14:00 to next day (with the exception of the “ribba” minute by minute).

    Also, you asked for Norwegian Christmas movies on Christmas eve? “Reisen til julestjernen” (the journey to the Christmas star (?)) is always airing on Christmas

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