“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