God Jul! A guide to Christmas in Vikingland

I know, I know, I’m quite late for this one but I honestly didn’t have the time, between family time, work and more family time but this time in France. So here is a little taste of what Christmas in Norway looks like.

God Jul means Merry Christmas in Norwegian

To say that Norwegians love Christmas seems little compared to the reality there! They absolutely adore that holiday. Well before time, Christmas music, food, drinks and decorations fill every corner of shops, streets, restaurants and squares. It’s actually quite pretty, especially when you’re getting snow as the same time as the D-day is approaching. You may be falling on your ass almost every step, but it’s damn great to see.

We got ourselves a white Christmas at the Viking’s family village in Masfjorden

Of course, you have Christmas traditions, menu and drinks. For the latter, think Christmas beers, that are mostly dark and brown and strong. The Viking is a big fan, but I mostly don’t like them so I pass on all the tastings. Of course, people are very fond of bubbles, could be either prosecco or cava or champagne or crémant, whatever as long as it’s flowing! I mentioned this when talking about the Julebord season last year, which is a nightmare for people working in restaurants and bars. Luckily, it doesn’t last long, but holidays are welcome after that. There is also the gløgg, a very sweet pre-made mix you can serve with hot water or alcohol and that you cover of raisins, almonds and nuts. Pretty nice!

To accompany the traditional main courses, you have to consider aquavit, which is not very drunk the rest of the year but goes by the gallon during the weeks leading to and during the holidays. It’s a spirit distilled from grain or potato and mostly flavored with caraway and sometimes with dill, fennel, coriander, citrus and/or anise. I actually like it, but it’s not for every taste. With dessert and coffee, they would rather have a cognac, bailey’s or a liquor with fruits (apple or berries, mostly). It gives the opportunity to find pretty nice alcoholic liquors to bring back for family and friends outside of Norway, as those are usually quite good.

From left to right: aquavit, raspberry liquor and apple liquor

For food, there are three main dishes served during the holidays in Norway. First, the ribbe, a quite juicy pork belly that has to cook for hours in the oven and usually served with brussels sprouts and red cabbage. It’s mostly served in families from the Eastern part of the country. As I live in the Western part, I get two « delicacies » that are pinnekjøtt and lutefisk. The latter is really hardcore: it’s a dried white fish, usually cod, cured in lye (yes, like house detergent) then soaked for days in water, which gets it a gelatinous texture. I’ll give you my secret to ingest it: the key is to serve it with enough peas puree, melted butter with eggs, bacon in a lof of fat and potatoes that you don’t feel the taste of it! I get pinnekjøtt for Christmas, which is cured and sometimes smoked lamb ribs that are cooked above boiling water to desalt it all and served with rutabaga puree, potatoes and fat sauce, of course. It’s quite alright but heavy and I try to limit my yearly intake of it. There is also a traditional Christmas porridge you eat on the 23rd or the 24th before the official beginning of festivities, topped in butter, cinnamon and sugar according to taste.

Pinnekjøtt!
Lutefisk correctly drowned in butter

In the Viking’s family, there are some traditions to respect and it doesn’t vary one bit from one year to another, except regarding our actual presence. When we go, it starts by us setting us the tree, usually on the 23rd.

The Viking being very proud of our achievement. It’s funny of how Norwegians put the garlands from top to bottom in lines, while in France we swirl them around the tree. Here, they favor electrical lights as a first layer of decoration instead.

After all the fuss is dealt with, we have to sit down to watch « Dinner for one », a short comedy movie involving a butler, James, serving dinner and drinks to Miss Sophie and her « friends ». Clearly suffering from dementia, Miss Sophie is asking to serve an empty table and the butler diligently drinks all the cups being served by him. It’s actually not Norwegian but British, and it’s a recording from 1962 by the the German TV broadcaster NDR of a comedic theater show, that has become a tradition to watch in Eastern and Northern countries before Christmas. A little liquor and there you go! « Same procedure as every year ».

The next day, we share Christmas porridge together before placing the gifts under the tree, getting some visits around coffee and biscuits, then getting ready to head for pre-dinner drinks with other family members. Five different liquors tasted later, it’s time to go back home to attack our pinnekjøtt and other delicacies before opening the presents. The rest of the night involved fun and drinks, until we’re too tired to do anything but go to bed. On Christmas day itself, we share a good brunch before resting some more and go eat lutefisk at the Viking’s grandparents’ house, drinking liquor and coffee for a while before going to keep on drinking with neighbors, friends and family members usually gathered at the village at that time.

It’s very different from what I’m used to in France, but involves sharing food, drinking good stuff and spending time in great company, so I find it very pleasant every time. The main difference I guess is how Norwegians are attached to their traditions, either national or family based. Still getting used to that! On this, I wish you a happy new year, godt nyttår!

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