Norwegians have been celebrating the holidays for years before the birth of Christ. Since ancient times, they have celebrated the midwinter with parties and feasts to mark the transition from the dark winter to the light of spring and summer. However, during the 10th century, King Hakkon decided that this pagan custom of celebrating midwinter would be moved to December 25th to coincide with the birthday of Jesus Christ. Over the centuries, the dual meaning of December 25th has changed into a purely Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus, although some of the pagan traditions have remained.
Preparations for the Christmas season begin on the first Sunday of Advent. It is on this day that outdoor trees are lit and decorations, biscuits, and sweets are made and shared by family and friends. There are also a number of Christmas markets held, where these treats can be sold to others. St. Lucia Day, December 13th, marks the official start of the Christmas season in Norway as it does in many of the Scandinavian countries. At the crack of dawn, the youngest daughter from each family wearing a white robe with a sash as well as a crown of lights on her head wakes her parents and serves them coffee and Lucia buns or lussekatter. The custom dates back to the Christian virgin, Lucia, who was martyred for her beliefs. The Saint Lucia ceremony represents the traditional thanksgiving for the return of the sun.
From the days after St. Lucia until Christmas Eve there are several Norwegian holiday traditions that take place. Children walk around the neighborhood in the late afternoons asking their neighbors for goodies. This is similar to the American tradition of “trick or treating” on Halloween. Also, indoor Christmas trees are often decorated with candles, apples, red hearts, balls of glass, straw ornaments and of course tinsel. Almost all Norwegians not only decorate a tree, but they usually have real Christmas trees of spruce or pine, unlike other countries where some households have a fake tree.
Christmas Eve is the big day in Norway and at 5pm the church bells ring in Christmas throughout the country. This is thought to be the real beginning of Christmas celebrations and most people attend church and after the service, return home to eat a bowl of porridge with butter, sugar and cinnamon. Often, before a family sits down to eat, especially if they have younger children, they put a bowl of porridge out for the nisse. (Gnome) It is tradition in Norway, to leave this porridge out for the little gift-bearing gnome who is said to protect all the farm animals. If this porridge is forgotten, it is said that gnome will play cruel tricks on the children. After the meal, the indoor tree is lit and Julenissen arrives with a sack full of gifts from Santa. In Norway, Julenissen is depicted with a long white beard and red stocking cap. After the presents have been distributed and opened, everyone sits down for coffee and cakes.
Christmas Day Starts with a church service and is followed by a Christmas buffet which includes foods such as pork, lamb, cold meats, lutefisk, herring, trout, salmon, cheese, fruit, and much more. The Christmas season in Norway lasts exactly a month, ending on January 13th, when everyone takes down his or her decorations.