Saturday, December 18, 2010

Meaning of Jul / JOl....Norwegian an Danish traditions...

Christmas In Scandinavia

Jul or jol is the term used for the Christmas holiday season in Norway. Originally, "jul" (or "jol") was the name of a month in the old Germanic calendar, corresponding roughly to the time from mid-December through mid-January, and the concept of "jul" as a period of time rather than a specific event, prevails in Norway.

Whereas the start of "jul" proper is announced by the chiming of church bells throughout the country in the afternoon of December 24, it is more accurate to describe the season five week event, consisting of five phases: Advent, Julaften, Romjul, Nyttår, and Holy Three Kings' Day (Epiphany), which is the thirteenth, and final day of the season.

The modern day celebration is largely based on the Church year, but has retain several pre-Reformation and pre-Christian elements.
The main event in Norway, is Christmas Eve (joleftan/julaften) , when the main Christmas meal is served and gifts are exchanged. Songs are sung as you walk around the Christmas tree both in Norway and Denmark. Then the Julenisse visits with presents for the children...

According to Norwegian tradition, an elderly man with a long beard hangs out in local barns on Christmas Eve and wants to eat porridge (called grøt). Norwegians living on farms knew to put a bowl of porridge out in the barn, to keep the nisse happy and prevent him from causing mischief. Some people still believe in this.

In more modern times, the bearded man, called "julenisse," sometimes makes an appearance in Norwegian homes, and if he does, he brings gifts.

There have been classic songs written about the nisse, and nisse figurines are found in a wide variety of shapes and styles, used as decoration in the home.

But the classic fjøsnisse, the one that eats porridge in the barn, seems to be dying out in the minds of Norwegian children. Television, globalization and mass-marketing are replacing him with the American Santa Claus.

"The American nisse is here to stay," ethnologist Ann Helen Bolstad Sjelbred recently reported. Lots of children growing up in Norway today, she said, barely know who the barn nisse is, and expect the new nisse to bring them presents.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian towns of Drøbak, Røros, Longyearbyen and Egersund have each been claiming the Norwegian nisse as their own. Local politicians in Drøbak, south of Oslo, even passed a resolution declaring that their town is his official home.

It was in Drøbak, after all, that one of the first all-year "Christmas Houses" was founded, and the town even had an agreement with postal authorities to handle all letters addressed to either julenisse or Santa Claus.

Egersund, on Norway's southwest coast, won the honors.

On Christmas Eve, traditional dishes are served, based regional differences in cuisine and accessibility.

In Western Norway and Northern Norway, Pinnekjøt(t) (steamed, salted and dried ribs of mutton) is the more common dish, whereas in Eastern Norway, pork rib roast is more common.

Other traditional foods exist as well, without enjoying the same amount of popularity, such as Smalahove (mutton head), Lutefisk, fresh boiled cod, rakfisk, medisterkaker and medisterpølser (dumplings and sausages made of minced pork meat), and more recently turkey.

Eating porridge, a one-time staple of Norwegian cuisine, with a single almond in it, is a widespread custom, and whoever gets the almond wins a prize. A bowl of porridge is, according to tradition, also put out to the unpredictable Nissen, the Norwegian equivalent of a guardian spirit. In Denmark, this rice porridge is also served, but is called Ris ala mande... and is really delicious. Once again, the person that finds the whole almond gets a special prize or gift. If you find you have the almond, you secretly hold it in your mouth until the end so as to hold the suspense!

Brewing is closely associated with the preparations for the Yule season, and most Norwegian breweries release a traditional beer, juleøl, which is darker, stronger and has more flavour than the common Norwegian lagers. Breweries also produce a special soda, known as julebrus. Akvavit is also a common digestif to accompany the heavy, and often fatty, meals. In Sweden, Glogg. a special mulled wine, is the special Christmas drink.

Norwegian tradition prescribes seven kinds of julekaker or jolekakor, pastries and coffee bread associated with Christmas. However, no authoritative list exists, and there are great variations. Ginger bread and ginger bread houses are common, in Denmark and Norway, and decorated with sugar frosting, ginger bread cookies are sometimes used for decorating windows and the Christmas tree as well.

An old tradition, perhaps with reference to the Wild Hund, is for children to dress up and pay visits to neighbors, where they receive candy, nuts and Clementines in return for singing Christmas carols. Traditions vary throughout both countries.

Tradtions that many Scandinavians and their descendants continue to uphold and modify. Something to ponder about at Christmas.....


  1. I have lived in Denmark the for many years after moving from England and have always enjoyed the Christmas traditions here. One of the things that really surprised me was that they have real live candles on their trees, they are small and are put in special hangers onto to tree. I love dancing around the tree singing carols too. The food is delicious especially the risalamand, which is actually rice pudding with whipped cream, vanilla and chopped almonds with the exception of the one which is put in whole. On top of this comes warm black cherry sauce yummy. Looking forward to it all tomorrow. Have a lovely Xmas and A Happy New Year to you!!! :-) Christine

  2. We are enjoying some Ris a la mande right now! But as it is only my son and I that eat it, I don't make the cherry sauce, only using golden syrup! (Sacrilege to the Danes!!) But there is still the whole almond to find in there somewhere. I cook it the old haybox way, except I use my waterbed!!!