Monday 24 December
Christmas Eve in Norway is called julaften and is the main day of the year in which Norwegians celebrate Christmas. However, because it isn’t a public holiday in Norway, employees will often work for half the day before returning to their respective families for dinner and do whatever else the night has in store for them.
When I woke up in the morning, I had a look to see what my Christmas stocking contained. I found various treats, including various lollies, chocolates, julemarsipan (marzipan coated chocolate in the shape of a pig) and a mandarin. Comics are often a common addition, too.
We then went to my friend’s aunt’s place where we had a smorgasbord style breakfast. There we could choose from different ingredients such as ham, sild (herring) in various sauces, eggs or smoked salmon along with different kinds of bread. We also drank what I thought was Oslo’s best julebrus (Christmas soda) to go down with our meals.
After eating, we sat down around the TV and watched some Christmas shows. One of them, called Tre nøtter til Askepott, is a famous holiday movie played across Norway every Christmas Eve. It is a Czechoslovakian movie that was released in 1973 and is very similar to the story of Cinderella. For some reason, it became hugely popular in Norway. It was a tale, and I would recommend watching it yourself if you have the time. We also watched some Mickey Mouse and Friends cartoons afterwards.
We then went to my friend’s mum’s place to join her, my friend’s sister and the grandparents for julegrøt. Grøt is a type of warm rice porridge to which you usually add white sugar and cinnamon. You can also put butter in the centre which melts, as well as raisins. We ate some of this while watching Disney shows on the TV.
It was here that I decided to give them my own present: a julekoala! Before moving to Norway, I had brought along some little boomerang wielding koalas to one day hopefully share as a gift to others. But I decided to take it one step further this year. I bought some supplies the day before coming to Oslo, from which I made little Santa hats for each one. I gave one to the mother and one to the grandparents, who had been so kind to me over the past few days.
After julegrøt, we made our way to the Protestant church across the road to attend the juleaften service. There was a choir, trumpets, an organ and all sorts of Norwegian Christmas songs and prayers for the next hour. It was a really nice service, quite relaxed and a good break from socialising and eating so much these past few days. The minister was very down to earth and I had a nice time there, despite not being very religious myself.
I then returned home with my friend and his sister where we were greeted by a nice glass of champagne. Presents were placed under the Christmas tree, which are opened in between dinner and dessert in this family.
Dinner was ready and we ate julepølser (Christmas sausage), karbonader and ribbe with juleøl, aquavit and white port to drink on the side. The closest thing back home to ribbe is pork ribs, but they are prepared quite differently. In Australia, pork ribs are normally prepared by smoking or grilling a set of pork ribs marinated from homemade barbeque source. In Norway, this recipe is prepared by steaming the meat in the oven for about half an hour before cooking it in the oven. Once ready, the crispy skin is separated from the meat and the two are served separately. The ribs themselves are soft and tender, and contain a really appetising flavour. The skin is salty and crunchy, yet not tooth breaking compared to normal crunchy roast. It was truly a treat!
In Norway, the unwrapping of the presents usually happens during the evening of juleaften, compared to the morning of Christmas Day back home. We proceeded to the room with the tree, where each family member received a present to unwrap one at a time. This meant that no single person opened their gifts all at once, and it was nice to go back and forth and see what each person received from their friends and family. To my utter surprise, I too received presents! I wasn’t expecting anything of course, considering that I had just met the family and hadn’t gotten to know them for very long. However, I was very touched and grateful for their thoughtfulness and sincerity towards me. I received knitted and woollen socks, mittens, a headscarf, a cuddly nisse (Santa doll), a CD, a pineapple and a Norwegian novelty game from my friend. It was also just as exciting to see what other family members received, and it gave me even more ideas for future gifts for my fellow Norwegian friends.
After unwrapping all our presents, we went back to the table where we were served ice cream for dessert with bringebær (raspberry) and tittebær (cranberry) jam. Both were homemade and were really light and nice to eat after having a food-filled day! I also had the opportunity to sample some red port from the US which tasted quite amazing!
Despite being quite an exhausting day, I had a wonderful night and couldn’t have celebrated a Norwegian Christmas any better. My friend and family have been so amazing and this week has been a truly memorable experience for me. I don’t know how I can ever thank them, but I feel eternally grateful towards their kindness and love.
Do you have any favourite shows you like to watch around Christmas time? How do you and your family go about opening presents? What sorts of presents have you received from Norwegians?