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How Norway’s Christmas traditions could be affected by Covid-19 pandemic

How Norway's Christmas traditions could be affected by Covid-19 pandemic
Photo: Fougerouse Arnaud/Flickr
How are Norway's beloved Christmas customs likely to be affected by Covid-19?
Health authority guidelines currently advise that private arrangements have no more than five guests in addition to household members. 
 
Local restrictions, in their current form, would also be likely to affect many people's Christmas plans.
 
In Oslo, gatherings in private homes can be attended by up to ten people if infection control measures are complied with. A maximum of five people were until recently allowed in private homes in Bergen, with exceptions for homes where more than five people live, and where children have guests from their regular school or childcare cohorts. The city recently eased that restriction slightly, allowing household with at least four people to have up to two visitors from outside the household.
 
“If we are able to lower the cases of infection, then we can be more relaxed,” health minister Bent Høie told VG last month.
 
“But it’s very important that people don’t have to start their Christmas with a loved one in the hospital,” he added. “That, we do not want.” 
 
The government has promised that current measures will be reviewed before Christmas. As the holiday nears, residents of Norway eagerly await the government's new Covid-19 guidelines for December, and are keeping their fingers crossed that they will be able to celebrate a traditional Norwegian Christmas. 
 
Here is a little of what those traditions entail. 

The history behind the holiday

Depending on which country you are from, the day on which you eat the traditional meal and open gifts will vary. In Norway, the highest time of the holiday is on the eve of the 24th of December.

Norway first began to celebrate Christmas in the first millennium CE, after Christianity was first introduced into the country. The established Roman custom was to celebrate Jesus’s birthday on the 25th, so this was adopted by Norway.

Christmas celebrations in Norway are a mixture of old pre-Christian traditions, Christian traditions, and modern consumer-oriented habits that are driven by advertising, as Roald E. Kristiansen, a historian of religion and professor at the Arctic University of Norway, explains on the university's website

The tradition of having a Christmas tree inside is relatively new in Norway, although it does supply the tree for Trafalgar Square's decorations each year.

The tradition of having a tree inside began in Europe at the end of the 1800’s. In the past, the Christmas tree was decorated with dried fruits, cakes, and candles. Now they are traditionally decorated in Norway with lights and ornaments and with a star on top. 

The Christmas table 

Companies are traditionally known to throw a julebord, or Christmas table, for their employees during the holiday months.

Unlike in other countries, it is not common for an employee's partner to be invited to the company's Christmas table. It is a popular belief that the party tends to be largely fueled by alcohol, and at least one coworker or boss will end up embarrassing themselves.

This year, the government has strongly urged against celebrating. Although Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the beginning of October encouraged backed julebord for staff, Oslo's city government has, advised businesses not to go ahead with their traditional Christmas parties. Current restrictions in the city would make gatherings practically impossible.

Gifts and shopping

Like in many other countries, stores are extra full of shoppers during the month of December around Norway.

This year guidelines have been issued for holiday shopping. The Norwegian health authority NIPH, has made recommendations including trying to spread out shopping times to avoid congestion; regular hand washing; and avoiding public transportation wherever possible.

READ ALSO: These are Norway’s Covid-19 guidelines for Christmas shoppers

Seasonal food and drink

Marzipan is a popular treat during the entire month of December. The almond- tasting sweet is sold in most stores, made into well-known holiday figurines, and is a popular gift to give and receive.

Julebrus, or Christmas soda, is sold during the holiday season throughout Norway. It is traditional for different areas around Norway to have their own recipe. It is also common to hear a friendly debate between locals claiming that the Christmas soda from the region they grew up in is the best of them all. 

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Lerum (@lerum)

It is a popular custom to hide an almond in a bowl of rice cream after a holiday meal. Everyone is responsible for dishing out their own serving of the desert, and the person who ends up with the almond in their bowl wins a marzipan shaped pig.

What you eat on Christmas Eve depends on where you live in Norway and what your own family chooses. Two of the most popular choices by far for dinner on Christmas eve are ribbe and pinnekjøtt. Although down in the south of Norway boiled cod is on the Christmas menu and up North, lutefisk is enjoyed. Popular sides include boiled potatoes, cranberry sauce, and sauerkraut. 

READ ALSO: How to celebrate Christmas like a Norwegian

Christmas markets during a pandemic

Christmas markets selling gifts, wool, and sausages are normally just finishing with their set up this time around the bigger cities in Norway. For a lot of residents, it is custom to visit these markets to soak up the atmosphere, enjoy a cup of warm gløgg (spiced mulled wine) and look for gifts.

This year, the markets will look a little different.

Oslo locals will be happy to hear that the twinkling lights and smell of burnt almonds will fill the air at the Jul i Vinterland Christmas market on the city's central famous Karl Johans gate this year, albeit at greatly reduced capacity with coronavirus measures in place.

A 90 percent reduction of the usual Christmas market will be effective in 2020, reports Aftenposten.

Although the popular ferris wheel will be coming back this year, are large number of other attractions will be absent. Visitors will have to register before entering the market and will be required to wash their hands on arrival. 

What is with all the stars in everyone's windows?

If you are living in Norway, you will have perhaps already noticed a star hanging up in a lot of windows around this time of year. The Advent star, also known as the Christmas star, was originally hung in the windows of residents in Norway to symbolise the star of Bethlehem, a tradition taken from Germany. While it may still be a religious symbol for some, a lot of residents choose to hang up a star in their windows to bring more light during the darkest time of the year. 

Useful Vocabulary

  • ribbe – one of Norway's most popular Christmas dishes. The full name is svineribbe and means pork ribs.
  • pinnekjøtt– lamb ribs. Also another favourite Christmas dish in the Norwegian culture. 
  • God Jul – Merry Christmas 
  • stjerne – star
  • pynte– decorate
  • gløgg– a warm drink often spiced with cinnamon and raisins. It can be served with or without alcohol. Popular alcoholic editions include red wine or brandy. 

 

 

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