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What you should know if you’re invited to a Norwegian ‘julebord’

Photos and glasses of wine.
What to expect if you are invited to a Norwegian julebord. Photo by Inga Seliverstova from Pexels
While the pandemic might prevent many companies in Norway from hosting a "julebord" this festive season, here's what you need to know about the traditional Norwegian Christmas gatherings just in case you get invited.

It is popular for most companies in Norway to host a julebord. It’s by no means is it mandatory to attend but you could consider joining if you have never been to one before just so you can check it off your ‘integration activities’ list.

The tradition of julebord

A julebord, or “Christmas table” is a traditional Norwegian gathering with your co-workers. The event typically includes dinner, drinks (lot’s of them), speeches, and dancing. If you’re an active member in your community, don’t be surprised if you are invited to three or four julebords a year. The festive gathering is not just hosted by employers. Clubs and organized sporting events will also hold a julebord for their members as well. 

Before the rise of vegetarianism and foreign foods became more popular in a Norwegian’s diet, the food at julebord was traditionally Norwegian Christmas food. Platters of salted lamb, or pinnekjøt, Christmas sausages, and crackling pork belly filled the buffet tables along with the traditional cranberry sauce and sauerkraut additions.  Norwegian Christmas food is still popular on the julebord menu. But so is most other cuisines from around the world. 

The tradition of the Christmas party may have wholesome roots. Though in modern day, the Julebord’s reputation has become a little bit more colored. Seeing as the Aquavit and spiked gløgg typically flow like water during the festive event, embarrassing oneself at a Christmas table is something many locals have shared reddened cheeks over. 

When and where does Julebord take place?

Don’t be surprised if your company’s Christmas table happens at the beginning of November or the end of January. Employers know how busy people are around the holidays. So they will often try to find and pick a date where the most people can show up. And oftentimes, this date happens outside the few  festive weeks leading up to Christmas in December.

A Christmas table can take place at your work, at a restaurant, at an employees home, in an event space, or even abroad. It really depends on the company’s budget for this traditional social gathering. 

Do all companies have a Julebord?

Last year, the government asked companies both in the private and public sector to cancel their Christmas table plans due to the threat of the Coronavirus. As the pandemic continues, there are likely a few who are choosing to hold off this year as well. 

Even before the current ongoing pandemic began, some employers chose to host a julelunsj or, “Christmas lunch” instead of a full fledged dinner with drinks and a party after.  The Christmas lunch usually takes place with normal work hours and is a less formal event. You’ve likely already heard if your office and colleagues are going to be celebrating with a julebord or julelunsj this year. If you haven’t, feel free to ask! Inquiring about a julebord is a completely normal question to ask around about while at work. 

Do I have to pay for the Christmas table?

This depends. If you work in one of the public sectors in Norway, you should expect to pay for your meal. Or at least a percentage of it. Companies in the private sector tend to be a little bit more generous and lavish with their Christmas tables a foot the bill. A julebord isn’t just a dinner. Some companies may combine this festive tradition with a weekend away abroad. Or with a cabin getaway for everyone at all levels working within the company. What you have to pay for is normally stated in the invitation beforehand. 

What should I wear?

Julebord attire is the exception to the Norwegian rule of casual dress. You may wear jeans and a tee at the office. But don’t expect to show up in that casual office wear at a Christmas table and not get a few stares. This is of course depending one where the event is hosted. Though typically, men wear ties or a nice suit jacket. And the women excitedly debut sparkly dresses and jewelry. 

The speeches

And speaking of more formality, it is quite common for the julebord to kick off with a more formal vibe. Before the booze starts to flow, there are typically a few speeches held during and right after the dinner portion of the evening. Traditional speeches include the herrenes tale, or “the men’s speech” when  the men give a toast to the women. And damenes tale, or “the ladies speech” when the women give a toast to the men. In addition, there is also the takk for maten tale, or “thanks for the food speech”. This is done by a previously elected member of the company.  They usually keep the speech short and sweet by talking a little bit about the food. And finish by giving a heartfelt thanks to the staff and whoever prepared the meal. 

When should I leave?

Leave when you would like! Though you might want to stay until after dessert is finished and the speeches are done to avoid being rude to the party’s planners. And remember, if you have enjoyed the sparkly cocktails and champagne at the party, make sure you have arranged for a safe way to get home. There is a zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving in Norway. And getting pulled over for a DUI  is one embarrassing julebord story that likely won’t get many laughs when shared at the office after the holidays. 


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