Jul (Norway)

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1846 painting

Jul or jol is the term used for the Christmas holiday season in Scandinavia and parts of Scotland. Originally, “jul” was the name of a month in the old Germanic calendar. The concept of “jul” was a period of time rather than a specific event prevailing in Scandinavia. In modern times, "Jul" is a general time stretching from mid-November to mid-January, with Christmas and the week up to New Year as the highlight.

The term "Jul" is common throughout Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Greenland, Denmark, Scotland and the Faroe Islands.

Whereas the start of “jul” proper is announced by the chiming of church bells throughout the country in the afternoon of 24 December, it is more accurate to describe the season as an eight week event. It consists of five phases: Advent, Julaften, Romjul, Nyttår, and The End of Christmas, very often with Epiphany, the thirteenth day of Christmas, as the final day of the season. From the original beginning on Christmas Day, the custom of Julebord has spread to the entire season and beyond, often beginning well in advance of December.

The modern day celebration is largely based on the Church year and has retained several pre-Reformation and pre-Christian elements.

The central event in Scandinavia is Christmas Eve (julaften), when the main Christmas meal is served and gifts are exchanged. This might be due to the old Germanic custom of counting time in nights, not days (e.g. "forthnight"), as it holds for other holidays like Midsummer Eve (Jonsok, lit. "Wake of St. John") and St. Olavs Mass (Olsok, lit. "Wake of St. Olav"), with the main celebration on the eve of the official Church day.

Norse roots[edit]

The month of Jul
Year From To
2012 13. November 13. December
2013 3. November 3. December
2014 22. November 22. December
2015 11. November 11. December

"Jul" or "Jol" are cognates of Norse "Jòlnir" or "Ýlir", which are alternate names of Odin, although the root itself is debated. It was the second moon (from new moon to new moon) of the winter half of the year – roughly from the new moon of November to the new moon of December. At this time, the animals for slaughter were the fattest, flour had been processed, all the work of autumn was completed, and it was time to celebrate.

The time of celebration has varied, though written sources, such as the legislation of Gulating, it was mandatory for farmers to have a beer drinking party with at least three farmers attending. If a farmer was so far away from his neighbours that this was difficult, he still had to brew as much beer as if he had been taking part of such a party. The beer should be ready by November 1.

By the wording of the legislation, there are two celebrations where beer drinking was mandatory. The first was a form of thanksgiving (where at least three farmers attended), while the second was a smaller party for the family.


Common Customs[edit]

As usual in the western world, Christmas features Christmas Dinner, decorated Christmas trees and the exchange of gifts. Gifts are brought by "Julenissen" ("Christmas Hob" or "The Christmas Wight", who today appears identical to Santa Claus). REmnants of customs from the older agrarian society include decoration with boughs of green from spruce or fir, e.g. on the doormat, and a sheaf of corn hung outside.

Food[edit]

On Christmas Eve, traditional dishes are served varying regionally in cuisine and accessibility.

In Northern and Western Norway, pinnekjøtt (steamed, salted and dried, and some places also smoked, ribs of mutton) is the more common dish, whereas lutefisk and cod are popular in Southern Norway. In Eastern Norway, pork rib roast is common, usually served with medisterkaker and medisterpølser (dumplings and sausages made of minced pork meat). Turkey has recently made its way into the variety of cuisines enjoyed during Jul.

Other traditional foods are eaten at Første Juledags Frokost, or Julebord, a Christmas Day Luncheon where the household serves all available delicacies in a grand buffet. One mightserve several kinds of meat (ham, fenalaar (ham of lamb), cooked cured leg of lamb, pickled pigs' trotters, head cheese, mutton roll, pork roll, ox tongue, morrpølse ...) several kinds of fish (Smoked salmon, Gravlaks, fermented trout (rakfisk), a range of pickled hering recipes (bismarck hering, tomato hering, etc.) etc.). There will be a range of cheese, and various types of jam. After the meal, one serves seven kinds (sju slag) of pastry; in 2011 this custom was at risk due to a butter production shortfall, leading to the so-called "Butter Crisis" of that year. Although tradition prescribes seven kinds of julebakst, pastries and coffee bread associated with Christmas, there is no authoritative list, and there are great variations. Gingerbread and gingerbread houses are commonly decorated with sugar frosting. In some instances, ginger bread cookies are used for decorating windows as well as the Christmas tree.

Porridge was the staple of Norwegian cuisine. At e.g. Christmas, one might serve finer varieties than the everyday oatmeal or barley cooked with sour milk. Christmas porridge was often rømmegrøt, made from sour cream thickened with wheat flour.

Eating the finest kind, rice porridge, on Christmas Eve itself, is a widespread custom. A single almond, scalded of its skin to leave it white, is slipped into the risengrynsgrøt, and whoever gets the almond wins a prize. The prize is usually a marzipan pig, or chocolate or candy. According to tradition, a single bowl of porridge is left for nissen, the Norwegian equivalent of a guardian spirit. Similar to gnomes in appearance, they were associated with the farmstead, and often fulfill some of the functions of Santa Claus in English speaking countries.

Brewing is closely associated with the preparations for jul, and most Norwegian breweries release a traditional Christmas beer, which is darker, stronger and more flavorful than the common Norwegian lagers. Breweries also produce a special soda, known as julebrus. Aquavit is also a common digestif to accompany the heavy, often fatty meals.


Phases of Jul[edit]

Julebord[edit]

The labour intensive tradition of serving Julebord at home on Christmas Day is vanishing, and this custom has moved out of private life to become a corporate social gathering, a end of the year bonus party, usually at a reataurant or a rented facility with ordered catering. The period of Julebord begins in November and overlaps the beginning of Advent. During this period, parties similar to the communal parties prescribed in Gulating take place. As times have changed since 1000 AD, there is typically one party for every employer and other organizations that one might be a member of, as well as large corporations inviting its large clients, and non-alcoholic parties at schools and kindergartens.

It is typical that employers only invite the employees, not their families.

Advent[edit]

Advent starts with the fourth Sunday before Christmas. See also the separate article on Advent

December 1 to 24, it is common for children to have their own Advent calendar which contain one small gift for each day leading up to Christmas. Typically it contains sweets like chocolate, small toys or in later years Legos encouraging building of a small piece of a larger Lego-construction throughout the calendar.

Little Christmas[edit]

December 23 also has special status as "Little Christmas Eve". Many use this day to decorate the Christmas Tree if they have not already done so. Some allow children to open one little present as a teaser for the day to come.

Julaften[edit]

Christmas Eve. On Julaften, many families gather around the TV in the morning to watch the Czech movie "Three Wishes for Cinderella" (narrated by a voiceover in Norwegian by Knut Risan), followed by "Reisen til Julestjernen" (1976) and a Disney Christmas special. Some children get a Christmas stocking with candy when they wake up. Often, the parents use this time to prepare the Christmas dinner. Many families go to church before dinner, even many who never go to church otherwise. It is common to eat rice porridge for lunch, and dinner is usually at 5 pm, when the church bells ring to symbolize the beginning of the main holiday. It's called "ringe julen inn", ringing in Christmas". After dinner and dessert (often leftover rice porridge mixed with whipped cream, called riskrem, served with a red berry sauce), the gifts are opened.

Romjul[edit]

Romjul is the week between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, known in English as the 'Interscotia'. All hunting, but not fishing, is prohibited on these days; during "Julefred" ("Christmas Peace") there is closed season on all wild animals.

First and Second Day of Christmas (December 25 and 26) are holidays, and all businesses are closed.

December 25 is usually considered a very private holiday, when one sees only family. December 26, it is fairly common to invite close friends over to help eat up what is left of the food from Christmas Eve.

Julebukk[edit]

An old tradition, perhaps with reference to the Wild Hunt, is for children to dress up and pay visits to neighbors, receiving candy, nuts and clementines in return for singing Christmas carols. Traditions vary throughout the country: in some places, children do this between Julaften and New Year's Eve, and in other places, only on New Year's Eve. Sometimes adults also dress up as well but instead of receiving treats, they are given a snaps.

Nyttår[edit]

December 31 is commonly a half day at work. In the evening, families tend to have a dinner party similar to the Christmas Eve dinner, though it is common to invite friends and/or neighbours. As midnight approaches, it is common to leave the house and light up fireworks together with neighbours, as they congratulate each other.

End of Christmas[edit]

The exact date that ends Jul may vary. A very common date is the 13th day of Christmas, Epiphany, ot the Mass of St. Knut, January 7.; another is the old "gisladag" or "Tjuendedag", the twentieth day, January 13.. This day, or at the very last at Candlemas, February 2., the tree must leave the house and Christmas decorations must be removed.

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