Jul or jol is the term used for the Christmas holiday season in Scandinavia and 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 six phases: Julebord, 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 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.
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"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.
On Christmas Eve, traditional dishes are served varying regionally in cuisine and accessibility.
In Northern and Western Norway, pinnekjøtt (steamed, salted and dried 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.
Other less popular traditional foods exist as well, such as smalahove (mutton head)(predominantly in Voss, rakfisk, morrpølse, 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.
Eating porridge, once the staple of Norwegian cuisine, with a single almond in it, is a widespread custom, and whomever 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 is often fulfills 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.
Tradition prescribes seven kinds of julekaker, pastries and coffee bread associated with Christmas. However, no authoritative list exists, 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.
Phases of Jul
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The period of Julebord begins in November and overlaps the beginning of Advent. During this period, parties similar to the communal parties dictated 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.
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.
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.
Christmas Eve (stub)
Romjul is the week between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.
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.
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.
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.
The exact date that ends Jul may vary. The most common date is the 13th day of Christmas. At this day, the tree must leave the house and Christmas decorations are removed.
- Celebrations in Norway by Bente Gullveig Alver and Ann Helene Bolstad Skjelbred - Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Mål vekt tid - Arild Hauge