Here's a quick glimpse at what Christmas looks like in Norway.
In Norway, where the days get short (or, far enough north, nonexistent) and the nights get cold, the cheer and joy of the Christmas season are much appreciated. Perhaps that's why the spirit of Christmas is so strong there, and why the celebrations start early in December and last all the way until mid-January. Whatever the reason, this time of year is absolutely beautiful there. Here's a quick glimpse at what Christmas looks like in Norway:
If you want to greet someone during the holidays in Norway, say "God Jul" or "Gledelig Jul." You don't need to spend much time in a Norwegian town to learn these phrases, however - they're used to decorate houses, shops and signs throughout all kinds of public spaces. Of course, you can wish someone a God Jul without actually saying a thing - like in the U.S., Norway has a strong tradition of giving and receiving Christmas cards.
Norwegians like to celebrate the holidays with food - and plenty of it. The two most popular Christmas dishes are roasted pork belly and salted, dried lamb ribs. The pork belly dish, called Ribbe, is more popular in the eastern parts of Norway. It's usually served alongside boiled potatoes, sauerkraut, meatballs and sausages. Along Norway's west coast, Pinnekjott, the lamb ribs, are a bit more popular - although the side dishes are fairly similar.
Of course, savory isn't the only flavor at the Christmas table. One traditional dessert in Norway is multekrem, which is made of whipped cream and cloudberries. These berries are a Norwegian delicacy. They're incredibly rare: They can only be found in the Arctic Circle, and even there they're hardly plentiful. Nearly impossible to grow, cloudberries are found in the wild and picked by hand. Along with the cloudberry cream, Norwegian Christmas also features a variety of biscuits, gingerbread being the quintessential Norwegian treat.
The Christmas season starts early in December. Throughout the season, some Norwegian children go caroling. Dressed as figures from the Christmas story, they visit their neighbors and community singing carols and spreading cheer.
Things really get going on Dec. 23. This is known as "Little Christmas Eve" This is when families prepare for Christmas by decorating the house, making biscuits and listening to holiday music. Often on the 23rd, families will eat a sweet rice pudding with an almond hidden inside. Whoever finds the almond wins a marzipan pig.
Christmas officially begins at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve, at which point restaurants and shops close, and families join together for their Christmas dinner. At this point, presents are ready to go under the tree - some of them having already been delivered by Santa, or, as he's known in Norway, Julenissen. After dinner, families exchange their presents and read the cards they've received this season.
In parts of Norway, people light a candle each night from Christmas to New Year's. These days are also spent having brunches and dinners with friends and family, and celebrating together as the year comes to a close.
When you're out and about in Norway during December, there's a good chance you'll recognize plenty of the music you hear. Shops and restaurants tend to play American Christmas music over the speakers: You're almost as likely to hear Mariah Carey in Trondheim as you are to hear it right at home. Religious Christmas music is very similar, as well - classic songs like, "O Holy Night," are simply translated.
That's not to say that Norway doesn't have its own Christmas music, however. One of the most popular and well-known holiday songs in Norway is "Musevisa." This song tells the story of a mouse family preparing for and celebrating Christmas.
When Norwegians decorate their homes, they bring the spirit of their country into the holiday decorations. One of the most common pieces of Norwegian decoration you probably won't see back in the states is plenty of gnomes. In Norwegian culture, gnomes - called nisse - are diminutive creatures that live in and around homes. When the Christmas tradition came to Norway, these gnomes took on the role of gift-givers. That's right - in Norway, Santa is a gnome. With the red hat, coat and fluffy beard, it's hardly an aesthetic stretch.
Most homes in Norway have a Christmas tree this time of year. Norwegians tend to use live trees, since they make the house smell nice and bring an air of nature indoors. Norwegians also decorate with stars, hearts, wreathes and candles. Norway's position so far North means that the country receives little light this time of year - the symbolism of candles and lights has an extra layer of significance in and around the Arctic Circle.