Christmas Around the Globe: Leave a Bowl of Porridge for Norways Nisser


It’s getting colder, the days are shorter and all people want is to stay cosy and indoors. JustFocus takes you to our next county in our “Christmas Around the Globe” series: Norway!

Norwegian Jul Myth:

Ever heard of gremlins stealing your socks? Well, Norway has its own brand of mischievous magic beings: the Nisser. They are little gnomes native to the Nordic region. These cheeky magical beings live in the barn or farmhouse. They are said to be the guardians of the home and its protector. However, depending on how people treat them, the Nisser can be helpful and kind or cruel and play tricks. Some even were known to kill livestock if they were angered.

“Some families leave a bowl of rice porridge on their doorstep for the Nisser” explains Runa (24). This helps keep them happy and to avoid any tricks on Julaften (Christmas Eve).

Nisser couple
Nisser decorations

The Nisser are also said to be the ones to bring gifts to children during Christmas Eve. In fact, Santa, Julnisse, is a Nissen himself! So children better behave! The Julnisse are often represented with another creature: the Julbukk (Yule Goat). The goat has origins in Norse mythology. It was said that two goats would pull Thor’s chariot in the sky. Originally, the Julbukk would deliver the gifts to the children. Nowadays, it is the Julnisse who knocks at the door to hand out gifts. As a thank you, children sing songs for him.

Norwegian Traditions:

Christmas in Norway is known as Jul or Yule. Rooted in Norse pagan traditions, Jultide was a time of celebration, feasting, and drinking. In pre-Christian times, the Norwegians would celebrate Jultide as a way to mark the end of the autumn work. However, with the Christianization of the country and the evolution of times, some pagan traditions evolved with newer ones.

December 23rd is known as Lille Julaften or Little Christmas Eve. During that time, families stay home together to clean and decorate their house and Christmas tree. Though some Norwegian families are starting to decorate earlier. Some decorations include paper ornaments, a straw Julbukk, gingerbread houses, and the Norwegian flag.

131928199 210749810608882 4845146179519384523 n scaled Christmas Around the Globe: Leave a Bowl of Porridge for Norways Nisser
Julbukk decoration

A few Norwegian Jul traditions involve porridge. One of them involved peeling an almond and putting it in a bowl of porridge. The person who finds the almond in their bowl wins a gift, usually a marzipan pig.

On the 24th of December, church bells ring and some families go to church. Another important tradition is to remember lost loved ones. “On Christmas Eve, we go to the graveyards to light candles for our loved ones. It is so beautiful at night, it’s like a sea of stars,” Runa says.

Other Norwegian traditions include walking around the Christmas tree whilst singing julsangs (Christmas songs). One of these songs is called På låven sitter Nissen (The elf sits in the barn).

Between the 25th and the 31st of December, it is not uncommon for children to go Julbukking. This Norwegian variant of trick or treating has children dressing up, go singing from door to door in exchange for candy. Think of it as carolling for candy.

Finally, the Norwegians also watch old Christmas movies such as “Three Gifts for Cinderella” or “Dinner for One”.

Norwegian Jul Food:

During the Christmas period, the Norwegians prepare a massive feast called a ‘Julebord‘. One of the staples of a Julebord is a rice pudding known as ‘risengrynsgrøt‘. Made from rice, sugar, milk, butter, and cinnamon, this hearty pudding is very popular amongst the Nordics. Today, the Julebord is mostly a work Christmas party between colleagues.

Depending on the region of Norway a person is from, the main course of the Christmas meal will differ. In the Northern regions, Lutefisk (cod) is served with boiled potatoes, bacon, and pea purées. Whereas in the West Pinnekjøtt (lamb) is served with a Kälrot (rutabaga) purée and a thin wafer called Lefse. In the East, Ribbe (pork ribs) is the meat of choice accompanied by cabbage and potatoes. Today though, families can mix and match.

Runa adds, “in my family, my mother is from the East and my father is from the West of Norway. We serve lamb at Christmas because my parents prefer it.” Other foods can include hotdogs, meatballs, or different types of meats, depending on the families.

Drinks that accompany the season include a liquor known as Aquavit. Some other popular drinks would be Christmas beers, mulled wine, and Christmas sodas for those who do not drink alcohol.

Lutefisk Vines Christmas Around the Globe: Leave a Bowl of Porridge for Norways Nisser
Jarvin Jarle Vines, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons: Norwegian Lutefisk

Now you know how the Norwegians celebrate Jul! Next time you are there, decorate your home with Nisser, do not forget to leave them a bowl of risengrynsgrøt, grab your DVD of “Dinner for One” and have a great time! 

God Jul!