Christmas is all about customs, family and food. Every nation, or often every family, has its own tradition when it comes to celebrating Christmas. In Fjord Norway, too, you will find different customs, many of which are very tasty. This year may be different for many due to the Covid, but as long as the restrictions allow it, people in Fjord Norway are ready to embrace the Christmas spirit indifferent, and often very tasty, kinds of ways.
The world’s largest gingerbread town
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, it has become very popular to bake gingerbread cookies. Not only for eating, though. Many build miniature houses and buildings to decorate their homes. In fact, in recent years it has become so popular that several places invite local families, kindergartens, schools and companies to contribute with gingerbread creations to build whole gingerbread towns. The largest gingerbread town in the world can be found in Bergen. Every year the so-called ‘Pepperkakebyen’ opens at the end of November and lasts until the end of December.
In Stavanger, the regional newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad invites locals to donate gingerbread houses to build a gingerbread town that is exhibited at the Norwegian Petroleum Museum. Every year, the gingerbread towns seem to be getting bigger and bigger since more and more people are happy to contribute to the final magical result.
This year, due to Corona restrictions, the Bergen Gingerbread Town had to postpone the opening, which was planned for 14th November. At the moment they are hoping to open it as soon as the corona restrictions allow it. The gingerbread town in Stavanger opened on 28th November.
Baking traditions: ‘De 7 slag’ and lefse
Baking is one of the most popular activities leading up to Christmas in Norway. Fjord Norway has a long tradition of baking ‘lefse’ (a soft flatbread) and all types of Christmas cookies. Especially in the region of Sunnmøre around Ålesund, it is a custom to bake lefse in the family. In fact, often every family has their own recipe. In addition, they like to serve it with a special sweet sauce called “søst” which is made of caramelized milk spiced with cinnamon, cardamom and lots of raisins.
There are many different local variations of lefse. While most know the sweet lefse filled with butter, cinnamon and sugar and eat it to a cup of coffee, there are other regions in Fjord Norway, like Gloppen in Nordfjord, where it is popular to have lefse at dinner, for example as fishlefse with cod or cusk.
When it comes to Christmas cookies it is also very common in Norway to bake ‘de 7 slag’ which means ‘seven kinds’ of Christmas cookies. Which types of cookies that have to be, depends on the person you ask. The most popular among the seven types are Krumkaker, Berlinerkrans, Sirupsnipper, Sandkaker, Goro, Smultringer and Fattigman.
The brewing of Christmas beer in Norway is a very old tradition that can be traced back to pre-Christian times. The food we eat on Christmas is salty and has a lot of fat, hence, it needs to be accompanied by a strong and full-bodied beer with lots of flavours.
The typical Christmas beer, or ‘juleøl’, therefore is a dark, rich and strong ale and it is brewed by almost every brewery throughout Norway. It often also has a higher alcohol percentage. In ancient times it was required by law that every farm brewed their own ale, this beer was the dominant drink both in everyday life and during festivities.
For that reason, it is not surprising that even today you can find almost 300 different kinds of Christmas beers available in stores all over Norway. Nowadays, the breweries offer a great variety of different kinds of Christmas beers and the breweries in Western Norway usually get very creative both with the type of beer and the names. For example, the local brewery Kinn in Florø at the Fjord Coast offers this year seven different Christmas beers from dark lager and Scottish Ale to Farmhouse Ale with names like ‘Advent’, ‘Vintervarmar’ (Winter Warmer) and ‘Julefred’ (Christmas peace).
The brewery 7Fjell in Bergen also offers seven different types of juleøl from IPA to black Christmas Ale and Stout, and the beers have names like ‘Scrooge’, ‘Silent Night’ or ‘No hugs for Christmas.’
From the Vikings ‘jól’ to our modern-day ‘jul
Most people associate Christmas with the birth of Jesus, but before Christianity came to Norway the Vikings celebrated the heathen festival ‘jól.’ It is difficult to say when the Vikings celebrated Christmas exactly, but scientists assume that it happened when the sun ‘disappeared.’
It usually lasted a whole month, from the middle of December until the middle of January, when the sun ‘re-appeared’ again. According to the Old Norse calendar, this period was also called Mörsugur, which translated means ‘lard-sucker,’ the month to ‘suck fat.’ The tradition to eat strong, fat food at this time is a custom we still can find in Norway today.
While the Vikings preferred to eat pork, which was of great importance according to Norse mythology, the most common Christmas dinner in Western Norway today is ‘pinnekjøtt – salted, dried mutton ribs. In fact, one-third of all Norwegians eat pinnekjøtt for Christmas. To make really good pinnekjøtt, the pieces first have to be diluted. This way the meat regains its natural fluid balance and the salt is extracted for a great taste. Then the chops are steamed for several hours to be tender and juicy. Pinnekjøtt is traditionally served with potatoes, mashed turnips and broth.