The History of the Norwegian Christmas

The History of the Norwegian Christmas image by Rotorhead: Stock.xchng

Overview

The Norwegian Christmas is known as "Jul." It is a holiday similar to those of other predominantly Christian nations, but has experienced a long history of evolution to reach the form it takes today.

Significance

Yule---from which "Jul" (the Norwegian word for "Christmas") derives---was originally a pagan festival celebrated some time between mid December and mid January by the Germanic people. It was a time of drinking and celebrating fertility, the harvest, birth, and death.

Time Frame

The first record of Jul festivities in Norway can be found in "Ynglinga Saga," the first book of the Old Norse kings' saga, "Heimskingla," written by Icelandic poet and historian Snorri Sturluson. Nigel Pennick and Prudence Jones note that "Heimskingla" mentions a Jul feast in Norway as early as the year 840. "Heimskingla" describes the Jul festivities: Livestock were sacrificed and their blood smeared on the pedestals of the idols; there was feasting on the meat of the animals; and fires were lit and toasts were made to the Norse gods. King Haakon I of Norway, also known as Haakon the Good, is recognized as initiating efforts to convert Norway to Christianity. King Haakon I ruled Norway from 934 to 961---and it was during this time that he fixed the date of Jul to December 25, in order to align the festival with the birth date of Christ.

Features

Christmas in modern Norway is celebrated on December 24 and is a festival that has evolved to reflect both Christian and pagan customs. The feasting remains, but today dishes include mutton, fish, sauerkraut, and potatoes. Usually a rice pudding containing one almond is served and whoever gets the almond in their serving wins a "mandelgave," a small prize. The Norwegian "Julenisse" is similar to Santa Claus, but as stavanger-web.com points out, the "nisser" (elves) had existed in Norway long before the birth of Christ. One custom from ancient times, and adapted by other countries, is that of the Yule log. History.com states that the ancient Norse, in their celebration of winter solstice, used the Yule log, and credits the Norse Yule log as the source of the traditional fireplace scene in Christmas imagery.

Effects

As Norwegian customs have influenced other countries, so have other countries influenced Norwegian customs. The tree, for example, is a central part in Norwegian Christmas celebrations. History.com explains that on December 24, the tree is decorated and the ritual of "circling the tree" is performed, in which families hold hands and form a ring around the tree, singing carols as they circle it. However, it was not until the late 19th century that the Christmas tree was introduced from Germany.

Geography

In the 19th and 20th centuries, hundreds of thousands of Norwegians immigrated to the United States and Canada. The main settlements were in the Midwest and Pacific regions of the United States. Kathleen Stocker observed that immigrants discovered a more commercial approach to Christmas in the United States---and that the traditional customs of the Norwegian immigrants mixed with the American approach in a "powerful homogenizing force," which kept the Norwegian Christmas' history of continual evolution.

Keywords: history of the norwegian christmas, christmas in norway, traditional norwegian christmas

About this Author

Annie Page was first published in the Buenos Aires Herald in 2001. She has been freelance writing since early 2009 and currently lives in Hawaii. Page has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish and philosophy and a Master of Arts degree in comparative literature from University College London.

Photo by: Rotorhead: Stock.xchng

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