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Norwegian Christmas in the UK

Norwegian Christmas in the UK

Norwegian Christmas celebrations are of course based on the same religious message as everywhere else in the world. Nevertheless, Norway also has some particular ways to celebrate, including some die-hard traditions that go back to pre-Christian times.

There is a great focus on children at Christmas time. At the Christmas Eve church service, the children in the congregation are encouraged to come and sit around the altar. After church, the family gathers at home, where presents are opened and everyone links hands and walks around the tree, singing carols and Yuletide songs. And where else are the children actually visited by Father Christmas on Christmas Eve and sing for him before he leaves his sack of presents? They do also, of course, have to confirm that they have been good all  through the year!

One old tradition which is being revived is the habit of julebukk, a kind of trick-or-treat, where the children dress up in fancy costumes and knock on doors. They then have to perform a song or trick before being rewarded with sweets, cakes or biscuits.

At the end of the Christmas period, families, institutions and employers often arrange a children's Christmas Tree Party (juletrefest) where there is more singing and dancing round the tree and more presents. But after the 13th day of Christmas, then that's it, although in rural areas, Christmas is taken to last for a full 20 days!


Food

Norwegian Christmas fare still reflects age-old traditions at a latitude where fresh ingredients were rare in the middle of winter.  Meat and fish were usually preserved in some way - cured, salted or smoked; vegetables were either dried or pickled, or long-keeping such as cabbage and root vegetables.

On Christmas Eve a special meal is prepared. The dish can vary from one region to another, but is usually either roast side of pork with crackling or cured spareribs of mutton or lutefisk, a fish dish particular to Norway.

På låven sitter nissen med sin julegrøt - This popular Christmas tune describes how the nisse -  a strange mixture of Santa Claus and the gnome-like figure who protected farms - is enjoying his porridge (julegrøt) left out for him in the barn. Woe betide the farmer's wife who omitted to do this, as the nisse would then show his displeasure by destroying crops or animals. Nowadays, this old tradition lives on in the rice porridge served up with sugar and cinnamon, and eaten by Norwegians on Christmas Eve. The person who finds the blanched almond in his or her porridge wins a marzipan pig.


- and where to find it

Many Norwegians and friends of Norway wish to observe Norwegian Christmas traditions even abroad.  For many, there is no Christmas without ‘ribbe’ or aquavit. But where can you buy these and other Norwegian delicacies in London? Here are a few pointers:

For general Scandinavian food items - and Norwegian Christmas indispensables such as lutefisk, aquavit, cured lamb (pinnekjøtt, fenalår), goat's cheese and pickled herring - try this food shop in Central London:


The Scandinavian Kitchen

61 Great Titchfield St
London W1W 7PP
Tel./fax: +44 (0)20 7580 7161
www.scandikitchen.co.uk 

The Norwegian Church has a well-stocked food stall at its annual Christmas Fair in mid-November. Unsold items remain for sale as long as stocks last. Check with the Church beforehand on  020 7740 3900.


Norwegian ‘Ribbe’

(Middle Belly of Pork for ‘Norwegian Style Rib Roast’)
This is also available from the following butchers, who will take orders for Christmas:

In West London:
Macken Brothers Family Butcher (ask for Rodney)
44 Turnham Green Terrace, Chiswick, London W4
Tel. 020 8994 2646
Tube: Turnham Green
“Excellent family butcher that has largely been unaffected by our endless meat scares by only selling meat whose history is known; so the beef is grass-fed Aberdeen Angus, lamb is Wales' best, and the pork and veal free-range...”  – Gourmet Britain Magazine

In East London:
John Charles the Village Butcher (ask for Dave or Ken)
12 Blackheath Village, Blackheath, London SE3
Tel. 020 8852 0470

How to prepare and serve your 'ribbe': See gourmet recipe here.


Pickled herring
No herring, no Christmas. The three main favourites are plain Pickled Herring (sursild), Herring in tomato sauce and Herring in dill sauce. These and more are available at the Church Fair and Scandinavian Kitchen described above.


Geitost

Nor can Norwegians survive without their beloved brown goat's cheese. Many prefer the "Ekte Geitost", or pure goat's milk cheese, which is quite sharp with a delightful 'goaty' flavour.  Others prefer the milder version, which also contains cow's milk. The latter is exported from Norway under the name Ski Queen and is available from the Norwegian Church, Scandinavian Kitchen, specialist cheesemongers and supermarkets or from department stores such as Harrods Food Halls, Selfridges. 'Ekte' is usually available from the Norwegian Church and the Scandinavian Kitchen (see above).


Almond ring cakes (Kransekaker)

Mrs Aase Walker, tel. 020 8554 0763, takes private orders. The cakes cannot be sent by post but may be collected from the Norwegian church or by appointment from her home in Essex.
Prices: Whole cake, 18 rings: £25. Half cake, 9 rings: £15


Norwegian & Danish Aquavit (norsk og dansk akevit)
may be bought at the following London stores/off licences (check availability beforehand):

  • Fortnum & Mason
    Piccadilly, W1
  • Harrods Food Halls
    Brompton Road, SW5
  • Selfridges Food Halls
    Oxford Street, W1
  • Gerry’s Wines & Spirits
    74 Old Compton Street (Soho)
    Tel. 020 7734 2053
  • Scandinavian Kitchen
    www.scandikitchen.co.uk 
  • DMC
    3 Wansdown Place
    Fulham SW6 1DN
    Tel. 020 7385 1920


For a traditional Norwegian-style Christmas Buffet (julebord), try London's new Scandinavian restaurant:

Madsen Restaurant
20 Old Brompton Road
London SW7 3DL
020 7225 2772
www.madsenrestaurant.com
reservations@madsenrestaurant.com

 

Internet shops: Norwegian food can also be bought over the internet from www.norskmat.no. Norwegian household goods, gift articles and food from www.norwayabroad.com.




Photo: Thomas Skyum / IN

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Baking gingerbread men and other Christmas biscuits


Preparing for Christmas with the childrenPhoto: Thomas Skyum / IN

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