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Lillejulaften

"Lillejulaften" literally means "Little Christmas Eve", and is the Norwegian word for the day before Christmas Eve. For many people, lillejulaften is the last day of work before Christmas, and it is also the day when most of the Christmas decorating is done. For example I believe it is very common to set up and decorate the Christmas tree on lillejulaften. At least this is the case in my family.

The Norwegian way of decorating the Christmas tree is a topic that deserves a bit of attention. For example, it is very common to have Norwegian flags on the tree. I don't know why we do this, though this tradition is mentioned in a song written by a guy who lived from 1841 to 1925, so my guess would be that it was simply a patriotism thing because we were a young nation at the time.

Du grønne glitrende tre, goddag!
Velkommen, du som vi ser så gjerne,
med julelys og med norske flagg
og høyt i toppen den blanke stjerne!
Ja den må skinne,
for den skal minne
oss om vår Gud.


English, translation by me:

Green glittering tree, hello!
Welcome to you whom we see so gladly,
with Christmas lights and Norwegian flags
and high at the top the shiny star!
Yes it must shine,
for it shall remind,
us of our God.


Luckily, no one talks much about that any more, otherwise we might have ended up like this.

If you eat pinnekjøtt for Christmas dinner, you also have to start preparing the food on lillejulaften, as the meat needs to be watered for 24 hours, and if you eat fresh cod, you are possibly out fishing. If you eat lutefisk or svineribbe, lillejulaften has no special meaning, as you started preparing the food a week ago (or six months) in the case of lutefisk, or you won't start until tomorrow in the case of svineribbe.

Interestingly, the classic black-and-white recording of the sketch "Dinner for One" is always (every year since 1980) shown on Norwegian television on lillejulaften, whereas in many other countries, it is shown on New Year's Eve. By the way, the sketch (or at least this particular recording) is known as "Grevinnen og hovmesteren" ("The duchess and the butler") in Norwegian. It is usually shown around nine in the evening, as part of a mixed talk-show/entertainment-something, and for some people watching Grevinnen og hovmesteren and decorating the Christmas tree, possibly with some gløgg is the true beginning of Christmas. According to NRK, in 1992 the sketch was shown twice, because they accidentally sent it 15 minutes early, which led so many people to phone them up with complaints that they were forced to send it again later in the evening.

-Tor Nordam

Comments

Anders K.,  27.12.10 19:41

New research (or, actually, just a quick look in Lundes sang- og salmeleksikon) shows that the rather silly tune Green, glittering tree, hello! first appeared in Johan Krohn's children's book Peter's Christmas in 1866. Since Krohn was Danish, the original text has Danish flags.

Most sources do not agree who wrote the melody, C. E. F. Weyse or Edvard Grieg. Weyse, however, died 24 years before the text was written. According to the book Brev til Frants Beyer, Grieg wrote the melody in July 1894 after observing it in Nordahl Rolfsens lesebok. I'll need more time to find out when it was first printed there, but at least we know that flags were common on Christmas trees in Denmark as early as 1866 and in Norway not much later. The only thing I'm not sure of is why I'm writing this in English.