"Julaften" literally means "Christmas evening", and is of course the Norwegian word for Christmas Eve. Julaften is the main event in a Norwegian Christmas celebration, while Christmas Day is a more boring day where nothing really happens. Even so, Julaften isn't technically a holiday, so some people still have to work, although most people who work finish at noon, and some (people who work in grocery stores, for example) people finish around two. Even gas stations, which are open 24 hours a day the rest of the year, will close for some hours around dinner time on julaften. There is of course also the people who work in the emergency services.
Common activities early in the day on julaften includes watching tv and reading julehefter
. It is also fairly common to eat risengrynsgrøt with almond
. Some people also go to church on julaften (23% of the population, according to this article
), and that service is usually held in the early afternoon. A lot of people will go to church on julaften even though they don't normally do so, because "it's tradition", and something they did when they grew up.
At five o'clock in the afternoon, the churches ring their bells to mark the beginning of Christmas. This is called "å ringe julen inn" ("To ring Christmas in"). Also at five o' clock, the boy's choir "Sølvguttene" ("The silver boys") "synger julen inn" ("Sings Christmas in", it basically means they sing some Christmas songs) on TV. Personally, I don't think I ever watched this, but for a lot of people, this is somthing they must do before dinner.
It is then time for dinner. As I've mentioned earlier, "julemiddagen" ("The Christmas dinner") takes place on julaften, and most Norwegians will eat the same dish for Christmas year after year. After dinner, there is dessert, with riskrem
being a popular choice. In my family, we always have pinnekjøtt
for dinner, and cloudberries with whipped cream for dessert.
With dinner and dessert done, it is time to open presents. The wrapped presents are always placed under the Christmas tree, but the opening can happen in different ways. In some families, one person (usually the youngest person able to behave coherently) will hand out one gift, which will be opened by the recipient, with everyone else watching and commenting upon the gift. In other families, all the gifts will be distributed, after which everyone rips open their own gifts. To me, this seems a bit weird, but I suppose it might be a good idea in some cases, as opening all the presents one by one can take quite some time if there are many people present.
After the opening of presents, the official Christmas programme is finished. The rest of the evening is usually spent eating cookies, leftovers of dessert, drinking coffe and/or cognac or other nice things, and generally being social. Personally, I've also had the tradition for the last twelve years or so of going for a short walk with friends after midnight, at least if the weather is good. This year, the weather is almost sickeningly perfect, so I'm looking forward to an excellent evening.