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How Norway’s Christmas traditions could be affected by Covid-19 pandemic

How are Norway's beloved Christmas customs likely to be affected by Covid-19?

Health authority guidelines currently advise that private arrangements have no more than five guests in addition to household members. 
Local restrictions, in their current form, would also be likely to affect many people’s Christmas plans.
In Oslo, gatherings in private homes can be attended by up to ten people if infection control measures are complied with. A maximum of five people were until recently allowed in private homes in Bergen, with exceptions for homes where more than five people live, and where children have guests from their regular school or childcare cohorts. The city recently eased that restriction slightly, allowing household with at least four people to have up to two visitors from outside the household.
“If we are able to lower the cases of infection, then we can be more relaxed,” health minister Bent Høie told VG last month.
“But it’s very important that people don’t have to start their Christmas with a loved one in the hospital,” he added. “That, we do not want.” 
The government has promised that current measures will be reviewed before Christmas. As the holiday nears, residents of Norway eagerly await the government’s new Covid-19 guidelines for December, and are keeping their fingers crossed that they will be able to celebrate a traditional Norwegian Christmas. 
Here is a little of what those traditions entail. 

The history behind the holiday

Depending on which country you are from, the day on which you eat the traditional meal and open gifts will vary. In Norway, the highest time of the holiday is on the eve of the 24th of December.

Norway first began to celebrate Christmas in the first millennium CE, after Christianity was first introduced into the country. The established Roman custom was to celebrate Jesus’s birthday on the 25th, so this was adopted by Norway.

Christmas celebrations in Norway are a mixture of old pre-Christian traditions, Christian traditions, and modern consumer-oriented habits that are driven by advertising, as Roald E. Kristiansen, a historian of religion and professor at the Arctic University of Norway, explains on the university’s website

The tradition of having a Christmas tree inside is relatively new in Norway, although it does supply the tree for Trafalgar Square’s decorations each year.

The tradition of having a tree inside began in Europe at the end of the 1800’s. In the past, the Christmas tree was decorated with dried fruits, cakes, and candles. Now they are traditionally decorated in Norway with lights and ornaments and with a star on top. 

The Christmas table 

Companies are traditionally known to throw a julebord, or Christmas table, for their employees during the holiday months.

Unlike in other countries, it is not common for an employee’s partner to be invited to the company’s Christmas table. It is a popular belief that the party tends to be largely fueled by alcohol, and at least one coworker or boss will end up embarrassing themselves.

This year, the government has strongly urged against celebrating. Although Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the beginning of October encouraged backed julebord for staff, Oslo’s city government has, advised businesses not to go ahead with their traditional Christmas parties. Current restrictions in the city would make gatherings practically impossible.

Gifts and shopping

Like in many other countries, stores are extra full of shoppers during the month of December around Norway.

This year guidelines have been issued for holiday shopping. The Norwegian health authority NIPH, has made recommendations including trying to spread out shopping times to avoid congestion; regular hand washing; and avoiding public transportation wherever possible.

READ ALSO: These are Norway’s Covid-19 guidelines for Christmas shoppers

Seasonal food and drink

Marzipan is a popular treat during the entire month of December. The almond- tasting sweet is sold in most stores, made into well-known holiday figurines, and is a popular gift to give and receive.

Julebrus, or Christmas soda, is sold during the holiday season throughout Norway. It is traditional for different areas around Norway to have their own recipe. It is also common to hear a friendly debate between locals claiming that the Christmas soda from the region they grew up in is the best of them all. 


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It is a popular custom to hide an almond in a bowl of rice cream after a holiday meal. Everyone is responsible for dishing out their own serving of the desert, and the person who ends up with the almond in their bowl wins a marzipan shaped pig.

What you eat on Christmas Eve depends on where you live in Norway and what your own family chooses. Two of the most popular choices by far for dinner on Christmas eve are ribbe and pinnekjøtt. Although down in the south of Norway boiled cod is on the Christmas menu and up North, lutefisk is enjoyed. Popular sides include boiled potatoes, cranberry sauce, and sauerkraut. 

READ ALSO: How to celebrate Christmas like a Norwegian

Christmas markets during a pandemic

Christmas markets selling gifts, wool, and sausages are normally just finishing with their set up this time around the bigger cities in Norway. For a lot of residents, it is custom to visit these markets to soak up the atmosphere, enjoy a cup of warm gløgg (spiced mulled wine) and look for gifts.

This year, the markets will look a little different.

Oslo locals will be happy to hear that the twinkling lights and smell of burnt almonds will fill the air at the Jul i Vinterland Christmas market on the city’s central famous Karl Johans gate this year, albeit at greatly reduced capacity with coronavirus measures in place.

A 90 percent reduction of the usual Christmas market will be effective in 2020, reports Aftenposten.

Although the popular ferris wheel will be coming back this year, are large number of other attractions will be absent. Visitors will have to register before entering the market and will be required to wash their hands on arrival. 

What is with all the stars in everyone’s windows?

If you are living in Norway, you will have perhaps already noticed a star hanging up in a lot of windows around this time of year. The Advent star, also known as the Christmas star, was originally hung in the windows of residents in Norway to symbolise the star of Bethlehem, a tradition taken from Germany. While it may still be a religious symbol for some, a lot of residents choose to hang up a star in their windows to bring more light during the darkest time of the year. 

Useful Vocabulary

  • ribbe – one of Norway’s most popular Christmas dishes. The full name is svineribbe and means pork ribs.
  • pinnekjøtt– lamb ribs. Also another favourite Christmas dish in the Norwegian culture. 
  • God Jul – Merry Christmas 
  • stjerne – star
  • pynte– decorate
  • gløgg– a warm drink often spiced with cinnamon and raisins. It can be served with or without alcohol. Popular alcoholic editions include red wine or brandy. 



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How much money does it cost to live in Norway? 

Norway is equally known for good wages and a high cost of living. So, what is the typical budget for a family, couple and single person in Norway, and how does it change based on your circumstances? 

How much money does it cost to live in Norway? 

Generally known for being expensive, Norway has seen the cost of living in the country increase over the past 18 months thanks to high food and energy prices driving inflation. 

For example, the price of the most important food and drink products has risen twice as much as general inflation, according to SIFO, an institute for consumer research. 

Their figures are based on the cost of the average shopping bill, which allows for a well-balanced diet with essential everyday products. 

Meanwhile, the consumer price index (CPI) in Norway, which measures inflation, shows that prices have risen 6.4 percent in Norway over the past year

Whether you weigh up moving to the country, already live in Norway or are simply curious about how much of the oft-talked-about high salaries are eaten by salaries, SIFO publishes annual reference budgets, which crunch the numbers on living costs in Norway

SIFO uses a robust calculating method to figure out a rough reference budget for someone based on their age, earnings, whether they have a partner or children and what kind of car they drive. 

For example, a single man aged between 20-30 years old with no partner or children and who doesn’t drive a car is expected to have monthly outgoings of 12,293 kroner (excluding tax) if they earn the average salary of 53,150 kroner per month

The budget also does not include rent either. Rent prices in Norway vary between cities. In Bergen, it costs roughly 9,500 kroner a month for a one-room apartment compared to 11,950 kroner for a place of the same size in Oslo. Renting a room in a flatshare is also popular among younger people and is significantly cheaper than renting an entire apartment. 

The budget does include food and drink, clothing, personal care, leisure and media use, travel, furniture, other groceries and household items. Food is the most considerable expenditure in this example budget, costing 4,540 kroner a month. Meanwhile, the clothing and travel budget cost 900 and 853 kroner respectively. 

Social activities and media use were the next most significant expense after groceries, costing 1,650 kroner a month in the individual-specific section of the reference budget. Regarding household-specific expenses, media use and leisure were the biggest expenses, with an estimated expenditure of 2,160. 

Somebody of the same age in the same situation but earning around 20 percent less (43,150) kroner per month would have the same total expenditure, excluding taxes and rent. Therefore the main difference would be disposable income after expenses, taxes and rent. 

Meanwhile, a woman earning the average salary in Norway would have a lower monthly expenditure than a man, spending 11,623 kroner per month. The main differences between the two are a higher grocery bill for men and the woman spending more on personal care. 

Should the man and the woman meet, fall in love and move in together, they would spend on average 23,271 kroner per month, according to the reference budget. The food bill rises to 7,890 kroner per month for two people living together. The clothing, personal care, and travel budgets are essentially double compared to a single person, dealing a death blow to the old saying “two can live as cheaply as one”. 

Money spent on free time, leisure and media would total more than 5,000 kroner, while it would cost the couple 3,000 kroner to run a car. However, if they chose to run an electric vehicle, the cost of running a car would drop by 1,000 kroner a month. 

The expenditure in the reference budget mostly stayed the same if the earnings were pushed up to reflect both people in the relationship earning close to the average wage. 

Provided the relationship is going well, and the woman were to fall pregnant, the expenditure for the couple would increase by over 4,000 kroner to 27,801 kroner. This is because the couple would begin spending around 3,880 kroner a month on stuff for the baby. At this point the ages of the two people has been moved to being between 30 and 51. 

Once the baby is born, the monthly budget would swell to 30,871 kroner by the time the baby is between six and eleven months old. The couple’s food, clothing and personal care budget would see the largest rises. The food bill for a family with a baby is 9,620 kroner a month compared to 7,890 kroner a month for the couple when they’d just moved in with each other.

For a family with an annual household income of a million kroner (which means both parents earn close to the national average) and one school-age child signed up for after-school activities (SFO), and a toddler with a full-time kindergarten place who uses a car, the monthly reference budget is 37,826 kroner per month

The food bill would total around 13,000 kroner each month, while clothes, personal care, leisure time and media use would set the family back just over 10,000 kroner per month. Travel for the family (excluding car running costs) comes in at a hefty 2,133 kroner a month, while equipment for the toddler would set the family back around 3,880 kroner a month. 

After-school activities would cost 1,108 kroner per month, and money spent on other groceries and household items would be 1,350 kroner each month. Meanwhile, leisure and media use for the household would set the family back an additional 2,300 kroner.