Jul or jol is the term used for the Christmas holiday season in Norway. Originally, “jul” (or “jol”) was the name of a month in the old Germanic calendar, corresponding roughly to the time from mid-December through mid-January, and the concept of “jul” as a period of time rather than a specific event, prevails in Norway.
Whereas the start of “jul” proper is announced by the chiming of church bells throughout the country in the afternoon of December 24, it is more accurate to describe the season five week event, consisting of five phases: Advent, Julaften, Romjul, Nyttår, and Holy Three Kings’ Day (Epiphany), which is the thirteenth, and final day of the season.
The modern day celebration is largely based on the Church year, but has retain several pre-Reformation and pre-Christian elements.
The main event in Norway, is Christmas Eve (joleftan/julaften) , when the main Christmas meal is served and gifts are exchanged.
On Christmas Eve, traditional dishes are served, based regional differences in cuisine and accessibility.
In Western Norway and Northern Norway, Pinnekjøt(t) (steamed, salted and dried ribs of mutton) is the more common dish, whereas in Eastern Norway, pork rib roast is more common.
Other traditional foods exist as well, without enjoying the same amount of popularity, such as Smalahove (mutton head), Lutefisk, fresh boiled cod, rakfisk, medisterkaker and medisterpølser (dumplings and sausages made of minced pork meat), and more recently turkey.
Eating porridge, a one-time staple of Norwegian cuisine, with a single almond in it, is a widespread custom, and whoever gets the almond wins a prize. A bowl of porridge is, according to tradition, also put out to the unpredictable Nissen, the Norwegian equivalent of a guardian spirit.
Brewing is closely associated with the preparations for the Yule season, and most Norwegian breweries release a traditional beer, juleøl, which is darker, stronger and has more flavour than the common Norwegian lagers. Breweries also produce a special soda, known as julebrus. Akvavit is also a common digestif to accompany the heavy, and often fatty, meals.
Tradition prescribes seven kinds of julekaker or jolekakor, pastries and coffee bread associated with Christmas. However, no authoritative list exists, and there are great variations. Ginger bread and ginger bread houses are common, and decorated with sugar frosting, ginger bread cookies are sometimes used for decorating windows and the Christmas tree as well.
An old tradition, perhaps with reference to the Wild Hunt, is for children to dress up and pay visits to neighbors, where they receive candy, nuts and clementines in return for singing Christmas carols. Traditions vary throughout the country, and some places children do this between Julaften and New Year's Eve, and in other places, only on New Year's Eve. Sometimes adults also dress up as well, but instead of receiving treats, they are given a snaps.