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Scandinavian Nisse Traditions and Christmas Blog Party

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.

Photo by Nati on

Share the festivities by posting your favourite TREATS & TRADITIONS for the season later today and visiting our blogger Holiday party!

You are invited to post photos, essays, jokes, recipes … anything you’d like to share at our virtual holiday social.

Scandinavian Tradition of Jul

Whereas the start of “Jul” proper is a five-week event it consists of five phases: Advent, Julaften, Romjul, Nyttår, and Epiphany, which is the thirteenth, and final day of the season.

Lucerne christmas
Day 12: Traditions (in Sweden)

Scandinavian Nisse Tradition

Once a mythological elf, in modern times, the bearded man, or elf, called “Jule Nisse,” sometimes makes an appearance in Norwegian homes, and if he does, he brings gifts. Classic songs have been written about the nisse, and nisse figurines are found in a wide variety of shapes and styles, used as decoration in the home.

christmas decorations

Fjøsnisse, the one that eats porridge in the barn, a guardian of good/bad luck, seems to be dying out in the minds of Norwegian children. Television, globalisation and mass-marketing are gradually replacing him with Santa Claus.

“The American nisse is here to stay,” ethnologist Ann Helen Bolstad Sjelbred recently reported. Lots of children growing up in Norway today, she said, barely know who the barn nisse is, and expect the new nisse to bring them presents.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian towns of Drøbak, Røros, Longyearbyen and Egersund have each been claiming the Norwegian Nisse as their own. Local politicians in Drøbak, south of Oslo, even passed a resolution declaring that their town is his official home.

Later today I will compare this to an Australian Christmas posting for a joint Holiday blogger party, posting simultaneously around the world, at 8pm, Australia E.S.T. in conjunction with the Friendly Friday Blog Challenge. Join us then.

Sandy has all the details.


54 thoughts on “Scandinavian Nisse Traditions and Christmas Blog Party”

  1. I have lived in Denmark the for many years after moving from England and have always enjoyed the Christmas traditions here. One of the things that really surprised me was that they have real live candles on their trees, they are small and are put in special hangers onto to tree. I love dancing around the tree singing carols too. The food is delicious especially the risalamand, which is actually rice pudding with whipped cream, vanilla and chopped almonds with the exception of the one which is put in whole. On top of this comes warm black cherry sauce yummy. Looking forward to it all tomorrow. Have a lovely Xmas and A Happy New Year to you!!! 🙂 Christine

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s a shame that so many young Norwegians are now more familiar with Santa Claus than with traditional Scandinavian lore. From what you describe, Amanda, I prefer the latter. The crass commercialism surrounding Christmas – at least here in the U.S. – is ridiculous and annoying. I can only hope my Norwegian counterparts will reassert their cultural traditions. Those should never die out!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The mid west of America is very Norwegian and sometimes more so than Norwegians looking westward for inspiration. I think in those places, the culture is kept alive. Certainly with art, as Rosemaling was revived and kept alive by this part of America. Without it, it would be almost unknown.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh yes! From Kansas northward into the Dakotas, as well as Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin all have expansive Nordic populations – although it’s ironic since those are Native American names. Still, that’s why the region is often cited in political speeches as “Middle America” and the proverbial heartbeat of the nation.

        The German side of my family hails from Michigan. My mother and her siblings visited the state in the 1940s, but I’ve never been there. That remains one of my lifelong goals.

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        1. I didn’t know the origin of those names, Alejandro so thanks for expanding my knowledge. You definitely need to go to see these parts. I am sure you’d love it. If you are interested in seeing some Norwegian culture or history, the Vesterheim museum in Deborah Iowa is a good stop, too. I think they have a Nordic fest in the parts you mentioned.

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          1. Thank you for the Nordic fest link, Amanda. I’ll have to look closely at it. Our world’s myriad cultural traditions fascinate me. And most state names in the U.S. are of Indigenous American extraction – including Iowa!

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            1. I am glad they honoured the traditional owners of the land by using their regional names! Thinking about it, there are a lot of names here that are indigenous in origin too. I remember a Danish exchange student commenting that many of them sounded African in origin. Until then, I hadn’t noticed them as by then, those Murri sounding names were quite familiar to me. I hope you do get to discover Nordic fest.

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            2. I’m sure you know, Amanda, that the indigenous peoples of Australia and New Zealand are mostly of African origin; dating back several millennia. Some have placed the arrival of humans in Australia up to 50,000 years ago; long before modern humans in Europe and the Americas.

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            3. The estimates of arrival of indigenous folk, via land bridges when sea levels were lower, of 40 000 years have been extended out to possibly 80,000 years, I think. Such old cultures with incredible traditions and an intimate knowledge and worship of country.

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  3. Through the years, traditions change. We sometimes blend the old with the new. Sometimes we get rid of the old all together. However, I love the Nordic traditions that sprang from the cold climate. Being from the north myself, I really have an affinity for Scandinavia.

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    1. You would love the rice porridge, Laurie.
      You are right about the old blending with the new. Sometimes the new go out of fashion so quickly, there is a reversal and we look to the old and revive past trends. This happened with Rosemaling. It almost died out in Norway but was keot alive by Norwegian Americans.

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  4. Wonderful to read about Scandinavian traditions. It’s interesting to hear that the traditional elf Fjøsnisse is being forgotten and Santa Claus is more popular instead. You mentioned it’s because of globlisation and mass-media – the power of the popular. It is lovely to hear some Norwegian towns are claiming the Norwegian Nisse as their own, keeping the traditional spirit alive. There’s much to celebrate about the past, and also the present, during this time of the year. Have a happy festive season, Amanda.


    1. The power of the popular indeed Mabel. It is changing the world. When I visited Norway in 2011 and saw decorations made in China that were the same generic items I saw in Australian shops, I was disappointed. All the more reason to stick to the old traditions that make each culture unique and delightfully different. Amidst the Covid chaos there is still much to celebrate.
      I hope your festive season is safe and joyous, Mabel!


      1. I feel that generic items do have their place, such as when a household is doing it tough. That was, hand-made decorations and festive items are probably the most meaningful and meaningfully tied to tradition. A bit of effort and time goes a long way. Agree amidst the chaos, there is much to be celebrate and thankful for. You have a safe one too, Amanda 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you very much, Amanda. Your good wishes reciprocated. Our children and one grandchild come to us for Christmas – a Boxing Day gathering usually number 18, but we expect it to be less this year

        Liked by 1 person

    1. You are indeed fortunate, ørjan – the Norwegians I am friendly with, really know how to celebrate Christmas and I love that you still retain some of the old traditions. I also like that the Nisse cared about the welfare of the animals – definitely, he earned his bowl of risengrøt!
      God Jul til deg og din familie!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Isn’t that interesting! I’ve seen the Scandinavian Nisses before but always thought they were regional versions of Santa Claus. Maybe it’s not too surprising about the barn porridge Nisse .. how many barns do families have these days? 😉 Thanks for sharing the traditions Amanda. It’s good to learn how different parts of Europe celebrate

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    1. With the increasing level of urbanization, city dwelling Norwegians would not have access to the barn. Yet you don’t have to travel far out of the city centres to find a barn! They also have to store the firewood somewhere I guess. I have friends who still live on the old family farms, even if they do not farm the land anymore. The barn is usually used as storage. ørjan’s comment seems to indicate the Nisse had another function – to remind farmers to care for the animals welfare and not just see them as a source of protein!

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      1. Compassion is a good trait to nurture. I know an animal loving vet who works in an abbatoir. When I expressed surprise she explained that her job is to make sure that the animals do not suffer needlessly. All animals deserve to live their best lives with only one brief bad moment.

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        1. Funny how we immediately think of the worst when we hear the word abattoir. I agree that if it has to be done, at least it must be done humanely and without pain and with as much empathy as possible. Apparently, the little pigs squeal horribly when they see their colleagues? friend? get hit with the stun gun. That is horrible to think about.

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