06 November 2020
Number: NK 2042-2043
Motif: Christmas markets and Christmas street at Maihaugen open-air museum in Lillehammer
Design: Kristin Granli
Photo: Paul Kleiven / NTB, Esben Haakenstad
Denomination: NOK 17 x2 (domestic 20 grams)
Issued in: Booklet of 10 stamps
Print run: 2,100.000 of each stamp
Print: Offset from Joh. Enschedé Security Print, The Netherlands
The bright festive season
Whether you’re looking for a wool sweater, cured meats or home-made marzipan treats, you’ll find all sorts of unique specialties and gifts at the Christmas markets.
One of the real delights of a market is the chance to wander around and soak up the atmosphere. Nowadays, there are well over 200 major Christmas markets throughout Norway during the run-up to Christmas.
As you stroll along the Norwegian streets with their thousands of Christmas illuminations, it’s difficult to imagine what this time of year would be like without electricity, but it was like that well into the 1900s.
Today, towns and villages across the country decorate their streets every year to create a truly magical pre-Christmas atmosphere.
Jul or jol is the term used for the Christmas holiday season in Scandinavia and parts of Scotland. Originally, “jul” was the name of a month in the old Germanic calendar. The concept of “jul” as a period of time rather than a specific event prevailed in Scandinavia; in modern times, “Jul” is a period of time stretching from the days before December 24 to mid-January, with Christmas and the week up to New Year as its highlight. The modern English yule and yuletide are cognates with this term.
The term “Jul” is common throughout Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Greenland, Scotland and the Faroe Islands.
Whereas the start of “jul” proper is announced by the chiming of church bells throughout the country in the afternoon of 24 December, it is more accurate to describe the season as an eight-week event. It consists of five phases: Advent, Julaften, Romjul, Nyttår, and The End of Christmas, very often with Epiphany, the thirteenth day of Christmas, as the final day of the season. From the original beginning on Christmas Day, the custom of Julebord has spread to the entire season and beyond, often beginning well in advance of December.
The modern day celebration is largely based on the Church year and has retained several pre-Reformation and pre-Christian elements.
The central event in Scandinavia is Christmas Eve (julaften), when the main Christmas meal is served and gifts are exchanged. This might be due to the old Germanic custom of counting time in nights, not days (e.g. “forthnight”), as it holds for other holidays like Midsummer Eve (Jonsok, lit. “Wake of St. John”) and St. Olavs Mass (Olsok, lit. “Wake of St. Olav”), with the main celebration on the eve of the official Church day.
As usual in the western world, Christmas features Christmas Dinner, decorated Christmas trees and the exchange of gifts. Gifts are brought by “Julenissen” (“Christmas Hob” or “The Christmas Wight”, who today appears identical to Santa Claus). Remnants of customs from the older agrarian society include decoration with boughs of green from spruce or fir, e.g. on the doormat, and a sheaf of wheat hung outside.
Culinary traditions vary regionally. In Northern and Western Norway, pinnekjøtt (ribs of mutton which are salted and dried, and some places also smoked, and then steamed) is a common dish, whereas Lutefisk and cod are popular in Southern Norway. In Eastern Norway and Central Norway, pork rib roast is common, usually served with medisterkaker and medisterpølser (dumplings and sausages made of minced pork meat). Turkey has recently made its way into the variety of cuisines enjoyed during Jul.
Other traditional foods are eaten at Første Juledags Frokost, a Christmas Day luncheon where the household serves all available delicacies in a grand buffet. Families might serve several kinds of meat such as ham, fenalaar (ham of lamb), cooked cured leg of lamb, pickled pigs’ trotters, head cheese, mutton roll, pork roll, or ox tongue; and several kinds of fish such as smoked salmon, gravlax, rakfisk, and pickled herring. There will also be a range of cheeses and various types of jam. After the meal, tradition prescribes serving seven kinds of julebakst, pastries and coffee breads associated with the holiday. Gingerbread and gingerbread houses are commonly decorated with sugar frosting. In some instances, gingerbread cookies are used for decorating windows as well as the Christmas tree.
On Christmas Eve, many families eat risengrynsgrøt, a type of rice porridge that includes a single almond, scalded of its skin to leave it white. Whoever gets the almond wins a prize, usually a marzipan pig.
Brewing is closely associated with the preparations for jul, and most Norwegian breweries release a traditional Christmas beer, which is darker, stronger and more flavorful than the common Norwegian lagers. Breweries also produce a special soda, known as julebrus. Aquavit is also commonly served as a digestif to accompany the heavy, often fatty meals.
The exact date that ends Jul varies. One common date is the thirteenth day of Christmas, Epiphany, of the Mass of St. Knut, on January 7. Another is the old “gisladag” or “Tjuendedag”, the twentieth day, on January 13, also called Epiphany Day. By Candlemas on February 2, the Christmas tree and all decorations have usually been removed.