Christmas in Oslo: Why it’s the ultimate winter escape
If you’re looking for a cosy winter wonderland to spend the festive season, visiting Oslo in December is the perfect idea.
Christmas in Norway’s capital city gives you the chance to explore its many sites of interest, rich cultural scene and beautiful natural landscape without the crowds that are there in the warmer months. Yes, spending Christmas in Oslo is certainly a quieter time of year to visit, but it’s also a more magical time of year too.
Twinkling lights adorn the trees, Christmas markets fill the streets, there is an undeniable buzz of optimism in the air and so many delicious Norwegian treats to try…seriously, we hope you like cookies, because the Norwegians certainly do.
Plus, Christmas aside, Oslo and the surrounding areas are an absolute hotspot for winter sports!
All the traditions and customs that shape Christmas in Norway
Sure, there are always spiritual undertones when it comes to Christmas, but the traditions and customs in Norway feel more like a coming together of community and family, rather than just religious protocol. The festivities run all through December and holidays continue until the New Year.
Let’s take a closer look:
Key dates and activities in December
At the beginning of December, lots of families gift their children with advent calendars with each little window opening to reveal a chocolate or a present of some kind. This means every day until the 24th is infused with that extra reminder that Christmas is around the corner.
Many households also light candles for each Sunday of advent — they start with just one candle on the first Sunday and add one each week until on the final Sunday when all four candles burn together.
Most workplaces (and even some social groups, schools and clubs) throw extravagant Christmas parties called the ‘Julebord’ so restaurants and hotels will often fill up with these bookings.
On December 13th, processions of children and young people carrying candles are held in recognition of St Lucia Day. It’s a key event in the Norwegian festive calendar and a warming presence at such a dark time of year.
December 23rd is known as ‘Lille Julaften’, which means Little Christmas Eve and it’s the perfect way to get the house ready for the next day. Any final decorations are put up, Christmas trees light up the home and kitchens all around Norway fill with the smell of traditional baking and cooking.
Actually, one of our favourite December traditions is one they call ‘syv slags kaker’ which is when they serve and eat seven different types of Christmas cookies. Because it’s Norway and baked goods are a national treasure.
Christmas Eve (Julaften) in Norway
As with its Swedish neighbours its’ all about Christmas Eve in Norway — this is the biggest part of the festive season and considered more important than Christmas Day.
The shops usually close early so everyone can get home in time for a glorious dinner with loved ones and the exchanging of presents.
Unlike some countries where Santa (Julenissen) leaves gifts out for children to find on the morning of Christmas Day, in Norway the bearded man makes his appearance on Christmas Eve. For many families he’ll even knock on the front door and personally hand over the presents to the little ones.
The singing of Christmas songs is also pretty typical. Whether it’s in church, at home around the Christmas tree, or children singing songs to Santa before he continues on his way.
From Christmas Day to New Year’s Eve
You’ll find that lots of things shut down over Christmas and Boxing Day in Oslo — with good reason! While the biggest night of the Christmas season is over, there are new toys to be played with, delicious food leftovers to be eaten and family to spend time with.
If you’re in a main city like Oslo, a lot of shops are back in action from around the 27th of December, but then again, some things might remain closed in the lead up to New Year’s Eve.
If you’re looking for things to do in Oslo during this time, you’ll usually find that places like the Fram Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum and the Holmenkollen Ski Museum are open most days of the holidays — although it’s still always best to check before you visit!
You might also like to venture outdoors and take a wander to Vigeland Sculpture Park, Akershus Fortress, Ekebergparken Sculpture Park and the Botanical Gardens, which are also usually open.
What is there to do in Oslo at Christmas and through December?
If you’re looking for things to do in Oslo during the Christmas period, you won’t be disappointed! Whether you’re there for work, taking a trip with friends, on a romantic getaway or bringing the whole family, December in Oslo is an exciting time.
Here are a few things you may wish to add to your itinerary:
Eat, drink and shop at the Oslo Christmas markets
Christmas markets in Oslo are great if you want to buy things like traditional Oslo Christmas decorations, hand-made gifts and traditional Norwegian sweets. And more! Take a wander through the stalls and you’ll find the perfect types of gifts for filling Christmas stockings.
Oslo has a few different Christmas markets to check out, and it all depends on where you’re staying or what sort of things you’re looking to buy.
If you’re staying pretty central, we recommend the Christmas market in Spikersuppa, which isn’t far from the Royal Palace. As well as all the usual market goods on offer, it also has a ferris wheel and the ice-skating rink, which can be great fun.
The Christmas market in the Youngstorget Square is also a good one, especially if it’s particularly cold out or raining, because everything is under cover. They use heated tents called ‘Lavvus’ that are traditionally used by the Sami people.
Share in all the delights of the traditional Julebord
The literal translation of ‘Julebord’ is ‘christmas table’ but it usually refers to the annual office Christmas party.
If you’re visiting Oslo in December for work, or are just in the right place at the right time, you might be lucky enough to score an invite to one of these joyous Norwegian occasions. They’re often full of speeches, a glorious amount of food and the traditional amount of drinking…which means lots.
Helpful hint: if you want to make a toast or say cheers, just say “Skål!” before you drink.
Some groups of friends and social clubs also hold a Julebord, and even the schools hold their own child-friendly version of the traditional Christmas party, which they call a ‘Nissefest’.
So you never know, if you’re visiting friends in Oslo they might be generous enough to hold a Julebord so you can experience it yourself.
When you look back through Norway’s history, you’ll notice that the darkest depths of winter have always been a time for feasting, drinking and celebrating, even before the modern version of Christmas came along. They called it ‘Jul’ or ‘Jòl’ and it was a way to look forward to the spring.
Enjoy some skiing or snowboarding at the Oslo Winter Park
If you’re visiting Oslo in winter, you simply can’t leave without trying some traditional winter sports.
If you’d like to have a go at skiing or snowboarding, you should check out the Oslo Winter Park. It’s only about 40 minutes from the centre of Oslo and can be reached via car, bus or the subway. There are 18 slopes to try out, perfect for all ability levels.
Alternatively, you might want to try out cross-country skiing, of which there are 2,600 kilometres (1,600 miles) of trails that flow through Oslo’s stunning forests.
Take advantage of all the great shows and theatre on in Oslo during Christmas
If you’d like to see an amazing show, check out the Norwegian National Ballet’s annual performance of The Nutcracker, a beautiful Christmas classic. Every year they present a beautiful rendition and because it’s a ballet show it won’t matter if you’re not fluent in the local language!
If ballet isn’t really your thing, there are always a range of concerts, performances and shows going on around Christmas. There are lots of churches, halls and music venues around Oslo so keep your eyes and ears open for something you might be interested in.
Experience the Norwegian festival of light on St Lucia Day
December 13th is St Lucia Day, which is a significant event for all of the Nordic countries, including Norway. If you’re in Oslo around this time you may be fortunate enough to witness one of their processions of light — people (usually children) dressed all in white and carrying candles as they sing.
The day pays homage to the deeds of a Christian martyr, which is what the day is undoubtedly about.
However, this emphasis on light is almost certainly also a continuation of the midwinter rituals that have taken place in the region for hundreds of years (way back to the pagans). The lighting of candles at the darkest time of year is a beautiful way of keeping spirits up and remembering that the days will soon get longer again.
Pay a visit to Spikersuppa for some ice-skating fun
The ice-skating rink in the City Centre is a great place to relax and enjoy the fresh air. It’s free entry — if you bring your own ice-skates you can wander straight in or you can rent a pair from the kiosk.
After dark, the trees are lit up with twinkling Christmas lights making for a truly magical experience. Plus, there’s a ferris wheel nearby, which offers beautiful views of the area and the Oslo Christmas markets are also just a stone’s throw away.
Feeling daring? Go sledding at Korketrekkeren
The beautiful hilly terrain of Oslo means there’s ample opportunity to try sledding in winter. It’s a great activity to do with kids.
But if you’re looking for some real sledding adrenaline, you’ll want to check out Korketrekkeren, which means “the corkscrew” for some serious sledding fun. The course runs for about two kilometres and is best for adults and older children (little kids might find it too rough).
Catch the Metro up to Frognerseteren Station and after a short walk you’ll find a place you can rent a sled from. Helmets usually come with the equipment, but you’ll need to dress the part — the warmer you are, the more you’ll be able to enjoy the chilly outdoors fun!
Take a daytrip to Bærums Verk for some family Christmas fun
Just west of Oslo is Bærums Verk, which is about a one-hour bus-ride from the city. With roots dating back to the 1600s, it has great historical significance with some of the original buildings still standing.
In December it turns into a quaint little Christmas village, complete with a Christmas market, reindeer sleigh-rides and workshops offering beautiful hand-made gifts. Sometimes they even have theatre showing in the street, and special Christmas activities for the kids.
Oslo in December: What to expect from the weather
Everyone knows weather can be variable, so it’s good to be prepared for anything, but generally, temperatures can roughly range from –5°C to 2°C. It can get even colder if you stick around for January.
It’s also important to know that it’s a pretty dark time of year if you’re in Oslo for Christmas. Sunrise is around 9-9:30am and sunset is around 3-3:30pm so you’ve only got about six hours of daylight. But with twinkling Christmas lights turning on after dark and candles glowing in the windows, the Norwegians sure know how to keep the soul feeling warm.
Does it snow in Oslo at Christmas?
It will be cold and icy, but there might not be snow. Anything is possible, and you might get lucky, but Oslo certainly doesn’t have guaranteed snow at this time of year.
If you’re really wanting a snowy Christmas, you might be better off visiting a town that’s a little more inland or north of the city, like Røros or Lillehammer.
What to eat and drink if you’re visiting Oslo at Christmas
Whether you’re helping some Norwegian friends with a Christmas dinner, or wondering what to look out for at the many restaurants, cafes and bakeries in Oslo, here are some Christmas-themed culinary recommendations:
Gløgg: You can’t spend Christmas in Oslo without trying the mulled wine that is so very popular among the Nordic countries. It’s made of a distinctive blend of wine, spices, nuts and dried fruit.
Aquavit: This spirit is popular all throughout Scandinavia and a traditional alcohol to enjoy at Christmas. It is served in a small glass but typically it is sipped slowly.
Ribbe (roast pork ribs): These are a staple at the Christmas dinner table. A whole side of pork is usually served alongside potatoes, gravy, sauerkraut, prunes, and lingonberries.
Pinnekjøtt (dried lamb ribs): The lamb is usually salted or smoked first to preserve it. It’s often eaten alongside Swede mash, and sometimes lingonberry jam, potato and gravy.
Lutefisk: Stockfish that has been soaked in lye is a culinary tradition with roots dating back to the 15th century in Norway.
Pepperkaker (crispy gingerbread cookies): These delicious Christmas goodies have been a festive staple in Norway for roughly 400 years. They’re often cut into a variety of fanciful Christmas-themed shapes, and as well as eating them, you might also see them decorating Christmas trees.
Goro: These crispy treats are kind of somewhere between cookies, waffles and crackers. They’re not too sweet, usually come in a rectangular shape and are made using a special iron.
Krumkaker: They’re waffle-like cookies, which you’ll know by their distinctive cone-shape.
Julekake: This is a traditional Christmas bread that is made with raisins, cardamom and candied citrus peel.
Risengrynsgrøt (rice porridge): It’s rice cooked with milk, sugar and vanilla, with cinnamon and sugar served on top. It’s traditionally eaten on Little Christmas Eve and used as the base for the dessert eaten after Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve.
Riskrem: This is a classic Scandinavian Christmas dessert that uses the rice porridge (above) as a base, with whipped cream added and a red berry sauce served on top.
Five fun facts about Christmas in Norway
Santa in Norway is called ‘Julenissen’ and on Christmas Eve children like to leave out sweetened rice porridge for him. This tradition evolved from the old farming family’s tradition to leave porridge in the barn for the fictional character ‘Fjøsnissen’ (barn elf).
On Little Christmas Eve (December 23rd) many Norwegian households pause to watch an old comedy movie called ‘Dinner for One’ — so if a local friend says they’re busy on the night, this might be why!
Ever since the end of the Second World War, Norway sends a Christmas Tree to the United Kingdom to be decorated and lit up in London’s Trafalgar Square. It’s a beautiful sign of friendship and gratitude between the countries.
Most countries seem to have a Christmas decoration that’s special to their people, and in Norway it’s undoubtedly the ‘Julekurver’. They’re little baskets made of paper and shaped like a heart. Some even believe it was Hans Christian Andersen who invented them.
Every year between Christmas and New Year, Norwegian children practice the tradition of ‘Julebukking’ — essentially, they dress up in Christmas-themed costumes and go door-to-door singing Christmas carols, receiving candy and treats in return. A bit like Halloween!
Other ideas for Christmas escapes in Norway
While Oslo is a great place to celebrate Christmas, you might be keen to do some trips to other places in Norway. For example, you might like to check out:
Bergen in southwestern Norway boasts the world’s largest gingerbread town. It’s literally a gingerbread recreation of the city made by local school and kindergarten students, and it’s amazingly vivid and detailed. Children under 12 years get free entry!
You might also want to take the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the renowned Northern Lights. A good place for this would be Tromsø, which is a city in the north of Norway. If you’re travelling from Oslo, it’s about a two-hour flight.
Have a Merry Christmas in one of the happiest places on Earth
There’s no doubt that Christmas breaks in Oslo are popular because there are some great things to see and do all across the city and in surrounding areas. But on a deeper level, we also think people are just looking for a truly Merry Christmas.
At the most festive time of year, everyone just wants to feel warm and fuzzy, and what better location to achieve this than in one of the world’s happiest places on Earth?
It’s not a bad title for a country to have, and Norway certainly deserves it — they have some of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world, easy access to education and a great healthcare system. But at Christmas time, the good vibes floating around come down to something a little more simple…
It’s a Norwegian word and it’s hard to translate exactly, but it means something akin to ‘cosy’ — take a moment to imagine candles in a window, sitting by a warm fireplace, snuggling on a couch watching a Christmas movie.
All of those things are koselig and for the Norwegians, this is what Christmas is all about. Which doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
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