The birthplace of the Christmas Yule Log, Norway begins Christmas celebrations on Christmas Eve. The Yule Log was often an entire tree in days of old. Only part of it would actually fit into the fire so it extended through a large portion of the room and as it burned more of the log was pushed into the fire providing the home with light and warmth for a long time.
On Christmas Eve businesses close, everyone gets dressed for the occasion and sheaves of grain are strung outside to let the birds enjoy the season too. Church bells ring all over Norway at 5:00 in the evening and families head to church service. Christmas Eve dinner differs depending on which part of Norway one lives in. Norway's coastal areas often have halibut, cod or lutefisk, families in Eastern Norway tend to have pork ribs and the people who live in the west enjoy sausage from mutton or lamb's ribs. Traditional to most of the people of Norway is the Christmas Rice Porridge which has an almond hidden somewhere in it. The lucky child who finds the almond in their bowl ends up with a prize which is usually a marzipan pig reminding everyone of the olden days when many people riches meant the family pig. An extra bowl is left out for Julenisse (Norway's Santa Claus).
Other food traditions include lots of baked goods such as holiday cakes, cookies and gingersnaps. Pickled herring, mashed rutabaga, potatoes, meatballs, Saint Lucia Buns and red cabbage are often on the dinner table as well. Mulled wine or Juleøl (home-brewed Christmas beer) is enjoyed after dinner along with desserts such as Julekake (Christmas Fruitcake) and Kransekaka which is a tall marzipan structure decorated with Norwegian flags.
Norwegian houses are often decorated with lights or candles with white being the popular choice for strung lights instead of colored lights. Christmas wreaths and garlands also decorate homes, inside and out. Christmas trees are decorated with white lights, colored paper chains made by the children of the family, tinsel, bought ornaments and Norwegian flags. Children also use colored paper to make paper baskets which are then filled with nuts and candy and can be hung on the tree as well.
The family gathers around the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and sings carols before opening presents. Sometime later, the children receive a personal visit from Julenisse who asks whether there are any good children living in the house whereupon he hands out some presents from his sack. The bowl of Christmas Rice Porridge that the children leave out before heading to bed is always empty in the morning. December 25th is usually spent with family and friends.