The Celebration of Christmas in Tromsø

If you are in Tromsø in December and wonder what the happy atmosphere is, we can tell you right away! CHRISTMAS has arrived! Christmas is a very special time for people in Tromsø, filled with traditions like decorating the house and Christmas tree, preparing delicious food and cookies, going to Christmas events, and most important of all, to be with family and loved ones.

Light of Polar Night - Photo: Kurt-Are Larsen

Advent Traditions

The first sign that Christmas is on its way is on the first Saturday in December. On this day, people gather in the city square, Stortorget, where we turn on the lights on the city’s Christmas tree, listen to live Christmas music and revel in the atmosphere, which is charged with excitement for the forthcoming season. Every Sunday until December 24, Advent is celebrated home, where it is most common to have four candles; a new one being lit every Sunday. Another tradition for the kids is to have an Advent calendar, filled with chocolates and other goodies, where one “window” is opened every day until December 24. 

Markets in Tromsø 

Throughout December, there are different kinds of markets in Tromsø. Local organisations, schools and sports clubs arrange different markets throughout the city, selling locally-produced goods. Another great event throughout December is “Bondens Marked” (the farmers market). Products at the “Bondens Marked” vary due to the season, and the producer will always be present so you can get answers about the products directly from them! All products are also traceable and local! You can find the market at Stortorget from 11:00 to 16:00 (11am-4pm) on December 2nd, 9th and 16th where you can buy handcrafts, meat, bread, cakes and cookies, and other local specialities. The producers have great knowledge about the specialities they sell, which makes it possible to collect specific local handicrafts and to taste food combinations that is not possible to have other places. 

Sankta Lucia Day

December 13th is Sankta Lucia Day. This day is celebrated in memory of the Holy Saint Lucy and is a tradition for children, normally taking place in schools, institutions and churches where the children walks in white dresses and with lights in their hands while they sing a special Sankta Lucia song. If you don’t know where to go or look for the celebration, it is possible to be a part of the Sankta Lucia procession held in the city. This event is held on Satuday 9th December and starts at 12 o’clock in Stortorget (the square at the pedestrian street) where there will be a parade of three children’s choirs as well as a Christmas market in Stortoget. 

Christmas Traditions

City life is one thing at Christmas, but there is another type of magic that happens at home! At the beginning of December (and sometimes even in November), people start cleaning the house and start decorating their homes with lights, decorations and Christmas elves hanging everywhere. When you walk through the streets, you can smell all the lovely homemade Christmas bread and cookies, wafting from the various kitchens. At Christmas, it is tradition to have seven different kinds of Christmas cookies and back in the days, it was expected that the housewives had all seven home baked cookies ready if there were guests. Today, it is not expected to meet these high standards (and the baking is certainly not limited to the women) but it is extremely popular if one has the opportunity to bake at least some of the cookies! However, one specific tradition that is still very important is to decorate the Christmas tree! On December 23, the family will gather, the Christmas decorations from last year’s Christmas tree will be found, and once again, they will brighten the new tree and spread joy. In Norway, the night before Christmas is not complete without watching the famous “Diner for One”, which is an English comic sketch from the 1920s. 

Christmas Eve

In Norway, Christmas is celebrated in the evening on December 24 and since Christmas is a celebration of Christianity, it is common for people to attend Christmas service that day. Besides the Christmas service, the day is spent preparing dinner and making the home presentable for guests. It is most common that Christmas is celebrated with the family. An important tradition is to see “Sølvguttene” on the television, a boys’ choir singing Christmas carols, and then you know it is Christmas and the Christmas dinner will soon begin! The traditional Christmas dinner contains “pinnekjøtt” (dried lamb ribs), “ribbe” (pork rib roast), “lutefisk” (special dried codfish), rice porridge and other kinds of fish. Pinnekjøtt is more commonly eaten in Northern Norway, but local variations and family traditions dictate what is eaten. A more modern dish that has slipped into the Christmas dinner is turkey. Christmas beer is also very popular at Christmas dinner! Throughout the night, there are special traditions that most families follow, depending on whether there are children present. If there are children in the family, the dinner is often served early and the main topic will revolve around the presents that waits under the Christmas tree. It is also normal that someone from the family will dress as Santa Claus and bring presents to the children. 

Opening Hours and Public Transport During Christmas

Since Christmas is the most cherished holiday in Norway, and is something that is celebrated at home with the family, it is not common for the city stores be open from December 24 to January 1. It is possible to find stores that is open in Christmas, but the majority of them will be closed from December 24th to 26th. It has become more and more common for the stores in the city to open for those who do not celebrate Christmas, but it is still common to see closed shops and restaurants. It is also important to know that the public transport have other operating hours throughout Christmas. See a list of operating hours here. 

Old Christmas Traditions

In the olden days, there was an established tradition to place porridge in the attic, as it was a common belief that every farm had its own elf, who should be thanked for the hard work on the farm. The belief was that if the elf did not get any porridge it would damage the farm and cause a bad harvest. Nowadays the attic elf is a tale parents like to tell their children to create a Christmas full of mystery, and for the children to believe in something very special concerning Christmas. Another old tradition is “julebukk”, translated to Christmas goat. Fewer families hold this tradition, but some do. Traditionally, it was usual to make a goat out of straw to symbolize the “ghosts in the night” or to slaughter a goat to ensure fruitful breeding on the farm. Since Christmas is known as a family celebration, the tradition has changed so that children wear an elf mask and walk from house to house to ask for Christmas sweets. The tradition is different from region to region.

The Days Between Christmas And New Year’s Eve

Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the main aim is to spend quality time with the family and simply relax. Some families like to go out in the nature or visit friends and neighbours, while others just stay inside and reap the benefits of the left overs and home baked Christmas cakes and bread. The main activity for children is to play with their Christmas gifts and eat more sweets than what is normally allowed! Schools are generally closed for two weeks, from around 20th December, while it is usual that people return to work around the 27th December. 

New Year’s Eve is celebrated very differently from family to family. Some spend time with friends, while others with family. The main rule however is to celebrate it home with a special dinner. One tradition on New Year’s Eve is to watch the Prime Minister and Kings speech on the television and when the clock strikes midnight there will be a huge show with fireworks from the mountain top that is visible from the city centre. It is also common that people have their own fireworks. New Year’s Eve is an evening for people to be in good company, dress up and have a drink. A perfect way to end the year.