Wednesday, 24 December 2014 00:00

A Merry Norwegian TV Christmas

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Norwegian jumper
Photo: Gunnar Bothner-By (Flickr); Licence: CC BY 2.0

Traditional Norwegian jumpers for the festive season


Continuing our mini-series on festive traditions in Europe, we get the low-down from Katarina Poensgen about how to celebrate Christmas Norwegian style. The key is apparently always watching the same old films on TV, including Czechoslovak fairy tale from the 1970s...

It is a cold and snowy 24 December in Norway, a.k.a. Christmas time. People are gathered inside their cosy homes with their families. The gingerbread, Christmas soda (a brown-hued fizzy drink) and marzipan is laid out on the living room table; everyone is ready and waiting for 11 am.

This is the time when the Norwegians’ beloved Czechoslovak movie Three Wishes for Cinderella from 1973 begins. It is a traditional Cinderella story with a twist: Cinderella has three nuts containing three wishes (or rather outfits, including her pink ballroom gown), instead of a fairy Godmother. The story itself is in fact based on a 19th century fairy tale by Božena Němcová, a great Czech writer. Although technically a joint Czechoslovak and East German production, with actors from both of those countries too, the movie as a whole is viewed as Czechoslovak to us Norwegians. The main reason for this might be because the lead role is played by beautiful Czech actress Libuše Šafránková (who also appeared in many other fairy tale movies such as The Third Prince, The Little Mermaid, and The Prince and the Evening Star in her home country). All the voices are dubbed, however, by Norwegian actor Knut Risan. Risan’s most famous voice impression is that of the royal tutor, who nags the prince and his friends all the time about their studies – but of course his high-pitched girly voices for the women are also a big bonus. This is not only hilarious every single year, but reminds every Norwegian family that it really is Christmas time.

It is a mystery why this movie has become so popular in Norway, especially considering that it is not British, American or Scandinavian. Nevertheless, it has been aired here in Norway for almost 40 years and has remained as popular as ever. According to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, it was not broadcast in 1993, as the TV channel that usually broadcasts it thought people wanted something new and different for once, but this was apparently the wrong decision. People got furious and complained like maniacs – since then it has always been aired every year at strictly the same time on the same day. We have even gone as far as to offer the Czech film archive around 7.5 million NOK for the digitalisation of the movie, which will be ready next Christmas. This obviously shows how fond we are of the Cinderella story, but why it is one of Norway’s most beloved movies is hard to tell. Then again, we Norwegians do have a thing for fairy tales.

Saffron buns
 Photo: erik forsberg (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-NC 2.0
Saffron buns: a speical treat on St. Lucia's Day

Truth to be told, nothing beats a proper Norwegian Christmas. There is usually snow, the right weather to wear traditional Norwegian sweaters (typically the so-called Marius sweater), moose burgers, pretty Christmas decorations in the streets and, of course, seasonal movies on TV. Generally, northern Europe is considered to be something quite on its own, and that is no exception during the holidays. Festive food like rice porridge, reindeer meat and Christmas soda is available during the whole of December. In addition, we have the unique Christmas tradition, St. Lucia's Day, on the 13 December with lots of lights, glitter, saffron buns and little Christmas elf (Nisse) decorations. Our Christmas trees are decorated with the nation's flags and pinecones, plus a brightly shining star on the top. We also eat mounds of rice cream for dessert (which is pretty much just cold rice porridge mixed with sugar and cream that will get you sick after three spoons). All of these little traditions, along with a snowy carpet covering the ground outside, a black starry sky, and street lights lighting up the neighbourhood, bring a Scandinavian into the Christmas spirit.

But the movies aired at Christmas have become such an important tradition to us Norwegians that it would not be proper a Christmas without them. Families do not go on holiday to Spain before the Cinderella airing on TV, visits to grandparents and friends have to wait till after 1 pm, and certainly no one sleeps in late that day. 11 am sharp, every single year, is the time for Three Wishes for Cinderella (with other movies airing afterwards at a certain fixed time as well) and you will not see many Norwegians going out in the snow during any of those times.

The Christmas movie time is a moment when more than one generation of the family actually enjoys watching the same thing on TV. Somehow the 70s movies bring everyone together, as there is another important movie to watch right after Cinderella: the Norwegian movie, Reisen til Julestjernen (The Journey to the Christmas Star) from 1976. There the much-admired Norwegian actress Hanne Krogh plays the lead role, Sonja, a.k.a. the lost princess originally named Gulltopp. The movie is about this girl and her long search for the Christmas star in the sky. Her journey to find the star is adventurous, scary and extremely enjoyable (with a great ending!) It is a movie where you will laugh, cry, cheer, wait in suspense and feel all Christmassy. In other words, it is a true Norwegian classic.

The Christmas movie time is a moment when more than one generation of the family actually enjoys watching the same thing on TV.


Norwegians also watch tons of other movies at Christmas, such as Dinner for one from 1963 (which incidently enjoys cult status in Germany too, albeit on New Year's rather than Christmas Eve), It's a Wonderful Life from 1943, Med Grimm og Gru (originally a Romanian-Russian musical) from 1976, Jul på Månetoppen (a Norwegian series with little blue and red Christmas elves) from 2002 and Astrid Lingren's Christmas (a collection of Swedish children series that is very popular in Scandinavia) from the 1970s along with several other moves from the US, Britain and Scandinavia. However, the two major ones are without a doubt Three Wishes for Cinderella and Reisen til Julestjernen.

As it gets so dark and cold here, most people prefer to stay inside with family and friends watching movies, eating, singing and sitting in front of the fire place while listening to carols or a good Christmas story. Sure, Norwegians are weird sometimes with their traditions, but they are all done in good humour. We also have a slightly different movie culture, especially during the festive season, but that is a part of the little country's charm. After all, with good movies, food, snow, and family, what more could a person want for Christmas?

Last modified on Sunday, 25 January 2015 20:10
Katarina Poensgen

Katarina Poensgen is from Oslo, Norway and studies BA Journalism at City University London. With her passion for travelling and politics, she aspires to become a foreign correspondent. She is interested in Russia and Eastern Europe, but usually loves to take her vacations in Denmark and Germany. When not joking about Scandinavia, she also enjoys walking in the snow and reading Dostoevsky.


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