Julebord: A Look At Norway’s Pre-Christmas Parties

Norway has many unique Christmas traditions that you simply won’t find anywhere else in the world, and one of these are what we call julebord.

Julebord, which can be translated to “Christmas table” is a classic Norwegian holiday tradition where groups (typically all employees at a workplace) go out to eat Christmas food and drink a lot of alcohol together before Christmas.

The julebord tradition is one of the very few traditions that are completely unique to Norway, and not even our neighbor countries Sweden and Denmark have it (or they have their own different version of it). Most julebords are done in December, but some are even done in late November or even in January.

So, let’s take a look at the julebord tradition, learn more about what happens at a julebord, and prepare anyone who are currently planning on going to their very first julebord!

A Christmas julebord buffet. Photo by Holger.Ellgaard  Holger.Ellgaard / CC BY-SA 3.0.
A Christmas julebord buffet. Photo by Holger.Ellgaard Holger.Ellgaard / CC BY-SA 3.0.

What a typical julebord is like

A typical julebord is hosted at a restaurant where there is either a buffet style serving (most common) or where each person orders their own Christmas food of choosing.

At julebord buffets, you can expect many different Christmas dishes, both hot and cold. You are free to eat as much as you like, but remember that Norwegian Christmas food is very high on fats, so those calories add up quickly!

A julebord is a very social event where you are expected to have fun, be outgoing and enjoy yourself. It tends to have a very relaxed atmosphere, and it’s very common to drink at the julebord.

As the night progresses, the julebord slowly turns from a dinner to a party. A typical julebord will eventually be a big party where all the people are pretty drunk, and ends at around 2 in the morning when the bars close.

Ribbe is a popular Christmas dish in Norway. Photo by Lars Røed Hansen / CC BY-SA 2.5.
Ribbe (Christmas ribs) is a popular Christmas dish in Norway, and is to be expected at julebords. Photo by Lars Røed Hansen / CC BY-SA 2.5.

Who arranges julebord?

Julebords have traditionally been hosted by companies who take their employees out for the night, where they pay for all the food and drink. This is one of rather few social events hosted by Norwegian companies, giving the employees a chance to interact with each other outside of the workplace setting.

But it’s not only companies that host julebords any longer. It’s also common for other groups to do so, such as:

  • Hobby organizations.
  • Sport teams.
  • Large families (for the adults only).
  • Student groups.
  • Friend groups.
  • Or any other group that want to have a Christmas dinner and party.
Norwegian christmas dinner plate with pinnekjøtt
Norwegian christmas dinner plate with pinnekjøtt. Photo by Bernt Rostadt / CC BY 2.0.

For non-company julebords, it is most common for each individual to pay for themselves. Since each person is paying for their own alcohol, this tends to make these julebords a bit more tame than the julebords where a company pays for everything.

There’s also another type of julebord where anyone can participate by paying the entrance fee. These tend to be big buffets where you can pay around 300 – 400 NOK to join, and get access to eat as much as you want. These differ a bit from the regular julebords, but can still be a great social arena with a lot of fun (and of course a lot of amazing Christmas food).

It’s not uncommon for people to attend multiple julebords each year, so you might get invited to two or three of them if you are active in several communities or groups.

Røros in winter with Christmas decorations. Photo by Henrik Dvergsdal / CC BY-SA 3.0.
Røros in winter with Christmas decorations. Photo by Henrik Dvergsdal / CC BY-SA 3.0.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding julebord

As you can probably imagine, gathering everyone who works together for a dinner and drinks might not be the best idea. The problem with the Norwegian julebord tradition is that it is not only used for eating nice Christmas food, but it’s also just as common to use it as an excuse to get very drunk.

Coworkers getting very drunk together also tends to be a bad idea in general, and the julebord tradition is known to have many controversies. Not only is it the most likely place for someone to hook up with a coworker, but it’s also known to be a breeding ground for workplace conflicts and sexual harassment.

Many companies who organizes julebord have implemented changes to prevent some of these issues, so it’s getting more common to have a more normal level of alcohol consumption at julebords now.

One of the most common methods to prevent the issues are to require the participants to pay for their own alcohol (because Norwegians tend to very bad at limiting their drinking if they drink for free), and break up the julebord at a reasonable time.

Some companies have even gone as far as implementing alcohol-free julebord or limiting the number of drinks, but this is currently still pretty rare.

The history of julebord

The history of julebord actually goes as far back as the middle ages, where richer people would leave the Christmas food on the table for poorer people to be able to get some Christmas food without paying for it.

This allowed anyone to eat Christmas food, no matter how poor you were, which has lead to the fact that it’s still considered common for the company to pay the bill for the julebord event.

Julebord has been around since then, and these days it’s a very important industry. Not only is it a big income for bars and restaurants who make the food, but it’s also a big source of income of taxi drivers, hotels, and other adjacent businesses.

It’s a busy time of year for these businesses and their employees, but they make a lot of money on it, so it’s well worth their time to do some overtime work during the julebord season.

The julebord cuisine

You will typically find that all the traditional Norwegian Christmas dishes are represented at a julebord, so you can expect things like:

  • Ribbe (Christmas ribs).
  • Pinnekjøtt (Sheep’s ribs).
  • Lutefisk (cod cured in lye).
  • Risgrøt (rice pudding).
  • Surkål (fermented kale).
  • Brussel sprouts.
  • Medisterpølse (a spiced sausage).
  • Kålrotstappe (rutabaga purée).
  • And all other Christmas foods.
A plate with pinnekjøtt, rutabaga purée (kålrotstappe) and potatoes. Photo by
A plate with pinnekjøtt, rutabaga purée (kålrotstappe) and potatoes. Photo by

As with most Christmas traditions in Norway, you can expect some regional differences.

For example, you will be much more likely to find Christmas ribs (ribbe) in eastern Norway, while pinnekjøtt is more likely in the western part of the country.

Most julebords will also offer non-pork options even though 90 % of all Norwegian Christmas food is based on pork, but this is obviously a problem for many religious people.

How to dress for a julebord

You are expected to dress up a bit for the julebord, so wear something that you would wear to a nice dinner party or if going our to a restaurant.

Men can typically just wear a suit, while women can wear either a dress or a pants and blouse combination. It’s totally up to you, but leave the hoodies and sweatpants at home!

Some julebords will have a more strict dress code, but will also tell you what to wear on the invitation.

You’re ready for your first Norwegian julebord

And that’s pretty much all you need to know before undertaking your first Norwegian julebord! Just take it easy and try to enjoy yourself.

I really suggest trying out all the different Norwegian Christmas dishes if it’s your first Christmas in Norway. Some of them are truthfully a bit weird and an acquired taste, but it’s an important part of the Norwegian Christmas traditions.

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