Two out of three working Norwegians are invited to an Office Christmas party, but not everyone is looking forward to the annual Christmas party tradition.
You don’t need to have lived in Norway very long to come across the word julebord. The julebord is as Norwegian as other holiday favorites such as gløgg, pinnekjøtt and long, dark nights.
Julebord literally translated means “Christmas Table” and is also a term used to describe the office seasonal party. It’s a formal affair often normally held in a restaurant or hotel where the guests are expected to dress properly. It’s also a time for major consumption – of both food and drink!
The Norwegian Christmas party culture worries abstainers, some priests, cohabitation therapists and bosses who dread close contact with drunk and outspoken employees. These concerns receive ample coverage in the country’s media every year. Which warns against what such a party evening can do for career opportunities, working environment and private relationships.
Since a lot of Norwegian social life tends to be structured and organized around associations and clubs, it’s not uncommon for a single person to have several julebord to attend, and it’s non uncommon to have speeches distributed throughout the night (sometimes including dirty jokes).
You have the Damenens tale (ladies speech) which is an address by a man to the ladies in the room and the Herrenes tale (gentleman’s speech) which is an address by a lady to the men in the room. Finally, there’s the Takk For Maten speech (thank you for the food speech).
The Norwegian Office Christmas Party Tradition, article continues….
But are the Julebords as challenging as the opponents claim? Do Norwegians put away all their civilized veneer and bring out their inner Viking? Are they surfing from bed to bed on a wave of ribbe fat and aquavit?
Ribbe is roasted pork belly and aquavit is the traditional Nordic schnaps. Other dishes are pinnekjøtt (salted and dried sheep ribs, streamed until they fall off the bones), medisterkaker (fatty pork meatballs), julepølser (Christmas sausages) and lutefisk (cod pickled in lye).
Alcohol is free at these parties and people go bananas. Norwegians have a reputation of losing their judgment during these parties, mainly because alcohol consumption is quite substantial, and because you are far from your family.
The Christmas table concern is not new. In 1973, the Danish hymn poet Hans Adoph Brorson issued a message of concern about contemporary merry Christmas with these words:
Hvor kunne noen mene
som har naturlig sans
at vi vår gud kan tjene
med syndig drikk og dans
How could anyone think
who has natural sense
that we may serve our God
with sinful drinking and dance
In most cases there will be booze. Alcohol-free julebord do exist, but they certainly are the exception.
If the event takes place in a restaurant, it is not uncommon for some alcohol to be included. This usually means a predetermined number of drinks will be served either at the table, by a waiter, or at the bar. In the latter case, the accounting for this is done with the help of tokens or tickets for free drinks. If you want anything extra, you’ll have to pay for it yourself. At the other end of the scale, everyone brings their own alcohol.
While it certainly isn’t very common, it is not unheard of to witness people blackout completely, or lose control of most motor functions. And there is that cute colleague you’ve been flirting with all year who has that red dress, so why not go for it since as all Norwegian know, what happens in Julebord stays in Julebord. These incidents are usually not spoken of afterwards.
The concern about the extravagance of the Christmas table is, however, not just Norwegian. We have found the same concern in Swedish, Danish, German, British, American and Australian media. As Kiwis and Aussies celebrate Christmas in the summer, it may indicate that extravagant Christmas celebrations are not weather-dependent, rather a common Protestant blowout.
There is so much more to say about Norwegian Christmas parties, from Advent to Santa Lucia, but for now this is all, God jul!
The Norwegian Office Christmas Party Tradition, written by Tor Kjolberg