Christmas Traditions: Julaften

Merry Christmas, friends!

Karl’s family on his dad’s side is all Norwegian all the time. Christmas is a special time, chock-full of traditions from that side of the family – special cookies, krumkake, must be baked or it just doesn’t feel like Christmas; the Norwegian sweaters come out of hibernation; white candles adorned with little wreaths are displayed; and the special Norwegian tableware comes out of the china cabinet. Karl’s family has a beautiful set of Norwegian Porsgrund china that they pull out for special occasions.

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Christmas Eve is Julaften in Norway, and Karl’s family celebrates it with a traditional white dinner. White is the color of Christmas in Norway, for the whiteness of the snow, the white lights and white candles. Karl’s dad told me with a twinkle in his eye that the white dinner is traditional on Christmas Eve because no one wants to stain the treasured white table cloth and napkins that his mother painstakingly embroidered by hand as a gift to his family.

Not everything that comes to the table is white, but much of it is. The meal starts with risgrøt, a simple rice porridge. A sprinkling of cinnamon sugar and a splash of milk are optional. Everyone digs in until someone finds the nut in their porridge. That lucky person is the winner of a marzipan pig!

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The pig is a symbol of wealth in Norway, a holdover from the days when a family’s wealth was tied to their pig. Karl’s mom was the big winner this year.

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After the porridge comes the main meal. Boiled codfish is the centerpiece – we had ours with some beautiful fish roe (probably not so traditional). There are also simply cooked vegetables – potatoes, carrots, and asparagus.

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The next course is my favorite tradition of Julaften, hands down - apricot pudding! Fresh fruit is hard to come by in the winter months in Norway, so dried fruit is used instead. Karl’s dad chopped up dried apricots and stewed them for a while until they became a beautiful, dense fruit pudding. He always uses California apricots for their balance of tart and not-too-sweet. The fruit pudding is served cold, and those who like a drizzle of cream for extra decadence are welcome to it.

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We paired the apricot pudding with a remarkable trockenbeerenauslese, an Austrian dessert wine. Again, perhaps not so traditional for Norwegian white dinner! This was a Hafner 2006 Old Vienna Composition. The label declares that “T.B.A is wine made by grapes shriveled to raisins and harvested late in fall. T.B.A. is the maximum concentrated noble sweet wine called ‘the queen of wines’.” I believe it! Read the Wikipedia article for more background on trockenbeerenauslese (TBAs for short). We chilled it in the snow for a couple of hours before serving it after dinner. If you can ever get your hands on a bottle of this, you should go for it!

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We decided to delay the coffee course until after we had opened a few presents. In Norway, gifts are given and received on Christmas Eve, so in Karl’s family, we split the difference and open a few gifts the evening before Christmas. Afterwards, we drank coffee and ate fresh krumkake by the light of the beautiful Christmas candle carousel that Karl’s family uses as a table centerpiece for Julaften.

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I love the Julaften white dinner tradition in Karl’s family. It’s a beautiful way to spend the evening together, and the whole family falls to reminiscing about Julaftens past and other family traditions.

Karl’s dad shared his recipe for apricot pudding with me and gave me permission to share it with you. It’s so simple, and the amounts are a little indefinite, but it’s a wonderful and refreshingly light treat during the holidays!

Norwegian Apricot Pudding

  • 1 lb dried California apricots, chopped fine
  • water
  • sugar to taste (start with about ½ cup)
  • 1 to 2 TBSP cornstarch

Place chopped apricots in a sauce pan. Cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the water is at a bare simmer. Simmer partially covered for 1 to 2 hours, or until the apricots are very soft.

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Remove from the heat. Using a large, sturdy whisk, stir and lightly mash the apricots. The consistency should not be completely smooth, but you want to break down the apricots a bit. Put the pan back over medium heat, and stir in the sugar, then whisk in the cornstarch. Stir over medium heat for a few minutes until the mixture starts to thicken up a little bit.

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Pour into a glass serving dish and chill until ready to serve. Serve chilled with a splash of cream or half-and-half.

Presentation suggestion: For added elegance, spoon about 1/2 cup of apricot pudding into a large wine glass before topping with a thin layer of cream. Serve with long spoons.

4 Thoughts on “Christmas Traditions: Julaften

  1. Stacy Coffman on December 26, 2013 at 3:58 pm said:

    Bless you for sharing this beautiful moment of tradition and family. Merry Christmas!

    • Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, too, Stacy! We were all wishing you were able to come up for a visit with Don next week. Karl and I are looking forward to visiting with him and Nick!

  2. Art Andersen on December 31, 2013 at 8:56 pm said:

    Dear Carly & Karl, Nancy has already sent you a note, but I also wanted to thank you for putting this delightful picture/story together about your Julaften with the family in Iowa. It was beautifully put together and a real treat to see. Thank you very much for sharing your beautiful experience.
    All the grandchildren just went back to their homes after an overnight with us. Lots of enjoyment. You should see all their beautiful, fancy braids – French, waterfall, etc. They all know how to play Rook, Mexican Train, & are pretty good playing Chess. Nancy and I will enjoy a quiet New Year’s Eve with a little Asti, Auslese, and krumkaker while watching the New Year’s celebration in the Big Apple. We wish you a wonderful New Year. Love, Art & Nancy

    • Thanks, Uncle Arthur! I loved writing up this Julaften feature – it’s a wonderful family tradition of which I feel honored to be a part :) Happy New Year!

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