Do you love all of your Christmas traditions, or are there any you keep around for who-knows-what reason? Christmas in Norway is filled with all sorts of traditions, most of them absolutely lovely, and some of them slightly... well...

One of those traditions is julevask, or Christmas cleaning. Basically, Norwegians do all of their spring cleaning in the month before Christmas. And then they do it all again in the spring. On top of Christmas shopping, decorating, Christmas parties, baking and all of the other things that happen in December, Norwegians also feel the need to scrub every inch of their homes before settling in to celebrate Christmas. Literally. It's not just a little bit of vacuuming up after bringing in the tree, or dusting before putting up the decorations. No. In my family (usually spearheaded by my very traditional father) we would empty out closets, vacuum behind the couch and scrub down the walls. I may or may not have memories of sorting my Barbie shoes. And it all has to be finished by Christmas Eve at the very very latest. Needless to say, this results in a lot of stressed out Norwegians!

There is an upside or two, of course. At the top of the list is the glowy, virtuous, exhausted feeling you have as you sit down to enjoy your Christmas in an absolutely spotless house. And Norwegians traditionally spend the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve visiting each other, so at least it's good to know that no fastidious old aunty is going to catch you with dusty baseboards!

It has to be said that I'm probably remembering this in a slightly unfair light. My mum is English, and still views a lot of Norwegian traditions from an outsider's perspective, maybe especially this one, which she sees as slightly mad. Why not enjoy the pre-Christmas season, rather than scrub it from existence? My dad, however, talks disdainfully about how the English decorate around the dirt, rather than go that extra mile to make things nice for the holiday. And I think I fall somewhere in between.

I've always thought Norwegian Christmas cleaning bordered on slightly hysterical. As my cousin just said on Facebook today, if you're not planning on celebrating Christmas inside your cupboards, don't waste December cleaning them. And yet I found myself yesterday morning, writing a check-list of everything I wanted to clean in our kitchen before I could consider it properly done. Rest assured that the top of our fridge has been scrubbed, and the inside of the freezer has been wiped. The light fixture is about to be dusted and the floors mopped.

And the absolutely bonkers thing to me is that nothing we have done so far this holiday has filled me with as much Christmas spirit as blasting Christmas music and giving my kitchen a really good scrub. I've never felt so connected to my ancestors in my life! It must be in my DNA.

Image borrowed here


  1. Hmmmm. Yeah, that genetic expression did NOT make it through into my DNA. Thank goodness! Glad you're enjoying getting in the Christmassy spirit! Love you!

  2. I think to fully understand and appreciate the norwegian tradition of christmas cleaning you have to think back and try to figure out where it comes from. And as with almost any tradition you will discover its nearly always a combination of practicality and something religious. In the olden days when most norwegians were either farmers or fishermen and long before the invention of the hoover, dishwasher and tumbeldryer most norwegians only cleaned their house thourougly twice a year because that was what they had time for. During the busy months of spring and summer and while getting the harvest in, in the autum, the whole family worked on the farm. So when things got to be more quiet in the month of December and after making all the sausages, porkpies and ham, along with baking loads of bread, flatbread and eventually preparing all the food you needed to see your family throug the year in your own kitchen it's not difficult to see that it was in need of a good clean. Remember all the slaugthering and prepearing of meat was done on the farm and nobody bought their porkchops at Rimi. This along with the fact that all the lamps used oil for burning, wich really make a lot of sooth (sot) (not sure about the spelling) makes the cleaning frency even more understandable. These facts combined with like you said the visiting of family and friends during the festive season also made it important for the lady of the house to prove she was a good housekeeper. And last but not least the cleaning also was in keeping with prepearing for Christmas. Like Erik Bye sings in song " I want to be clean when I meet my maker" so having a spotless house on Christmas eve was important because it was baby Jesus birthday and it's still quite natural to clean before any celebration to honoure the birthday boy or girl. In keeping with this it's also important to remember that back then they only had a proper bath twice a year and you wouldn't clean yourselves and then lie down in a dirty bed would you? I also remember "Besta" your great grandmother telling me how they also used to scrub down the outbulidings and barn before Christmas and that your aunty Mia aged about six while scrubbing fiercly away at the barndoor asked. "Is it white enough now Granny?" So feel blessed you don't have a barn, keep up the good work, take care of the animals, and have a very Merry Christmas. Love Sigrid :)

  3. I think its a good idea, we're having a house guest staying with us over Christmas for the first time, needless to say my parents have been crazily cleaning (aka telling us to clean)- and eve always dreads it, because about a week before christmas I pull everything in our room out to clean!

  4. We certainly have the house clean for Christmas but a few days before new years eve I'm in a cleaning frenzy. You see Its tradition to clean like mad before the new year because if you have your home clean and spotless for the new year then the rest of the year will be in order and clean too. Well, thats what we have always done...I wonder however if it was just my mom's way of getting us to clean while we were on Christmas break!
    Blessings, Joanne

  5. I am adopting this tradition- it's a great idea! No one wants to celebrate the holidays in a stuffed-out house! Thanks for this!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts