While Norwegian children are most excited about the presents for Christmas, it's safe to say that grown-ups look most forward to the traditional Christmas meal on Christmas Eve.

Traditional “ribbe”. Photo: Anne CN / Flickr

A big part of Norwegian Christmas traditions is the food, and we usually repeat the same dishes every year. Here is a short list of typical meals and food Norwegians have for Christmas.

Ribbe is the most popular Christmas dinner. It consists of pork ribs and is very fatty. In the old days, this Christmas meal gave energy for the rest of the winter. There are several side dishes to the “Ribbe”. Most common is sauerkraut, red cabbage, patties, sausages, and potatoes.

Lutefisk is dried cod that has been soaked in a lye solution for several days to rehydrate it. It is then boiled or baked and served with butter, salt, and pepper. Some people like it, but one rarely eats it more than once a year.

Rakfisk is trout or char, salted and fermented for two to three months, or even up to a year. Norwegian fish, like lutefisk and rakfisk, is mostly popular abroad for Christmas, and fish does not dominate on Christmas Eve in Norway. However, it’s still tradition to have some fish during the holiday. Herring and smoked salmon is also great of Christmas luncheons.

Pinnekjøtt is made from ribs of lamb or mutton that has been salted and dried (main photo). It is served with mashed rutabaga and thick sausages. It is one of the most common Christmas Eve dinners in Norway.

“Smalahove” Photo: Svein Halvor Halvorsen / Flickr

Smalahove is made from a sheep’s head. The skin and fleece of the head is torched, and the head is salted, sometimes smoked, and dried. This dish is normal in the western part of Norway.

Notably, not all eat the traditional Christmas food, some also opt for the easier solutions such as Grandiosa, Norwegians’ favorite frozen pizza. Lately, vegetarian options have also become popular. Either way, food continues to be an important part of Norwegian Christmas.

The traditions are different across the country, but ribbe and pinnekjøtt are the big winners. These are the estimates made by Matprat.no about who eats what and where:

Oslo: Ribbe 57 %, – Pinnekjøtt 26 %
Eastern Norway: Ribbe 76 %, – Pinnekjøtt 17 %
Western Norway: Ribbe 20 % – Pinnekjøtt 73 %
Mid-Norway: Ribbe 66 %, – Pinnekjøtt 31 %
Northern Norway: Ribbe 40 % – Pinnekjøtt 52 %

Julegrøt is a Christmas rice porridge with an almond hidden inside. Whoever gets the almond, wins a marzipan pig. Mixed with whipped cream, the porridge can also be eaten as a dessert.

Christmas is also a time for sweets and cookies, and kransekake (a tower of rings made of crushed almonds) and krumkake (thin circular cakes rolled with a special iron) are two of the most popular ones. Leading up to Christmas, many Norwegians make pepperkaker (gingerbread cookies) and even their own gingerbread house, which is decorated with candy and crushed and eaten after Christmas is over.