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Julebukking and the 12 Days of Christmas

Updated on February 10, 2015

Children and adults dressed up in costume, going door-to-door in the evening, and coming home with all kinds of treats.  Halloween?  Nope, julebukking:  a Norwegian Christmas tradition! 

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Original goat's head on a stickStraw julebukkCloseup of straw julebukk
Original goat's head on a stick
Original goat's head on a stick
Straw julebukk
Straw julebukk
Closeup of straw julebukk
Closeup of straw julebukk

Julebukking, literally "Christmas goating", is a tradition dating back to pagan times in Norway.  People would gather around a goat's head on a pole, symbolizing the Norse god Thor and his goat, and go from door to door celebrating.  When Norway was Christianized, the church adopted the tradition, changing it to be non-pagan.  The goat was kept, but disassociated from Thor.  To this day, straw goats are used as decorations on porches, in homes, and as small ornaments on Christmas trees and mobiles. 

The julebukking tradition is a cross between America's Halloween and Great Britain's caroling.  Small groups of people of all ages in costume go from house to house, knocking on doors.  When the door opens, they go inside and the residents guess who the costumed folk are.  Then, coffee and Christmas cookies are served.  People visit with each other, sometimes exchanging small gifts, and the julebukker group goes on to the next house. 

Some julebukking groups disguise their voices to make it harder to guess who they are, especially if they are knocking on their direct neighbors' doors.  Some groups don't tell who they are, just visit and have goodies, then go to the next house.  Still others sing Christmas carols, either traditional Norwegian ones or English ones.  The main thing is to have fun! 

The costumes can be simple or elaborate.  Sometimes they are like Halloween costumes, and sometimes they depict traditional Norwegian characters like julenisse (the Norwegian Santa Claus elf) or trolls.  Storybook characters, animals, and film characters are also popular with all ages. 

The julebukking tradition goes from the day after Christmas day through Epiphany on January 6th.  These are the 12 days of Christmas, and a traditional time to go visit friends and neighbors to exchange gifts.  The tradition is not limited just to Norway, so if you're in Alaska, the Midwest, or anywhere else there are lots of Norwegians, watch out and keep the cookies handy!  You just might be in for some visitors! 

Children julebukking in Norway on New Year's Eve

Traditional Scandinavian Christmas Stories

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    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      9 years ago from France

      Very nice tradition, I like that it involves conviviality, knowing your neighbours and being friendly with others, a lot of social interaction... after all that is what should Christmas should be about.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Very Interesting! - The goats in your photos look very well made, too. And, Christmas should last at LEAST 12 days, imo. Thanks for a very goof read!

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