The break with Catholicism in the 1500s brought fewer adjustments to the celebration of yule or jul (Christmas) than one might have expected.
It is true that Norway and Denmark got a new procedure in the church services in that it was now no longer Latin, but people's own language that was used, and the worship of saints and the virgin was forbidden.
But the celebration of midnight services and "ottesang" and "high-mass" that resembled the catholic past continued for hundreds of years in communities and cities.
And along with this and maybe in spite of this the "julebukk" and other traditions from olden times continued to the pleasure of some and annoyance to others.
Old Yule Norway
Maybe it was an indirect criticism of these folklore-like customs that Hans Jacob Wille neglected to mention them when he discussed the yule celebration in his "Beskrivelse over Sillejords Præstegield" (1780). Because religious and secular authorities had long cooperated in the effort to "cleanse" all holiday celebrations from "papism" and superstition. "Of celebrations the Jul (yule) is the highest and most joyous, the other holidays are not so much celebrated. It is the "julaften" (Christmas Eve) that creates most widespread joy. Before the sun sets the livestock must be tended, a julenek (yule-sheaf) must be raised for the birds, and all houses must be marked in tar with the sign of the cross. One bathes in warm water, changes clothes and celebrates yule in the best possible way."
What is said about the yule in Telemark in the 1700s is also the basic tradition in the rest of Norway. A traditional farm yule had Christmas Eve as the high point and it includes both men and animals in extraordinary common shared care. But other sources can tell that Christmas Day was the big church day, and no other feast period in the year was filled with such abandon, loud festivity and old superstitions in spite of all efforts to make it more subdued and cultural.
Wild "second-day" rides were found in the communities, the parties were many, and it was danced and drunk in houses and huts. In self-defense against the Yule night "åsgårdsrei" and other anti-christian powers of darkness everything was marked with steel and the sign of the cross, shots were fired over the roofs, and they slept in a common big bed in the living room and kept holy candles burning through the darkness of the night.
The "Gardvorden" (tunkallen, nissen) got his celebratory offering of beer and porridge set out for him in the hollow, under the "vette-tre" or in the barn. Warnings were taken about life and death, weddings, good harvests and great fishing. It was not until the 1800s that major changes were made in the way Norwegian yule was celebrated.
The enlightenment and piety and nationalistic state politics had removed many superstitious Yule traditions. But gradually the celebration was supplemented with impulses from outside that widened and strengthened the religious content. From Germany, via Denmark, came the Christmas tree to Kristiania in the 1820s, and with enthusiastic support by priests and teachers it spread to the whole country. Most of the Christmas songs and psalms that are sung in our churches are written after 1800.
Old Yule Norway
The yule celebrations of today have a number of expressions that have been embraced by the population. There have always been attempt to suppress the most extravagant ways of celebrating, but to little success. The people have always demanded respect for their holiday traditions wanting freedom to fill them with their personal and cultural content.