Julenek – Christmas Sheaf A Norwegian Tradition


Julenek – Christmas Sheaf A Norwegian Tradition


During Jul (Christmas) in Norway, you’ll see oat sheaves being put up in front of peoples’ homes and barns. In Norwegian we call them for Kornband (grain band) or Julenek (Christmas sheaf), and they are always made out of oats.

But what is the history behind the Norwegian oat sheaves, and what do they mean to us today? In this article I’ll take a closer look at this Norwegian Christmas tradition.

You might also like: Nisse – A Norwegian Santa

Julenek in front of a barn

The Origin of Julenek – Christmas Sheaf

The first time Julenek appears in any written form is in a Norwegian history book from 1753. However, this is a tradition that most likely goes much farther back in time, and is also a common thing in Sweden.

In the 1700s some priests banned the use of Julenek, and this has led to speculations that it might was a pre-Christian tradition. Perhaps it was a sacrifice to the norse god Odin, or perhaps it was used as protection against evil forces.

Some also speculate that it was meant as “food” for a heathen “grain spirit”. Another theory and a more recent one is that it is some sort of a bride to the birds, for not destroying the next years harvest.

Or perhaps they were just put out because people also wanted the birds to eat well during Juletiden (Christmas holidays).

Two Nisser in front of Julenek

Rules and Signs of the Julenek

Since people were quite superstitious back in the days, there were many rules for when and how to put up the Julenek. In some parts of Norway they hung it up in the early morning, and in other parts in the late afternoon. Some places it was only to be hung up close to Christmas eve (24th of December). The Julenek was supposed to be hung up high, preferably on a long wooden stick so that it was visible to both people and birds.

When the Christmas sheaf was up, one had to pay close attention to what kind of birds that arrived, which again would say something about the harvest for the next year, or if a potential disaster was about to happen to someone close to you.

Big birds arriving was never a good sign, and also a sparrow arriving before you had hung it up could mean that there would be death in your family. Many bullfinch and great tit birds would mean that the next year harvest would be a good one, but few birds would mean the opposite.

Usually people kept the Julenek up for quite some time during the winter. Mostly until there was no more food in it and no birds arriving, but sometimes it would hang all the way until Easter.

An old Christmas card form Norway

Julenek – Oat Sheaves in Norway Today

The tradition of hanging up a Julenek is still strong in Norway today. However, today we do it mainly to feed the birds, and because it creates a nice Julestemning (Christmas atmosphere) around your house or farm. They are widely available at Christmas markets, some supermarkets, Christmas tree vendors and many other stores as well.

Usually they are taken down as soon as the birds have eaten them “clean”.

Christmas sheaf in my garden

Christmas sheaf in my mother’s garden

For sale at a Christmas market

For sale at a Christmas market

A Julenek story from my childhood

I grew up in the countryside of Norway, and when I was around 11-13 years old I remember I had a little business venture together with a friend of mine. Since our allowance was quite limited, we thought we would make some extra money during Christmas.

So just after the harvest was over, we brought with us big sacks and a couple of scissors, and headed down to the nearest field that had had oat grains on it. After the farmer is done, there is always some grains standing that he did not cut for whatever reason. So with our scissors we cut off what was left and filled up our sacks.

We brought them back to my house, and used a red rope to tie them together into oat sheaves, julenek. Since this was in September, it was still long until Christmas, so we hung ’em up inside an outhouse so that the mice would not eat them.

An evening in early December we took them all down, stacked them up on a wooden sleigh, and started going door to door in our neighborhood. We knocked the doors of many of our neighbors, and offered the oat sheaves at a reasonable price. They were not hard to sell! Imagine yourselves, if you got two young kids on your door offering home made Julenek, it’s hard to say no 🙂

I remember this business being so successful that we both had money for plenty of chocolate all through December and well into January.

Jean-François Millet - Gleaners

Jean-François Millet – Gleaners (Des glaneuses)

Seeing a Christmas sheaf (Julenek) nowadays it always reminds me about this little business venture. Also, I later found out that this way of collecting grains is called “gleaning” in English. We were young gleaners back then. If you are interested in the Arts, you might have seen the painting “The Gleaners” by Jean-François Millet in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. I saw it a few years ago and even though these are gleaners from a different time and for a different reason, it brought back this whole story from my childhood.

Tusen takk, thanks for reading!

You might also like: Nisse – A Norwegian Santa

Me (Pål) with three Julenek / Kornband

Your friend in Norway,


Pål of Norway With Pål

Pål of Norway With Pål

Norway native, veteran travel guide, sailor, filmmaker, and writer (you might have seen me in one of Rick Steves’ guidebooks!). I want to help you enjoy Norway the right way — like a local. Learn more about me.

DISCLAIMER: Products on this page may contain affiliate links, and I might make a small sum per purchase. For you this does not affect the product price, but supports me and my work, and makes me able to continue sharing my passion for Norway with you. Read the Disclaimer policy. Thank you, tusen takk!


  1. Laura Bowles on July 26, 2022 at 11:37 am

    How lovely- thank you. We have just had a week in beautiful Norway. I bought Nisselue without knowing it’s meaning. Now I do!

    Tusen Takk

    • Norway with Pål on July 26, 2022 at 6:57 pm

      Hei Laura, I’m glad you enjoyed Norway! A nisselue must be the best souvenir to bring home 🙂

  2. Jamie Tucker on November 15, 2022 at 12:54 am

    Thank you for the information! My Grandfather was from Florø, Norway. My Grandmother from Sweden. Love learning new (old) traditions ❤️

    • norwaywithpal on November 25, 2022 at 1:47 pm

      You welcome Jamie! Thanks for reading the article

  3. John Hinds on December 23, 2022 at 2:40 pm

    Pal I can not Thank You enough for all the interesting information you have provided in this e-mail. Again Tusen takk!

  4. Ellen Bentsen on December 26, 2023 at 10:33 pm

    Hung mine out today in Gig Harbor! Read somewhere to do it the day after Christmas?
    Lots of them in Ballard, on the way to Nordic Heritage Museum.

    • norwaywithpal on December 30, 2023 at 5:00 pm

      Hei Ellen, I’ve not heard that it should be the day after Christmas, but might be some local tradition. Normally in my family we hang them out sometime during early December.

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