December 27, 2015. The holiday promised to be a rather quiet affair this year, with both of us being sickies on the mend. Not to mention that all the Norwegians have been wearing long faces because the lack of snow this winter has meant no skiing, no sledding, and very little Julestemning (Christmas atmosphere). “Global warming is ruining Norway,” is the constant refrain. And I have to say, Matthew and I felt inclined to join the locals in their depression, as we moped towards a Christmas Eve that measured a balmy 50º F. Felt more like Florida than Scandinavia.
Most everyone on our job site had already headed home to the U.S., so a few of us stragglers decided to have a pre-Christmas supper at Finstua, the fancier, pricier wing of the mountainside restaurant Frognerseteren (which has a cheaper cafeteria wing for hikers and skiers).
A more picturesque place for a holiday meal I cannot imagine. On the way up, fog blanketed the mountaintop so thickly that each of us reported that our taxi drivers had to roll down the windows to see the edge of the road. The dragon-style restaurant dimly beckoned through the mist with its Christmas lights, and inside, the antler-studded interior and warm fire made us feel cozy and safe after the harrowing trip.
We ate last year at Frogernseteren’s more casual Kafe Seterstua, where I tasted and wrote about having pinnekjøtt (salted, dried, reconstituted lamb or mutton rib) — the traditional Christmas dish of western Norway. This year we decided to try a holiday delicacy from eastern Norway: svineribbe (roasted pork belly rib). I’ve had this before, and I have to say it’s absolutely fantastic, although chewing the smooshy layer of fat may give those with texture issues some heartburn, both literally and figuratively. The only Jul dish I have yet to try is lutefisk (lye-soaked fish), which is apparently most popular in northern Norway and Sweden. Maybe next year?
In any case, Christmas Eve eventually dawned bright and shiny, with no promise of snow. But despite this, folks seem jauntier now that The Big Day had finally arrived. (All the fun happens on Christmas Eve in Norway. Christmas Day is generally spent recovering from the previous evening’s festivities, and maybe indulging in a casual family supper.) To prepare for our own evening meal, Matthew and I ran around like crazed weasels as we finished grocery shopping before the stores closed at 1:00 p.m. Thankfully, we found all the ingredients to make our usual X-mas Eve dinner of Swiss fondue, which was followed by our annual viewing of The Thin Man.
At around 10:00 p.m., we donned our Christmas finest and caught the Trikk to the Domkirke for the 11:00 p.m. Christmas Mass. Since most Norwegians catch the 3:00 p.m. service so that they’ll make it home in time for their meal and gift opening, the 11:00 p.m. Mass predominantly seems to cater to tourists and immigrants like us. It was a little unusual that we were joined this year by a number of Muslims in the congregation, attending probably for curiosity’s sake or as a way of adjusting to their new country’s customs. But the tolling of the church bells and the familiar Christmas tunes (sung in Norwegian, although we sang along in English) made us feel less foreign and far away from our homeland.
Afterwards, we wandered the streets a bit, admiring some of the holiday store windows before heading back to welcome in Christmas Day with a fire in the hearth and our first tree illuminated by real candlelight. The candle lighting came off without a hitch, no need for the extinguisher or bucket of water, and was shared with my family via FaceTime. But I’m not entirely sure how much Matthew enjoyed the event, as he refused to sit down or take his eyes off the tree for even a moment, fearing Hell’s inferno might erupt. I think he heaved a big sigh of relief when the whole thing was over, and we both fell into bed exhausted.
We awoke the next day at noon, ate a quick breakfast, and took a walk in Vigeland’s Sculpture Park to enjoy a bit of hazy daylight before the sun set. Hundreds of folks had the same idea, as the park was overrun with families cavorting amongst the statues and mimicking the odd poses. On the walk home, we admired holiday decorations around the neighborhood and took notes for next year, in case we’re lucky enough to get one more shot at a Norwegian Christmas.
Back home, I began cooking furiously, as we’d invited another colleague to a Christmas dinner that included roast duck with figs and sausages, roasted potatoes in duck fat, and braised kale and escarole with balsamic reduction. For dessert? Homemade chocolate panna cotta with orange geleé and pistachio brittle (a recipe I got from a Norwegian magazine and translated with the help of Google), plus our annual Corpse Reviver II cocktails, of course. We finished off the meal with a traditional Norwegian kransekake (ring cake), made up of concentric layers of light and chewy marzipan, courtesy of Baker Hansen.
The Norwegian feast continued the next day, as I fried up my first batch of lefse (potato flatbread) to accompany my new Scandinavian holiday tradition of making herring in creamy mustard and horseradish sauce, accompanied by caraway-drizzled, roasted root veggies. And after all that cooking, I can say that I’m definitely ready for our New Year’s vacation in Vienna!