March 18, 2016. Easter (known as Påske in Norway) has crept up on us early this year, and frankly, no one is ready. Last year, stores flaunted decorations and treats at least a month in advance of the big event. Now, just one week before the holiday, eggs, chicks, and chocolates are finally beginning to peek out from shop windows. Confectioners have done their level best to make up for lost time, though. Their offerings include fragile feats of sugary engineering that command their own air space and challenge the laws of physics.
It seems the Easter Bunny goes pretty upscale for Norwegian children. No marshmallow peeps or Cadbury cremes for these discerning youngsters. Just beautifully hand-crafted chocolates, marzipan, and truffles shaped like eggs, pigs, and acorns. (I’m not sure of the significance of those last two, but I bet they have pagan origins, like most other Easter emblems.)
Kid’s don’t get easy access to their holiday loot, however. Rather than bringing his bounty in a basket, the Big Bunny leaves behind a dinosaur-sized, candy-filled, chocolate egg — and a mallet for the kids to crack it open with. Gotta work for those goodies, boys and girls! And hey, it’s just not Easter without a little sugar-fueled violence, right?
By the way, apparently the fluffy, pink-eyed guy delivers his bonanza the day before Easter. Yes, the predominantly atheist/agnostic Norwegians still save late Saturday night and early Sunday morning for The Lord, converting to what my sister refers to as “Chreasters” — those who attend church only on Christmas and Easter for Midnight Mass. (I confess I’m one of their number.)
Speaking of holiday traditions, my hairstylist, Sophie, tells me that Easter egg hunts are a recent cultural import (as is the Easter Bunny himself.) She says that they became popular in Norway only about 15 year ago, when folks started hiding eggs indoors around the house (since the weather isn’t usually conducive to an outdoor romp this time of year.) Apparently, parents also supplement the payload by tucking a hollow, papier-mâché egg filled with gifts and treats beneath the bed of each child.
Sophie says another common custom for women during the days leading up to Easter is indulging in a Babor beauty treatment. No, it’s neither French nor an elephant byproduct (for those of you thinking of the Babar books.) It’s a German skincare line supposedly made up of all natural ingredients. At Christmas and Easter, the company puts out a special package deal aimed to get your face and neck ready for winter or spring.
Of course I easily fell prey to Babor’s marketing genius, which designs these seasonal treatments to look like advent calendars. “A vial a day keeps the crepe-lines away,” must be the motto, as the festive containers are peppered with numbered doors behind which sit small, serum-filled glass bottles called “ampoules” — one for each day over a two-week period. The formula within these vials changes every few days to gradually “lift, tighten, and reawaken the skin for spring.”
I quickly toddled home with my pink, cardboard Easter egg, eager to discover what was behind Door No. 1. As it turns out, a little bottle of “Hydra Plus Active Fluid” awaited me, advertising itself as, “An invigorating thirst-quencher for any skin that needs moisture.” The more medical translation explained that it’s a “Hyaluronic acid that supplies intensive moisture and binds it in the skin.” Hmm. Acid on my face. Sounds more disfiguring than beautifying … but I’m in.
After prying the tiny glass vial out of its plastic housing (no easy feat), I struggled to snap off the top without impaling my fingertips on the shards. Task completed, no blood shed, a copious amount of clear liquid gurgled out of the vial, and I applied the stuff to my face and neck in a circular fashion, as instructed. Truthfully, the serum smelled fabulous but left my face feeling slightly sticky. I began to wonder if I’d just given myself a pricey perfume facial.
I’m now on day 10 of the two-week regimen and have run through the Revitalizing Oxygen Fluid, the Collagen Booster Fluid, the Triple Booster Fluid, and the 3D Lifting Fluid. (Don’t they sound promising?) My skin seems brighter and feels tighter, but I still don’t look like I’ve entirely reclaimed my 20-year-old self. I’ve got four days left to go, though, so fingers crossed!
My goal is to be a raving beauty by the time we take off to Turkey, a popular spring-break destination for many Norwegians. Most, however, stay closer to home for the holiday because they claim spring snow is the best for skiing. As I mentioned last year, its seems everyone travels to påskefjellet (“Easter Mountain”), which is their way of saying that they’ll load up the family car and head to the hytte (mountain cabin) to ski, hike … and read crime novels, of course.
Why crime novels? Here’s the story I found: At Easter time in 1923, publishing guru Harald Grieg decided to market a new crime novel by placing an advertisement (disguised to read as a headline) on the front page of the national newspaper, Aftenposten. Entitled “Bergen Train Looted in the Night,” the ad moved lots of books, and the following year at Easter, a competing publisher launched his own series of detective stories.
To this day, Aftenposten still highlights crime novels on its cover during Easter week and puts out a special magazine reviewing “Easter Thrillers” (called Påskekrim). Norwegian publishers churn out dozens of these nail-biters this time of year — often with a 50% markup for the week! NRK and other Norwegian television and radio stations get in on the game, releasing tons of horror and crime programs for the occasion. Apparently a perennial Easter favorite is Død Snø (Dead Snow), a Norwegian film about students on a ski holiday who run into a troop of Nazi zombies. More tastefully, at least no one runs commercial ads on Good Friday — it’s one of three days a year that stations feature only charity promos.
I’ll likely take part this year in the Easter festivities by reading more of Agatha Christie’s Inspector Poirot novels, and by decorating my house in the traditional Norwegian style with yellow flowers and candles, and a Påskeris. The Easter equivalent of a Christmas tree, the Påskeris is a birch twig decorated with feathers — an old Norse pagan tradition still practiced all over Norway. Blossoming birch has a heady, fresh odor that Scandinavians associate with spring.
I’ve decorated my own Påskeris for the last two years using blown-out, speckled quail eggs as well as chicken eggs that I decoupaged with Guinea feathers, all obtained at a local craft store. Eggs are a big holiday theme here, not because they’re a symbol of the ancient Babylonian goddess “Ishtar” (which is where our word “Easter” and our egg-decorating customs originate), but because these rich orbs represent the return of a beloved food source.
During Norway’s long, dark winters, chickens stop laying eggs. However, by Easter, the longer daylight hours return, spurring hens to do their duty. That’s why egg-based dishes dominate the Easter brunch table in Norwegian households. Nothin’ says “celebrate” like a little cholesterol overload.
And with that fun fact, I’ve got to join the other adventurous Norwegians in packing for the nouveau-traditional trip to Turkey. (Apparently, those who don’t go to påskefjellet go to Turkey, instead.) Like last year, Matthew and I will be taking almost a full week for the holiday, considering that our job site will be virtually vacated. That’s because Norway has the world’s longest Easter holiday, which begins with Maundy Thursday, known as skjærtorsdag in Norwegian (it means “cleansing Thursday.”) The celebrations continue through langfredag (“long Friday”/Good Friday) and the Monday following Easter Sunday, which is known as andre påskedag (“Another Easter;” we call it “Ascension Day.”)
But in reality, most everyone leaves for vacation the previous Friday, so I’ve got to get a move on — our flight is at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow. Stay tuned for Turkey!