January 10, 2018. Happy Belated Holidays to All! And yes, I’m quite behind schedule, not only in wishing everyone Season’s Greetings, but in keeping up with my blog. I won’t go into all the details right now, but the last several months have been filled with a great deal of stress and sorrow, as we’ve had quite a lot on our plates. In the midst of it all, little signs of Christmas around Oslo gave us hope, and occasionally a chuckle, so I thought I share them with you. (Click on the photos for bigger views and captions.)
POSTCARD #1: Christmas Markets
It just wouldn’t have been Christmas if we hadn’t hit at least one holiday market. Since our time in Oslo is winding down, we tried to squeeze in as many Julemarkeds as possible, even if only for a few minutes. Check out scenes from some of our favorites below, and witness a bit of the action via my brief videos: you can catch a fun folk-dancing competition between nisser (elves) here, or watch a pair of animatronic moose singing Christmas carols in English and Norwegian here (odd, but still kinda fun.)
Located in the heart of the city along Karl Johan’s Gate, the Jul i Vinterland (Christmas in Winter Land) festival is a great place to stock up on Christmas Spirit — of both the atmospheric and liquid kind (note the sign for gløgg). From the top of the Ferris wheel, I’m told you can get a bird’s-eye view of Oslo wrapped in holiday lights. I haven’t yet been able to conquer my fear of heights to confirm this for myself. For more details, see http://www.julivinterland.no/english/
As you can see, Matthew is well into his cup of gløgg.
It’s best to pad the stomach with an array of sausages before imbibing in the strong holiday gløgg or glühwein.
Jul i Vinterland also offers ice skating at the Spikersuppa Rink. Bring your own skates, or rent a pair for a mere $10. Note the jumbotron in the background displaying a more Americanized view of the Julenisse (Santa), with his sleigh and reindeer.
If you get cold skating, you can gather ’round one of the many fire cauldrons and warm your tootsies.
You can also shop for Christmas gifts, holiday foods, and tchotchkes. Sure, some folks think the Jul i Vinterland market is super touristy, but to me, it’s really festive and fun.
For more traditional gifts, try the Norwegian Folk Museum Julemarked. You’ll find everything from hand-woven baskets, knitwear, and marzipan treats to hand-crafted children’s toys, home décor, and more.
POSTCARD #2: Saint Lucia Day
For me, going to a St. Lucia concert is a quintessential Scandinavian holiday experience. If you’re ever in town on December 13th, be sure to catch one — you won’t be sorry. Watching the processional of little girls and young ladies usher in the dawn with a song is guaranteed to wring a tear from your eye. For more about the tradition, check out my post Santa Lucia Day. And to see a bit of this year’s concert at Oslo’s Domkirke (Cathedral), watch my video here.
The Domkirke is Oslo’s Lutheran Cathedral. It opened in 1697 but contains remnants from two older churches, most notably St. Hallvard’s dating from the 1100s. The cathedral hosts a St. Lucia concert at dawn on December 13th. Don’t worry, it’s not that early; the sun doesn’t rise until around 9:00 a.m. at this time of year.
During the concert, the church is illuminated only by candlelight and the rising dawn, hence the atmospheric shadows. Although the church interior was renovated in the 1950s, you can still see the original gilded Baroque pulpit, which the St. Lucia choir gathers beneath for their concert. The unusual ceiling murals are by artist Hugo Mohr and date to 1937 – 1950.
The Kvindelige Studenters Sangforening and Det Norske Jentekors were the performers at this year’s St. Lucia concert. In addition to the customary “Sancta Lucia,” they sang other traditional Scandinavian Christmas songs. I can’t express enough what a truly moving experience this is — if you’ve got an hour to kill during a Christmas tour of Oslo, don’t miss it!
Afterwards, the St. Lucia singers served exiting guests traditional saffron buns and coffee. As if the incredible music wasn’t enough….
POSTCARD #3: Norwegian Holiday Finery
Nothin’ says Christmas like festive holiday attire. For Norwegians, this means hand-knitted sweaters (even for pets), red stocking caps, sealskin booties, fur coats, and bunad (the national costume). We decided to join in this year with our own knitting-themed Christmas card that we’ve entitled, “Awkward Family Photo, Norwegian Style.”
How friggin’ cute is she? I saw at least ten kids a day dressed like the Julenisse (Christmas elf, similar to Santa.)
Each region of Norway has its own traditional Christmas food. Northern Norway goes for lutefisk (lye-cured cod). Western Norway dishes out pinnejøtt (salted, dried, reconstituted, then steamed mutton or lamb ribs). And around Oslo, ribbe (pork belly) is #1. Moods of Norway, one of our favorite (now-defunct) stores, encouraged Norwegians to advertise their personal preference via these sweaters. I tried to con Matthew into buying one. No dice.
This guy really committed to his holiday theme. He’s dressed as a true, old-style, Norwegian Julenisse (Christmas elf), rather the the more modern “Father Christmas” character typically portrayed today. He was just cruisin’ the streets of Oslo, greeting kids for the fun of it.
Fluffball in his Norwegian sweater.
Note the long stocking cap on the lad, and the lady’s mink coat, knitted gloves, and traditional sealskin boots.
On the holidays, many Norwegians wear bunad (traditional costumes) that broadcast their family heritage and the region from which they hail. This photo was taken by my sister at the Domkirke’s Christmas Eve service, but more about that in my next post.
For those of you who might not have yet received your holiday card from us (we’re never sure whether they all actually make it successfully overseas), here’s a sample. Matthew and I photographed the detail on a hand-knitted Norwegian mitten and used it as the cover image. Inside, you can see that the whole family — including the cats — has donned Norwegian sweaters.
POSTCARD #4: The Seasonal Street Scene
As I’ve said before, you can’t find a more elegant Christmas scene than the one offered up on the streets of Oslo. White lights, candlelight, simple red ribbons, and greenery create a homespun yet tasteful display that’s (mostly) free of crass commercialism. I say mostly because this year, Coca-Cola brought a fleet of trucks staffed by “Santas from Atlanta” to remind everyone what Christmas in the U.S. is all about.
I can’t get enough of these gorgeous wreaths made from real moss, reindeer lichen, boxwood, birchbark, and pine boughs. No disco-ball glitter crap here.
Note the simple green wreaths and the Julenek (Christmas sheaves of wheat). Look closely, and you’ll see that the Juleneks are serving their purpose — feeding the birds. Tradition says that on Christmas Eve at midnight, sparrows will dance in a circle beneath the Julenek.
It seems like every store window is filled with a million different versions of Jul Kalenderlys (Christmas calendar lights). These help with the countdown to “The Big Day,” which is the 24th in Norway. Everyone opens their presents and has their fancy meal on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day (the 25th) is reserved for relaxing and having a leisurely brunch with family.
How’s this for a gorgeous tree yard? It comes complete with a fire cauldron in case you get chilly while shopping for your Christmas tree. Norway has the most incredible selection of live trees I’ve ever seen. Every year we’ve bought a different kind, just to try them all.
Another annual tradition is stocking up on real candles for the tree, and a 3- or 5-branched candelabra. Some say the number symbolizes the Trinity, others say it can be used to represent the number of family members or kids in the household.
The Santa from Atlanta (Coca-Cola’s headquarters) is busy peddling the American health drink right next to Oslo’s main rail station. Yep, a little tacky, but it was still bizarrely comforting to see something so familiar in the heart of Oslo.
Nearby to Coke’s blinged-out semi trailer, and behind the giant Tiger sculpture, was a little live manger scene. BTW, the tiger sculpture is a reference to Oslo’s old nickname, “Tiger Town,” which some say refers to the days when country yokels would come to the big city and get preyed on by unscrupulous urbanites.
An adorable donkey named Tarzan and a sheep named Spooky populated the manger scene, which was constructed to help raise donations for the city’s street mission.
Every year near the Spikersuppa Julemarked, Roma (gypsies) construct an elaborate miniature castle made of snow. It sounds weird, but I look forward to seeing it each December as a harbinger of the holiday.
Stay tuned for more about our Christmas in Oslo this year!