January 11, 2017. It has long been a dream of mine to enjoy a European Christmas with my family. In fact, I often find it hard to fully revel in the privilege of living overseas when my friends and family can’t share the experience with me. Since this may be our last winter in Norway, and because the past several months have been quite rough personally, Matthew and I decided to splurge and spend all of our frequent flyer miles to bring my mom, sister, and niece to Oslo. Nothing like a family Christmas to hold the blues at bay.
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.) Continue reading A Christmas Postcard
December 23, 2015. From Thanksgiving until Christmas, various nasty “epizootics” (my southern grandfather’s catch-all term for colds, flus, pneumonia, bronchitis, and other winter illnesses), had gripped our household, making it impossible to tackle normal holiday chores. Six days before Christmas, we hadn’t even put up a tree, much less sent out a card or wrapped a present. Panic set in, as I saw my last chance at a Scandinavian celebration slipping away. Continue reading Christmas Traditions
December 12, 2015. My very favorite Christmas activity in Olso is the Julemarked at the Norsk Folkemuseum (the Norwegian Folk Museum). Not only do you get to walk through ancient and incredibly adorable log-cabin homes from all over Norway, but you can watch folk dances, eat traditional holiday foods, attend a Christmas service in a 12th-century Medieval Stave Church, learn about local Jul customs, ride in a horse-drawn sleigh, and shop more than 100 stalls filled with hand-made woolens, antiques, toys, and decorations. Continue reading Norwegian Folk Museum Christmas Market
We prepared to spend a quiet Christmas all alone in Oslo. By this, I mean that we’d been warned of two things: 1) absolutely everything is closed — even the grocery stores — from about noon on Christmas Eve through Boxing Day (December 26th). And 2) Norwegians are quite private; Christmas Eve and Day are reserved for immediate family, so don’t expect an invitation to join anyone for the holiday. No problem, we did our grocery shopping Christmas Eve morning and scheduled Facetime with friends and family for the next two days. Continue reading Christmas Eve
December 7, 2014. We returned from the States to find that Christmas had sprung up overnight in Oslo. But not in the screamingly obnoxious American way, where every conceivable surface is plastered in a Crayola kaleidoscope of shiny ornaments, Santa Claus effigies, and tinsel. Here in Norway, they take a more subtle, elegant approach. No one clutters their yard with inflatable reindeer or animatronic tableaus depicting the North Pole. In most stores, you’d be hard pressed to find much more than a wreath or a few wrapped presents in the window. And I’ve not spotted even one colored strand of lights.
In a country with less than six hours of daylight at this time of year, white light — and lots of it — is the predominate holiday accent. Bright strands festoon most of the main shopping streets and a few window boxes, while most homes feature a white paper star in each window, or a lit candelabra. Every restaurant and store advertises their open hours by placing lanterns lit with real candles outside their front door. Candles cover every available surface inside, too, and I’m constantly surprised that the sounds of the season aren’t frequently punctuated by the sirens of fire engines.
Natural decor is big, with birch logs and bark being used for candle holders, carved ornaments, and wreaths. Shoppers tread over doormats made of fresh evergreen branches that release the spicy scent of pine throughout the store. The florist stalls in the city square stock enormous clumps of real mistletoe and centerpieces made of arctic lichen and heather. And my absolute favorite custom is the Julenek (Christmas sheafs) — bundles of red-ribboned wheat (food for the birds) that you’ll see staked in many front yards. According to legend, if you sweep away a circle in the snow beneath the Julenek, the birds will dance around it at midnight on Christmas Eve.
Probably one of the best places to experience Christmas traditions is the outdoor Norsk Folkemuseum (Norwegian Folk Museum). At any time of year, it’s a great place to see an incredible array of Norwegian folk architecture, but at Christmas, it’s more than magical. You can ride in a real sleigh, watch costumed folk musicians and dancers perform, eat buttered lefse (Norwegian potato flatbread), tour traditionally decorated, ancient log-cabin homes, attend a Christmas service in an unbelievably gorgeous medieval stave church, and shop for hand-knitted sweaters and other awesome gifts at the annual Christmas market.
My favorite purchase this year was an enormous Julebukk (Christmas Goat). A legendary beast, the Julebukk possesses a checkered past, apparently having begun life as one of the two goats who ferried the Norse god Thor across the sky. Later, after a stint as a mischief-maker who accompanied young pranksters during wassailing, the Julebukk reformed himself and began delivering Christmas gifts to children. Eventually, he was replaced by the Julenisse (Christmas elf), but you’ll still see him grace the tables of holiday gatherings.
A little more about the Julenisse. The closest thing that I can liken him (or them) to is a garden gnome. One gentleman explained to me that the nisse live in houses and barns. If you treat them well, they’ll protect your home and do your chores, but if you don’t feed them and are a lazy farmer, they’ll become hostile, pull tricks on you, and may kill your animals. Apparently, the Julenisse is a special elf (or group of elves) who wear red hats and expect to get fed on Christmas Eve in exchange for gifts.
My personal brush with the Julenisse occurred last year during my first trip to the folk museum. While waiting in line for the cash station, I was approached by what looked like a giant, red-robed Father Christmas holding a big wooden spoon. (The Julenisse is apparently a shapeshifter and can morph to look like Santa when a more universally commercial figurehead is needed.) He spoke to me in Norwegian, and the lady behind me translated, “He wants to know if you’ve been a good girl. If you have, he’ll give you porridge to eat, but if you haven’t, he’ll hit you with the wooden spoon.” I opted for the porridge, of course, but later the lady told me that as a child, she thought the sticky, rather tasteless stuff was almost a worse punishment than the beating … and on that note … Merry Christmas, kids!