Christmas is a high time in Norway and rife with tradition. An abundance of churches and schools hold special Christmas concerts. Schools, daycares and private homes commonly hold special Christmas craft gatherings called ‘juleverksted’ (literally Christmas work shop). Crafts and other handmade goods are hawked at special Christmas markets. Friends and co-workers gather for Christmas meals (called ‘julebord’) in homes or at restaurants. In addition to all these Christmas traditions the practice of Advent helps to build high anticipation for the holiday.
The first four Sundays before Christmas are ‘advent Sundays’ and the tradition is to light one candle in a special advent candelabra each Sunday while you sing a verse from an advent candle lighting song. Advent season also has it’s own special color: purple. In some cases Norwegians decorate exclusively in purple right up until Christmas where they switch everything out with Christmas décor. Typically Norwegian children have an advent calendar for the month of December. Each day in December (until Christmas Eve) the child opens a door in a calendar or a gift. Some are chocolate advent calendars that you can buy in the grocery store and some are more creative and elaborate with small gifts parents have wrapped. That means 24 gifts – and all before Christmas!
The state operated TV channel, NRK, has a special TV ‘advent calendar’ for children. The TV series is broken up into 24 parts and each evening the story takes a pivotal and exciting turn just as it ends. I began watching it on day three and was admittedly immediately hooked! This year NRK premiered “The Christmas King”, a modern day fairy tale that touched on themes of bullying, friendship, honesty, the importance of family and certainly not least – the weather. I was, in fact, so impressed with the creative manuscript and quality of acting that when I saw the main character on the metro I gushed about it for days.
You may have noticed that I’ve mentioned 24 twice and, no, it wasn’t by accident. In Norway Christmas starts on ‘julaften’ or Christmas Eve. My husband and I began julaften with a refreshing first-of-the-season cross-country ski run (thanks to my white Christmas). For lunch we ate the typical meal of rice porridge with our immediate family. A peeled almond is hidden in the porridge and whoever finds it carefully tucks it in a corner of their mouth until the end of the meal. When they produce the almond they get the prize of a marzipan pig! The true Christmas celebration officially begins at five o’clock in the evening when nationwide the church clock towers ring in the holiday. That is the time you sit down to a delicious and abundant Christmas dinner. This year we ate Christmas dinner with one of my husbands’ aunt and uncle. There were eleven of us and we ate and talked and took time to fellowship, laugh and (my favorite part) sing Christmas songs. After dinner we opened gifts for almost two hours. I have to say that I have never experienced anything like it!
I’m a bit relieved that all of the anticipation of Advent hasn’t left me disappointed. Today, on what Norwegians call the first Christmas day, we’ve had another Christmas dinner with my husbands’ maternal family. It was a delicious meal and leisurely afternoon filled with conversation and an abundance of cakes (weddings are just one of the occasions that merit a cake potluck!). And tomorrow there is one more Christmas dinner, on what they call the second Christmas day, with yet another aunt and uncle.
In spite of the anticipation, celebration and satisfaction of Christmas in Norway I’m still thinking of home today. In contrast to the carefully laid plans in Norway the only constant Christmas tradition in my immediate family is that we get together. It can range between the 23rd and 26th (when we can coordinate it) and it may be lunch or dinner, homemade or out-to-eat Thai or Mexican, but it doesn’t really matter as long as we’re together. I’m not there this year, but I will be again in the future (Skype will have to do for now). And I realize that the difficulty of my dual life is that I will undoubtedly miss my Norwegian Christmas the next time I celebrate it in the States. Thankfully I have the comfort of one common denominator: my husband.
My Christmas wish for you today is that wherever you are this season, whomever you are with and whatever you do that you experience love and the warmth and joy of connection!