The Littlest Santa Claus

When I was a little girl I firmly believed in Santa Claus, or “Julenissen “ as we call him in Norway. But being a very informed and sensible child with a strong sense of logic, I did not buy into the idea of one man delivering presents to all the children of the world in one night, and in a sleigh pulled by reindeer? No, that was definitely NOT plausible. Besides, most of my presents came from my parents and family, and I also knew for a fact that many kids did not receive gifts for Christmas. Our neighbors were Jehova’s Witnesses, and those children certainly did not get any presents. So how could I believe in Santa then? Well, I had heard the legend of Saint Nicholas who gave presents to all the poor children and how his spirit inspired the idea of Santa Claus. I also knew about the Scandinavian Nisse, the little gnome who lived on farms and demanded porridge every Christmas Eve, otherwise he would not help take care of the animals and the farm and would rather make a ruckus of everything. So I decided that Santa Claus was a spirit, a Christmas spirit, that inspired generosity, kindness and compassion, and that anyone who became bearers of these characteristics could truthfully call themselves Santa Claus, therefore, Santa Claus existed, and anyone adopting the role with a pure heart became Santa. So that is what I did one Christmas Eve. I became Santa Claus.

I was probably about 8-9 years old and was the middle child in the flock of cousins. I had one older cousin plus my older brother and three younger cousins, and I was particularly fond of the two youngest boys who were just 3 and 5 years old. I had pleaded with my mother to let me be Santa Claus on Christmas Eve the whole month of December, and she had finally given in, saying it would be the littlest Santa anyone had ever seen. But that did not stop her from going all out buying me a red furry coat, a red top hat, fake beard and glasses ( I had never liked those horrible plastic masks). On Christmas Eve, right after dinner while the men were having coffee and cognac and the women were doing the dishes, I excused myself saying I had to use the bathroom, and snuck down in the basement where my costume was hidden. I was giggling the whole time, I was so excited to try out my long practiced North Pole accent, and to see the faces of the little kids as I asked them if they had been good that year. I stuffed my Santa suit full of pillows, tucked the beard into my red top hat and tried out my Ho! Ho! Ho! one last time before ascending the staircase with my huge old sack filled with presents. I felt…magical! In that moment I really was Santa Claus! I checked myself before firmly knocking on the living room door while asking with my deep and heavily accented voice: «Er det noen snille barn her?» Which means: Are there any good children here? As soon as I entered, the adults started chuckling quietly, and the little kids looked at me very suspiciously, but my older cousins played along and convinced the little ones that it really was Santa visiting. I handed out the presents while putting on quite the show, telling stories from the North Pole and doing my belly laugh every time someone accepted a present. When my sack was empty I wished them all a very merry Christmas and told them I had to get back to my reindeer waiting in the forest (I knew the little kids would check the roof through the ceiling window if I said they were on the roof) before I hunched down under the weight of my five pillows and exited the living room, waving and Ho! Ho! Ho’ing! the whole time. I climbed down the stairs and headed out in the snow through the front door while chiming a cow bell my mother had given me. The kids were watching me through the window as I disappeared into the dark snowy forest. I am not sure the grown-ups were quite aware of this part of the performance, but they didn’t stop me. I waited five minutes before I headed back to the house. As soon as I came into the living room I exclaimed disappointedly: Has Santa already been here? The small boys nodded and handed me my present from Santa. “oh, darn,” I said “Typical I had to go to the bathroom and miss the whole thing!” I heard lot of subdued laughter from the adults, but they all played along telling me I had missed a great show! I smiled to myself and thought happily: I knew it, anyone can be Santa Claus, even a quite small girl with fake beard and five pillows stuffed under her sweater!

* The beautiful artwork above is done by the magical Lisi Martin.

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Light a Candle (Tenn Lys)

Light a candle! One candle will burn for this little earth
The shiny star in heaven, where we all share a home.
May all find hope, so good things can happen,
May earth and heaven meet. A candle is lit for that.

Light a candle! Two candles will shine for love and faith,
For those who show compassion and always seek to reconcile.
May prisoners have their freedom and refugees a home.
Light a candle for those who are crying and those who comfort them.

Light a candle! Three candles will shine for all those who have to fight
For justice and for freedom, for they need our support.
May no one lose their hope until all people can live as one.
Light a candle for those who fight for freedom and for their human rights.

Light a candle! Four candles are shining for Him
who loves all that lives, every lion and every lamb.
Light a candle for the heavenly king
the shepherds saw on the holy night.
Now heaven and earth will be one
in this heavenly child asleep on a bed of hay and straw.

* This is the Norwegian Advent prayer song written by Eyvind Skeie and here translated to English by yours truly 😊😊

The Year Without a Santa Claus

“The Year Without a Santa Claus” is a 1974 American stop motion “puppet” film produced by the legendary duo Rankin & Bass. The film is based on the children’s book by the same name written by Phyllis McGinley and illustrated by Kurt Werth.

This film has that old-time American charm which I just love! It is made in a time when filmmaking was not only about people pleasing and money making, but rather about creativity, art and a desire to bring something of real value to the world. I love the artistry in these old stop motion movies, like how beautifully the puppets are made, how the colors are true to the 1950s fashion ( The book was published in 1956) and the whimsical design of the Christmas tree decorations.

The story is not super impressive, but that is not the point of this movie. The charm lies in the yesteryear’s Christmas atmosphere, the sweet songs we all know and love, and in the creativity of the homemade sceneries where you can actually recognize the different materials used to transform little trinkets into movie magic.

I, as many of you know, love everything vintage, and this movie is no exception. My favorite part of the film is towards the end when Santa Claus arrives in the little town with his sleigh and presents to the tunes of “Santa Claus is coming to town”. It can’t get more Christmassy than that! ❤️🤶🏻🎅🏼❤️.

Pettersson und Findus – Das schönste weihnachten überhaupt (Pettersson and Findus)

“Pettersson and Findus” is a German Christmas film from 2016 based on the Picture book series “Pettson and Findus” by the beloved Swedish author Sven Nordqvist.
This lovely little film is a combination of live action and animation done so beautifully that even the adults will for a second forget that it is not really real. The movie, despite being German, has that beautiful Scandinavian old-fashioned charm with shabby wooden furniture painted blue, wool and felt clothing, home-weaved rugs, and of course the typical red and evergreen Christmas.

Pettersson and Findus is definitely a film for the smallest children, but adults can enjoy the little details the kids won’t pick up, like the atmospheric sceneries, the vintage interior decor and the overall sweet and cozy charm. This movie is, to me, the very definition of the Scandinavian concept of Hygge.

The story is about farmer Pettersson who lives alone with his cat Findus in a little cottage in the Swedish countryside. It is the day before Christmas and Findus has decided that this is going to be the best Christmas ever. It is up to Pettersson to make this wish come true. But Pettersson has one problem, he is not very good at accepting help, so when he falls and sprains his foot, it is looking rather bleak for Findus and his dream Christmas. Will Findus be able to convince Pettersson to accept the help he needs or will he have to come to terms with the fact that this Christmas might not become everything he has dreamed it to be.

I love the humble lessons in this film, how we must learn to not just help others, but also accept help ourselves sometimes. And how the biggest magic is often not the kind you can buy for money, but is rather found in the wonders and splendor of nature and in the love of friend.

This magical film is, as mentioned before, best suited the smallest children, but adults with a special love for Christmas, vintage and nostalgia will definitely love it too. To me, this film is a breath of fresh air in an industry dominated by commercialism and sameness. If you want to watch something different than your regular Christmas blockbusters I definitely recommend this gem of a film.

Of course, five out of five stars! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

P.S This movie is available on Netflix 🎅🏼❤️🎅🏼❤️🎅🏼❤️

An Old-Fashioned Norwegian Christmas

In Norway Christmas starts on what we call Little Christmas Eve, which is the 23rd of December. On that day most schools and offices are already closed. The celebrations start on Little Christmas Eve evening. When I was a little girl we would all, the whole family, gather together to decorate the Christmas tree, which was of course always a real Norway Spruce. My mother would fill the table with Christmas cookies and gløgg, which is spiced or mulled wine, with a non-alcoholic version for the kids made from blackcurrant juice.

Gløgg or Spiced Wine.

My brother and I would unwrap all the Christmas tree ornaments, and we would laugh and tell stories about the origin of each ornament. My mother would get a new Christmas tree ornament every year, a tradition I have kept up with now as an adult. My father was always the one to put the lights and the Christmas star on the tree. After we had decorated the tree we would each fetch the presents we had kept secretly hidden in our rooms and put under the tree. This was the most exciting part of the evening, especially for us kids. When the Christmas tree was ready and shining in all its glory close to the window (most Norwegians put their tree somewhere close to the window so that people can see it from outside. A very cozy thing to do, I think!) we would gather in front of the TV.

The Christmas Tree in my parents’ house.

Every year there is a special “The eve-before-the-Eve” program on TV featuring a special beloved skit at the end. My mother would serve us rice porridge with melted butter sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. We ate one bowl each and then we had to save the rest of the porridge for the next day when my mother would turn it into cold Rice Cream pudding with crushed strawberry sauce (strawberries picked from my granny’s garden last summer). The skit at the end of the program is the same every year, it is an old British black-and-white skit called “Dinner for one”. Little Christmas Eve is still not the same for me without it. Thank God, it is now available on YouTube!

A still from the skit “Dinner for one”.

The next day my brother and I would wake up to the smell of Christmas. To me that is the smell of pine needles, burning birch twigs in the fireplace, rutabaga mash, and lamb being boiled on twigs from the forest. Even after I became vegetarian at 11 years old, the smell of the slow-boiling lamb-on-sticks still instills the warm feeling of family Christmas in me.

Christmas Soda or Julebrus in Norwegian.

My brother and I would get up at 8 am to a wonderful Christmas breakfast spread consisting of Dutch cheese, potato salad, ham, scrambled eggs, fruit salad and smoked salmon. My mother always told us to eat well as she would not serve another meal until the evening. But we never really got hungry during the day anyway because we spent the rest of the day munching on marzipan, chocolates, Christmas cookies, doughnuts and gingerbread, washed down with what we call Christmas Soda in Norway, which is a kind of raspberry soda pop only available at Christmas time.

Most children in Norway spend the day watching Christmas cartoons on TV just waiting for the day to pass and the evening to arrive. My brother loved the vintage Disney cartoons, like Donald Duck and the snowball fight, Mickey Mouse in the Christmas carol, and Chip and Dale and the Christmas Tree. My favorites were “Three wishes for Cinderella”, a Czech film from the 1970s (I have reviewed this film here: https://talesfromthefairies.wordpress.com/2016/11/23/three-wishes-for-cinderella-tri-orisky-pro-popelku/) and the Norwegian classic “The journey to the Christmas Star” (This is a review of the newer version of this film https://talesfromthefairies.wordpress.com/2016/11/21/journey-to-the-christmas-star-reisen-til-julestjerna/ ).

Our local Church in the forest.

My family never really went to Church as I was raised in an Atheist family, but I developed the habit myself when I was a little older. I mostly went so that I could sing the Christmas carols and get in the Christmas spirit. Our local Church is only 3 minutes’ walk away from my parents’ house. It is located inside a forest. The Church would have three services as there were just too many people to manage with just one. I used to go to the service around 2 pm. Sometimes my granny would accompany me.

The Silver Boys or Sølvguttene in Norwegian.

5 pm is the official Christmas time in Norway. That is when the Church Bells will “chime the Christmas in” as we say in Norway. I would always open all the windows so that the beautiful sound of the bells would fill the house. This was not always so popular as it is very cold outside in late December in Norway, and the church being just 3 minutes away (perhaps around 300 meters?) the sound from the church bells would be rather loud. Another thing that happens at 5 pm is that the Silver Boys (a Boys’ Choir) have a Christmas concert on TV, directly broadcasted from Oslo Cathedral. I still need to hear this concert in order to feel that yes, Christmas has really arrived.

At 6 pm the guests would arrive. My mother always preferred to host the Christmas party so most of my Childhood Christmases were spent at home. All my cousins, with their parents, and my grandparents would come. For each guest that arrived the space under the tree would grow narrower and narrower until the whole living room floor would just be an ocean of presents. Norwegians are really big on presents! It might not always be the most expensive gifts, but we love to make each other laugh and buy little things like a pair of socks or a chocolate bar or a bottle of wine, and wrap it in small individual presents, just to make the quantity of presents more.

Norwegian Rice Cream Pudding with Strawberry sauce.

My family are not religious so most of the evening revolved around the presents. Us kids would not be able to sit still during the dinner as we were just too excited to start the gift giving. But the adults would of course drag it out as long as they could, with my aunties doing the dishes in the kitchen and my uncles having coffee and cognac in the living room. Before opening of the presents we would have the Rice Cream Pudding my mother had prepared that morning, and hiding inside the Rice Pudding was a blanched almond. The one that found the almond in their pudding would get a small gift, mostly a marzipan pig covered in chocolate. This would always be a fun affair, accusing each other of hiding the almond so that everyone would eat more pudding.

Marzipan Pig.

When we were really small my uncle would dress up like Santa (Nisse in Norwegian) and give us extra Santa presents (these were different and often smaller than the “real” presents under the tree). We would always be a little scared of Santa, even though we understood quite early on that it was our uncle under the costume.

Me as a little girl in the national costume trying on my new skis.

Then finally the gift giving would start. In my family there would be one who would “announce” the presents, which was normally me, and one assistant who would hand out the present to the right person. I would read the label on the present out loud while everyone paid keen attention. The labels would often be funny or cryptic like “To my dear wife from your devoted husband” (leaving us to guess who was the recipient and who was the giver) or “To my lovely owner from Missy the cat”. Some labels might even have riddles or small verses on. We would always sit and wait for the recipient of the gift to unwrap it, and then he or she would show the content of the gift to everyone. This is why sometimes we would buy each other funny presents, like underpants or a back scratcher or a tiny chocolate wrapped inside a huge box. We would always laugh at the funny gifts together and marvel at the special gifts. My mother would always give me what I had put on the top of my wish list, which had as much to do with my sensible view on economy as her generosity, but it was still thrilling each year to see if she had bought me the “right” gift that year too.

Italian Christmas Cake.

The gift exchange would go on to past midnight and by the time it was over we would all be tired. Still, there was more eating to be done. My mother would bring out the Italian Christmas cake, a soft cake with a Cointreau filling (orange liqueur) covered in hardened chocolate, especially imported from Italy. Then we would pop the French Champagne, and even us kids got to taste a sip. Finally, by 1 am it would all be over and the guests would leave. My brother, my father and I would go to bed, leaving my mother to clean up. Something she actually preferred because after she finished she would put her feet up, have another glass of Champagne and watch the Pope’s Christmas speech directly from the Vatican.

My auntie’s house all decorated for Christmas.

Next day my brother and I woke up to Christmas stockings filled with chocolates, Christmas comics and another little gift. Christmas day was spent playing with our toys and attending another Christmas Party in the evening, often at one of my aunties’ house.

Romjul is the perfect time to play in the snow and build Snow People.

The time between Christmas and New Year, called Romjul in Norwegian, was mostly spent attending Christmas parties and meeting up with friends. Another custom we enjoyed when we were little was dressing up as Santas and going caroling. All the neighbors would be ready for the little carolers with gifts of chocolates and candy. We would always go caroling at night with red Christmas lanterns, and this made it extra atmospheric and exciting.

Me and my best friend’s little brother dressed up as Santas, ready to go caroling.

Then by New Year’s Eve it was all over. Most Christmas trees are taken down after New Year’s Eve, and by January fourth schools and offices reopen.

Granny’s old-fashioned Christmas Decorations.

I still carry with me a lot of these traditions today, even though I have swapped out some of them with more spiritual traditions adopted from here and there. I have also made up a lot of new traditions myself, and of course I’ve had to rewrite my whole Christmas menu after becoming vegetarian at 11. After living in India for some time, my Christmas smells now include the scent of sandalwood, incense, Cinnamon, cardamom, Irish Coffee and Vanilla. But I still have to watch “Three wishes for Cinderella” and “Dinner for one” every year, and still the beautiful sound of the Silver Boys “singing in” Christmas fills my house every Christmas Eve at 5 pm.

Old-fashioned Norwegian Nisse in Granny’s House.

I am wishing all of you a happy holiday season. Remember, Christmas is what you make of it yourself, so don’t hesitate to start new traditions or repeat the old ones from your childhood, no matter where you are in the world and with whom you celebrate with.

An old-fashioned Norwegian Advent

I grew up in Norway, the country where you are almost guaranteed a white Christmas, so needless to say, snow was a very important ingredient in my childhood Christmas. But it was much more than that.


 
In Norway, Christmas starts either by the first Sunday of Advent or December first, whatever comes first. On the first Sunday of Advent a huge Christmas Tree is lit in evert city and town. This is a big event where families, friends and neighbors come together to take part in the lighting of the tree and the singing of Christmas carols. Children are especially fond of dancing around the tree linked to one another in big circles, starting with the smallest ones closest to the tree. This is also the day the Christmas exhibition starts in the shops and streets, and you will find children glued to the windows of toyshops where trains carrying Santas go around and around in a loop, and where the newest shiniest toys are displayed for Children to put on their Christmas wish lists.


 
When I was a little girl I was especially fond of Santa’s Workshop, a huge display in the mall where motorized santas and elves chopped wood, ate porridge and wrapped presents. I was, however, a little scared of the people dressed up as santas with scary plastic masks and fake beard wandering around in the streets handing out oranges and gingerbread men to the kids.


 
From December first children will open the first door in their Advent Calendars. Some calendars have colorful pictures inside, some have chocolate, but the best ones are the homemade “present calendars”, and I was lucky enough to have one. The whole of November my mother would collect little presents, anything from small toy cars and parts of a lego set (for my brother), colorful fun-shaped erasers, troll pencils or doll furniture (for me), and wrap them in 24 neat presents. These presents she would hang on a homemade calendar. My brother and I had a wooden Santa each with little hooks on, but more common is the embroidered cloth calendars with plastic hooks. Mothers and grandmothers everywhere would sit in late evenings after the children had gone to bed making these beautiful calendars.


 
Even in school we had an advent calendar. Each child (in Norway a class typically has 22-26 pupils) would bring a small gift, the gifts would be mixed up, hung on the wall and every day we would draw a name from a hat to see who would get to open today’s gift.


From last year’s Christmas Calendar on NRK «Snowfall».
 

At 6 pm every day of December every Norwegian child (and some adults too) will be glued to the TV. Nrk, our government broadcasting channel, will each December show a Christmas Calendar on TV. Every day there is a new episode which typically ends on a cliffhanger so that you just need to see what happens next. The finale of this show will be on Christmas Eve.

My mother would bake Christmas cookies to last the whole month, and on the four Sundays of advent we would have a fiest of Christmas cookies and other sweets while we lit the advent candle and recited the accompanying poem. Each poem is a prayer for a more loving, peaceful, and kind world. In almost every house in Norway you will see a Christmas star and an advent candle holder throughout December.  Nowadays, most of them run on electricity though, but in the olden days (when my granny was a little girl) they would have real light in them.

 
« A Scandinavian vintage postcard”

13th December is Saint Lucia Day. This is the darkest night of the year, and Norwegians celebrate it with lights. A procession of kids, girls dressed up as Lucia and boys as star boys, with wreaths of light on their heads will sing the Lucia song while giving cakes (called Lucia cakes) to anyone they meet. Nowadays this is often done in homes for senior citizens.


Us kids eating away at the Christmas cookies.
 
Around mid-December my grandmother would invite the family for a Christmas workshop. This would typically be on the third Sunday of Advent. The purpose of the workshop was to make Christmas decorations. Days in advance my granny would collect evergreens, holly, moss and cones, and my mother and aunties would bring ribbons, little decorative birds and santas, and we would all make beautiful wreaths and baskets with big candles in them. When the day was coming to an end granny would serve rice porridge with sugar and cinnamon for us kids and pea soup for the adults, followed by coffee and Christmas cookies. All of us six grandchildren used to love this day in particular and would look forward to it every year. When we came home we would hang our wreaths on the door, light our candles and wait impatiently for Christmas to arrive.


 
To be continued…

Santa Claus

Santa Claus is a Christmas picture book by the Finnish author and illustrator Mauri Kunnas.
This beautiful book is one of those beloved treasures from my childhood. My brother and I read and reread this book to shreds when we were kids, and all of our ideas and stories about Santa came from this book.

In “Santa Claus” we hear about the life of Santa (who is of course Finnish😊)and his helpers and family who live in this magical place called Korvatunturi. We hear and see what is going on in Korvatunturi, not only during Christmas, but year around.

Korvatunturi has of course a school for the little elvin children, a beautiful workshop, a printing press, a community theatre, an orchestra, a reference library, a bakery, a sauna and a concert hall.

We also find out about the spies sent to earth to spy on the children to see if they are behaving properly 😄.

And if you think that all the presents can go on one sleigh then you are highly mistaken for Santa has of course his own private plane! 😄

I cannot praise this book enough! The story and, more importantly the illustrations, are heavenly! Full of little details to feast your eyes on! This book will make the perfect Christmas gift for a little child, or just a delicious addition to your own Christmas Library.

“Santa Claus” is one of many books Mauri Kunnas has written about Christmas and Santa Claus, and my goal is to collect them all, for when I look at these gorgeously cozy illustrations the whole magic of childhood comes flowing back into me. 😊😊😊