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.

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.

Old-Fashioned Christmas Magazines

img_5174

Christmas Magazines is a tradition we have had in Norway since the 1800s. Just right about this time of year, end of November/beginning of December, the shops and kiosks are filled with beautiful traditional Christmas Magazines!
Some of these magazines are just Christmas editions of already existing magazines, but many of them are exclusively made for Christmas only!

img_5175

The Christmas Magazines can be just comics, or elaborate paperbacks filled with short stories, recipes, pictures and fun activities! You might think these magazines are mostly for kids, but no, they are for everyone, and I even think adults are the main target group!

img_5176

My grandmother just has to have these magazines every year in order to get into the Christmas spirit! And my mother has always put Christmas magazines in mine and my brother’s stocking every year (along with an orange and a chocolate!)

img_5178

Some of these magazines date back to the 1890s, and they are still in print today!

img_5179

I just adore the vintage look of many of the magazines, and a lot of people agree with me, because now they have become collectives!

img_5180

I love the more traditional ones with short stories and old-fashioned pictures in them, and I always ask my mother to buy some for me. It is a beautiful tradition which makes me feel all Christmassy and cheerful!

Do you have Christmas magazines where you live?

img_5181

Advent

img_5173

Advent is a tradition we treasure in all of Scandinavia. It is the four weeks of waiting for Christmas. Each Sunday of Advent (4 Sundays) we light a candle, and each candle represents a prayer. We have one poem in particular, written by a very beloved Norwegian poet named Inger Hagerup, that all kids and adults alike in Norway knows by heart. We say one verse each Sunday as we light the candle.

I have translated the poem for you to English as there weren’t really translations available. So here it is:

Advent
By Inger Hagerup

We light the first candle tonight
And we light it for joy.
It stands alone
Shining bright for all of us to see
We light the first candle tonight
And we light it for joy.

We light the second candle tonight
And we light it for hope.
Two candles are burning brightly tonight
Two candles for hope and joy.
We light the second candle tonight
And we light it for hope.

We light the third candle tonight
And we light it for our longing.
Three candles are burning brightly tonight
Three candles for hope, joy and for longing.
We light the third candle tonight
And we light it for our longing.

We light all the four candles tonight,
And we let them burn for hope, joy, longing and peace,
But most of all for peace,
Peace to earth and to all mankind.
We light all the four candles tonight,
And we watch them burn down,
For hope, joy, longing and peace.

Beautiful art by: Lisi Martin

Christmas Card Traditions

img_5001

Did you know that the tradition of giving Christmas cards started with the Victorians? In fact, a lot of our modern day Christmas traditions started in the Victorian era. But in those days most of the Christmas cards were still homemade, just like most of the gifts were.

img_5002

The tradition of giving gifts goes back a long time, and in Norway we hear about the Vikings offering gifts to allying chiefs in order to establish and maintain good relations between the different clans. Even today, gifts, but perhaps even more so, cards, are used for the exact same purpose!

img_5003

We send and receive Christmas cards from people, often extended family members, we haven’t heard from or met in perhaps even decades! In my family, my mother still gets Christmas cards from aunties she hasn’t seen in 30 years! It is just a way of saying: I haven’t forgotten about you and we are still thinking about you. And isn’t Christmas just the best time to do that!

img_5016

Most of the Christmas cards we send and receive today are store-bought ones, maybe even finished written ones with: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year printed on the inside. But in my family, my aunties still make their own cards, and it so lovely to receive a handmade card every year!

img_5017

When I was little I simply loved postcards, you know the ones you don’t need an envelope for, and my granny had whole stacks of them lying around, and I would spend hours leafing through them, looking at the pictures and reading the greetings. My favorite ones were the old-fashioned Christmas postcards, like the ones you see in this post.

img_5018

A lot of us have today converted to e-cards and e-greetings, and perhaps it is for the best, at least for the environment, but I still feel that there is something so soulfully heartwarming about these hand-written Christmas cards, something that is just not there in these fast-forwarded e-greetings. Perhaps it is okay to keep a few papery traditions.

img_5019

Whatever form of greeting you choose, I think it is, like always, the thought that counts, just telling someone you haven’t forgotten about them and that they are still a part of your life is all that matters.

img_5023

Some of us go through life without having any close relations, or even caring friends, and I think Christmas is just the perfect time to reach out to someone who needs a friend. Perhaps you can play the Christmas Card fairy this year and send cards to everyone in your neighborhood! You don’t have to sign them, you can simply write: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Christmas Fairy. How much fun wouldn’t that be! Just imagine the look on people’s faces when they receive a card like that, and think, it was you who put that smile there!

img_5021

No matter what you choose to do this Holiday Season, I hope you will not forget about the meaning of it: to love and cherish one another unconditionally.
Enjoy yourself!

img_5025

Journey to the Christmas Star (Reisen til Julestjerna)

img_5035

Journey to the Christmas Star is a Norwegian Christmas Fairytale Film from 2012, directed by the very talented and magical Nils Gaup. This film is based upon one of Norway’s most beloved Christmas stories, featuring a wicked count, an evil witch, a brave princess, a missing star, and of course, Father Christmas himself.

img_5039

In the beginning of the film we are told the story of how the kingdom’s most beloved little princess got lost in the woods searching for the Christmas Star, after which, the king cursed the star, and both the princess and the star disappeared. Nine years later we meet Sonia, a sweet and brave girl held captive by thieves, but she manages to escape, and in her flight, she ends up in the castle where the king gives her sanctuary, in return she promises the king that she will find the Christmas Star for him, and so the adventure begins.

img_5040

Sonia embarks on a difficult journey, she is chased by the wicked count, but finds help in unexpected places. My favorite scenes in the movie are the scene in the Nisse house (Nisse is a Scandinavian faerie creature), where she is made tiny by little Moss in order to escape the count, and the scene in Father Christmas’ Tree garden where she learns that each tree is a soul, and the most beautiful souls grow lush and green whereas the wicked souls are withered and wasted.

img_5037

My favorite line in the film is in the beginning when Sonia is asked if she knows where to go to find the Christmas Star, to which she replies: Well, I’ll just go left. And when she is asked why left, her answer is: because that is where the heart is. 😊💖.

img_5038

I will heartily recommend this beautiful magical film to kids and grown-ups alike, especially to those who are interested in fairytales and faerie creatures from different cultures. You will get to eat a rich slice of Norway’s Faerie Cultural heritage in this adorable film.

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

P.S if you want to read more about the Scandinavian Nisse, you can do so here:
https://talesfromthefairies.wordpress.com/2014/11/22/the-scandinavian-nisse/