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.

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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…

Dancing Fairies


Art by August Malmstrøm

Imagine rowing quietly over a lake a summer night. You are in the north and the sun is betwixt dusk and dawn, still giving off a mellow gleam of pale yellow and grey light. Above the water a mist has gathered, twirling in slow motion in the stillness of the night. And that is when you see it. Is it just a formation of white vapor gracefully leaping in the air? Or is it something else, something you thought only existed in your imagination?


Photo by: Ingolf Endresen

Ever since the first people came to Norway, they have been asking themselves this question. Of course, fairies are not supposed to exist, but how can mist move so intently and musically without even a breath of air? The tales speak of fairies coming out to dance in the mysterious light of the summer night, disguising themselves in the glamour of white mist upon water.

What do you believe? Perhaps you are not so easily convinced of the existence of fairies, but if you were there, rowing quietly over a lake a summer night…you would perhaps not be so sure…

Image credit: The beautiful photo is taken by the very talented Ingolf Endresen. You can see more of his incredible photos here: https://blog.ingolfendresen.com/

Midsummer Madness


Midsummer Bonfire by Nikolai Astrup, 1909

It is the end of June and school is finally out. Kids and parents pack their picnic baskets and head for the nearest meadow or beach, or as the last resort; a gravel football court, where a huge bonfire has been standing tall, composed of old branches and throw-away furniture, since the first day of summer. For some, this is the day they pack their cars or boats, and head for their summer getaways. But the bonfire is certainly not to be missed. Will the witch adorning the top of the driftwood tower fall over before she is licked clean by the building flames this year, or will she collapse at the first touch of smoke like last year?

The witch is the main character of this suspiciously pagan Nordic holiday. She, and her sisters, will be on the prowl on midsummer night, looking for eligible bachelors to kidnap, and god help the girl who tries to stand up for her lover! So the inhabitants of each village try to scare her away by burning replicas of her on a huge bonfire. Since the witches normally fly quite high in the sky, this tend to work fine. At least it has for centuries now, with a few exceptions, so do NOT forget the witch on top of the bonfire tonight!

Since this is a night steeped in magic, more than just witches may be heard from or even seen. The fairies will be out and about too. And it is said that, because of this, if a young girl picks seven different types of flowers from a meadow at midnight and puts them under her pillow when she sleeps, she will dream about the man she is going to marry!

When I was little, midsummers were spent at sea with my family. There would be a huge bonfire on a rock in the sea close to land, and it would burn far into the night. We would grill sausages on a smaller fire and tell each other stories about ghosts and witches. With me always being the main narrator. Sometimes I would scare my two younger siblings half to death!

If you want to learn more about our Nordic Midsummer Madness, you can read the beautiful book which is the inspiration for this post: ” Moominsummer Madness” by the Finnish author Tove Jansson. In this delightful children’s book you will encounter a floating theatre, electric ghosts, private property protests, and wild orphans who dream of seeing a real play.

Midsummer is a time for fairy magic, for fun and for family and friends. It is one of those delicious festivals that dates back to ancient times when it was the turning of the sun that marked the passing of the year, and gave cause for celebration. So no matter where you are, please have a magical Midsummer, and be sure to sprinkle a bit of Midsummer Madness in there.

Happy Midsummer!

Her Majesty

Her Majesty is a New Zealand family/children’s film from 2001. The story is set in the 1950s and is about a young girl who loves Queen Elisabeth and dreams about meeting her, and an elderly Maori woman who is passionate about keeping her Maori legacy alive. When the two meet a magical friendship starts to blossom.

This film, which is inspired by true events, is a beautiful story about identity, belongingness, loyalty and friendship. It is about learning to appreciate our earth and the people who came before us.

I absolutely loved this sweet movie! I loved learning a bit about the Maori traditions, and I loved the way the story and the characters evolved. I could easily identify with the 12 year old Elisabeth and her courage and big heart when she stands up for her Maori friend Hira. I could also relate to the curiosity Elisabeth has for the deeply spiritual ways of the Maori people and how she learns to appreciate and even adopt some of these traditions. love the friendship between the two, and how genuine and respectful it is, despite the age difference.

I absolutely recommend this magical film to children, teenagers and adults alike! It is rare to come upon such a gem of a movie in these highly commercial times.

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

Christmas Card Traditions

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Advent Calendars

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Did you have an Advent Calendar growing up? Maybe you still have one! 😊
I love Advent Calendars! I had even more than one growing up, and I still make sure I open those same magical picture-doors every day throughout December.

Since Advent is just around the corner, I thought I’d do this little post about Advent Calendars.

My favorite Advent Calendar must be my “Nutcracker Calendar”. The Calendar has 24 little books telling the tale of the famous Nutcracker Prince. But I also love the Calendars with little pictures inside, the best thing about them is that you can use them again every year!

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If you ask my mother, who grew up in the 60s and early 70s, what her favorite Advent Calendar was, she will tell you it was the Calendar with little colorful plastic animals inside! Sadly these Calendars are not available anymore, but I would have loved to see one!

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In Norway, the most popular Calendars are the ones with chocolate or candy inside. But we also have TV Calendars accompanying an Advent TV show spread out over 24 episodes. The Advent TV Shows are often Christmas mysteries or Fairy Tales.

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My grandmother always have the Lottery Advent Calendar. These are Calendars sold by different organizations in order to make money for their cause. Each door of the Calendar will hold a code, and a winning code is announced every day. The prizes can be food items or even trips!

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My brother has always been a huge Walt Disney fan ( his favorites are the Carl Barks and Don Rosa Donald Duck comic books), so his Advent Calendars were the Disney ones.

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Of course there are more simple Advent Calendars as well. The favorite one in Norway is an orange with 24 whole cloves pierced into it. You pull out one Clove for each day. These Calendars smell heavenly, and my granny still hangs them in her windows first December, with a red silk bow tied around them.

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There are even books written as an Advent Calendar! The most well known in Norway is Jostein Gaarder’s “The Christmas Mystery” ( Which is also available in English). It’s a beautiful philosophical story for kids and adults alike.

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No matter what Christmas Calendar you choose, I think it’s always so lovely to have one, it makes each day a little magical!

And if you can’t find Advent Calendars where you live, you can always make one!
I have done that myself many many times 😊.

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Happy Advent to you, your family and friends with lots of love from “Tales from the Fairies”.

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❤️🕯❤️🕯❤️🕯❤️🕯