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Norwegian Holiday Traditions

Princess netbutikk

Princess julebutikk

Today is the first Sunday in Advent and the Christmas season in Norway has officially begun. The Norwegians call it, Juletid. Four purple candles, symbolizing anticipation and preparation are progressively lit each Sunday counting down the four weeks until Christmas.

A wall hanging with twenty-four numbered pockets representing the days in December, before Christmas is used as an Advents Kalender. The pockets are filled with little treats and sweets for the children to take each day.

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It’s not typical for Norwegians to put Christmas lights on their houses, although they do sometimes light up a front yard tree with white lights. They also put electric candles in their windows.

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December is a dark month and the sun can no longer be seen in the North. I live in the South and while the sun never gets very high, we still manage to see daylight. Lighting candles, playing music and buckets of tea, help  a lot during this time. By March, the days will start getting longer and by June, we’ll be going to bed with the sun still shining… It’s a pretty fair trade.

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This is also the time of year when Norwegians like to bake Christmas cookies. They’re called Småkaker, which translated means small cakes. Since I mostly bake American cookies, I went around to few of my Norwegian friends (Marita & Anja) and took pictures of their cookies. I even got to sample and take some home. There are many different types, here are just a few:

Pepperkaker (Gingerbread)

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Sandnotter (Sand nuts) which are not made with nuts, but with potato flour!

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Kakemenn (Cake men) which can be cut into different figures, here are some pigs:

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Fyltekjekks (filled cookies) two wafers filled with icing. And Brunepinner (Brown sticks) which is a brown sugar cookie and my favorite.

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December 23, is called Lille julaften, or little Christmas Eve. This is when most Norwegians decorate their tree and eat Risengrøt (rice pudding). The grown ups drink Gløgg, which is a mulled wine with spices, nuts and fruit… And sometimes a dash of spirit (brandy, rum or vodka).

On the evening of December 24, families gather for a festive dinner. A traditional Christmas dinner for this area of Norway is; Pinnekjøtt (lamb chops) Ribbe (rib roast) and a white sausage, winter vegetables, cranberry sauce and rich gravey. In my house it’s turkey (after all – we did miss out on Thanksgiving) Riskrem for dessert, it’s made by mixing whipped cream and cold rice pudding together and topped off with a sweet red-berry sauce. There is an almond hidden in the bowl and who ever finds the almond in their dish, wins a prize.

Afterwards, the children wait while their father takes a quick trip to the neighbor… And that’s when Julenissen (Santa) always seems to come knocking on their window. They open the door, invite him in and giggle at the sight of him.

Julenissen, unlike Santa is neither fat nor jolly, he wears a red robe, a mask and mumbles when he talks. His first words are always, “Are there any good children in here?”

He open’s his sack, hands out a present to each child and shakes their hand. After asking for directions to one of the children’s friends houses, he leaves and their father returns, cursing for having missed Julenissen, AGAIN!

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From the first day of December until the last, I play Christmas music, in my house and in my car, non-stop! I love it.

En Stjerne Skinner I Natt (A Star Shines Tonight) is my favorite Norwegian Christmas Carol and is sung by The Oslo Gospel Choir. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do…

God Jul (Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays)

It’s no trick, there’s no treat

When I moved to Norway with my three young children back in 1989 our lives took a drastic turn.

There were few expats and no international school in our area. If we ever expected to fit in, we had no choice but to learn a new language. There were no more Sunday dinners at grandma’s house, because she now lived thousands of miles away. We soon found ourselves saying goodbye to things we never imagined living without..

There would be no more picnics or fireworks on the Forth of July. No more Valentine’s Day-mailbox in the children’s classroom. No wearing green on St. Patricks Day and no turkey on Thanksgiving. Of course I could always make a turkey dinner on the last Thursday of November but with the kids in school, my husband at work and no parade on TV, it wasn’t the same.

There were no more presents on Christmas Day, because the packages were all given out and opened on Christmas Eve. No more Easter Bunny. It was now the Easter Chicken leaving Easter candy for the children in large paper-mache eggs, and then everyone goes skiing for the day. Mother’s Day was now in March and Father’s day in November.

My children took it all in stride, until they found out there was NO Halloween!

“Fear not,” I explained. “Instead of Halloween there is a tradition here called Lossi. On December 12th all the children dress in costume, go door to door singing Christmas songs and receive treats from their neighbors.”

By the time December 12th rolled around it was dark and freezing in Norway. This meant covering up their costumes with layers of sweaters and jackets, and carrying flashlights. I can still remember my kids that first Lossi, all excited and carrying plastic pumpkins they’d brought over from America to collect their loot in. They didn’t even let their disappointment show when they came home to find their pumpkins stuffed with nothing but tangerines.

That was over twenty years ago. There’s still no Halloween in our town, but they have started to sell real pumpkins and more people are giving out candy instead of tangerines for Lossi now. I guess thats progress.

Halloween is unfortunately not the only thing approaching my home-state of New Jersey this year. Prayers go out to all my friends and family as they brace themselves for the wrath of Hurricane Sandy.