Happy 2016! We are now on the other side of the holiday season and it kinda feels good to be back in the swing of things. Though it wasn’t our first Christmas in Norway, it’s the first one that we’ve had since moving here.
Many of you have asked me what Christmas is like in Norway, so here’s the skinny:
The biggest difference is that the Norwegian holiday season is llllooooonng. In the U.S. there’s generally Christmas Eve (December 24) and Christmas Day (December 25) and then we go back to work. Then comes December 31, we welcome the New Year and soon head back into the office.
In Norway people are celebrating for a good 10 days. First off, they number the days of Christmas like the song, “On the First Day of Christmas,” I suppose it helps to keep straight all the different festivities. Naturally, each family has its own traditions, but there are general customs, one of which is several days off.
There’s also a host of traditional holiday meals with recipes featuring pig, lamb, fish and sheep. The U.S. Embassy in Norway released a video highlighting the main holiday fare and if you haven’t seen it already, check it out. My friend is the one who was served the sheep’s head. Yes, really.
The festivities begin on December 23, which is called “lille juleaften” or “Little Christmas.” That’s when we put up the tree and leave porridge and cookies out for the “nisse,” which are little gnomes or Americans know them as Santa’s elves. These nisse put many presents under the tree while we were sleeping.
On Christmas Eve (December 24), the boys had the traditional rice porridge for breakfast and if you find an almond in the porridge, you get a marzipan pig. As luck would have it, both boys found almonds and enjoyed their pig-shaped candy.
Then we went to church, where the pews overflowed with people. I love going to the Nittedal church, it’s a wooden church that was built in 1869. For the Christmas ceremony, a children’s brass band played and we sang many Norwegian Christmas songs. One was to the tune of “Silent Night”, which I happily belted out in English.
That evening we ate “ribbe,” pronounced rib-BEH. This is probably my favorite holiday meal, it’s pork ribs with a pork belly crisp. Think lightly seasoned, boiled ribs with a super thick potato chip on top, some of you call this crackling. I know, it may not sound so appetizing, but, I again refer you to the video to see what the other holiday meals are.
After dinner, Santa Claus, called julenissen, knocks on the door and gives the boys and girls a couple more gifts. He also thanks them for feeding his nisse and then heads West. As soon as he’s out the door, the kiddos pounce on the pile of gifts and the unwrapping frenzy begins.
The next day is the First Day of Christmas (December 25), when our family usually eats pinnekjøtt, dry-cured lamb ribs. This day is the beginning of a parade of daily brunches, lunches, or dinners with family and friends.
Our family has its huge gathering on the Third Day of Christmas, (December 27) where we host about 20 people spanning four generations. It looks like Thanksgiving: We’ve got turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and gravy. There were other side dishes such as the very popular in Norway, creamy Waldorf salad, which is like the original Waldorf salad but is so creamy it looks like grocery-store potato salad. This year I made my famous mac n’ cheese and Hubby baked pumpkin pie, so yeah, basically, it was Thanksgiving in December.
I should mention that most of these traditional meals start with a drink called “gløgg,” which is warm, mulled wine served over nuts and raisins that are piled inside your cup. Then at dinner there’s the chest-searing schnapps called aquavit. The Norwegians always talk about how it helps with digesting food, but to me that just sounds like a college student’s excuse for why he drank so many shots.
In the days before the New Year celebrations, we had a couple more lunches and dinners and then spent New Year’s Eve at home. The Norwegians go crazy with the fireworks at New Years, it’s like a completely illegal, but fantastic Fourth of July backyard firework show. Our big “finale” was a $70 equivalent firework that was about the size of two cinder blocks. You could feel the explosions.
After the New Year, things were thankfully pretty calm for us, we even spent a couple days in our pajamas, which after a 10-day holiday season is completely and utterly necessary.
So, how were your holidays?