Christmas Yule tree Santa or Nisse and food traditions in Norway

Norway Christmas Traditions #AChristmas or Yuletide and New Year are connected to very old traditions and important celebrations in Norway. Keep in mind we are on top of the northern hemisphere. After a long period of darkness and cold, no wonder people needed a break and celebrated “the return of the sun” – with wild feasts that lasted for days. These traditions are all based on folklore and myths since the return of the sun has an important influence on our daily life and calls for special celebrations. Imagine: In our capital Oslo (latitude of 60° North) right now has 6 hours of daylight with the sun really low on the horizon at midday, compared to 19 hours and hardly no dark at all at summer solstice.
In this post I`ll share some of the typical Norwegian Christmas and New Year traditions – the happiest season of the year – and I have made some photo collages to illustrate which I hope you like (click to bigify and enjoy!):

Christmas trees:
Norway Christmas Traditions #BChristmas trees became common in Norway from around 1900 and I guess you know it’s originally from Germany. Before presents are opened, we “go around the Christmas tree”; all the family holds hands to form a ring around the tree, and walk around the tree singing Yuletide carols. It was fun but hard when I was a child, only to see all the presents – however the adults knew we would be far too busy after opening them – so walking around and singing first, then the presents : -)
Most everyone has either a spruce or a pine tree in their living room – decorated with white lights, tinsel, Norwegian flags and other ornaments for Christmas. As a child and with my children of course, we made paper baskets of shiny, colored paper. The baskets can be filled with candy or nuts. Chains made of colored paper are also very popular.
To see a tree decorated outdoors is a new thing, but also more and more common. To the right in the pic, you see my parents tree on their balcony. Notice the bowl with Christmas porridge at the bottom and beside it: The Yule Log painted as a Nisse (more details below!).

Christmas food traditions – the Smorgasbord:
Norway Christmas Traditions #CFor thousands of years we have developed our food preservation traditions and our folk tales have over time become mixed with other European folklore, like for example Santa Claus (Nisse). All of this comes to mind when visiting my parent’s home for the Christmas Day smorgasbord. The house is filled with Yuletide spirit, decorations and food traditions which have been in our family for generations. Counting about 15 people, there is always a lot of food left, so join us, sit in and enjoy my childhood’s food feast memories in the photo. There will be served e.g. Ham, Pork Ribs, Tongue, Roast Beef, Lam Roll & Lever Pate and of course Salmon & Herring.

Remember all these are homemade with fresh meat coming directly from the butcher – made with love and care, based on recipes past on for generations! Just by thinking of it, especially when I enter my parents’ house this special day, I am literary taken down the memory lane – just by closing my eyes. I remember mom and grandma in the kitchen almost the entire month of December; the smell, the atmosphere, the excitement and the anticipation. There was something in the air – it was Christmas – the most wonderful time of the year!

Sweets and Nisse too of course:
Norway Christmas Traditions #DIf you thought the food and the feast ends here, you are wrong! No, when you are filled up with pork and lamb and ham and maybe had a short walk or a power nap to digest at least a bit, then the special homemade sweets were on the table. Typical it would be the home made marzipan served in a very old confect box and of course the Ring cake (in Norwegian, Kransekake).
Behind the top of the cake, you see some Santas or Nisse as we call them in Norway. So let me tell you a bit about him:

A Nisse is a mythical creature of Scandinavian folklore originating from Norse paganism – actually close to what we call an elf. He was believed to take care of a farmer’s home and children and protect them from misfortune, especially at night, when the house folk were asleep – type Fjøs Nisse (Fjøs = barn).

Yule and Fjompe Nisse from Norway #1Nisse is the common name in Norwegian, Danish and the Scandinavian dialect in southernmost Sweden is Tomte and Tonttu in Finland. He was often imagined as a small, elderly man (size varies from a few inches to about half the height of an adult man), often with a full beard; dressed in the everyday clothing of a farmer. However, there are also folktales where he is believed to be a shape-shifter able to take a shape far larger than an adult man, and other tales where the Nisse is believed to have a single, cyclopean eye.

In the 1840s the farm’s Nisse became the bearer of Christmas presents in Denmark, and was then called Julenisse (Yule Nisse). This mythical character then turned into the white-bearded, red-capped friendly figure associated with Christmas ever since. Shortly afterwards, and obviously influenced by the emerging Father Christmas traditions as well as the new Danish tradition, a variant of the Nisse, called the Julenisse in Norway and Jultomte in Sweden, started bringing the Christmas presents in instead of the traditional Julbock (Yule Goat).

Ihope you have enjoyed my reminiscing of my childhood and a walk down memory lane. Christmas Eve is now upon us and its time not only to remember our traditions but to give them to our own children and families.
From all of us here to all of you: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Ian Anderson with Jethro Tull concert in Oslo Norway

Ian Anderson Jethro Tull in Oslo 2012 #CAttending the Ian Anderson concert with his band Jethro Tull playing Aqualung, Living in the Past and of course Thick as a Brick, was a sensational nostalgic music adventure to me. I had the pleasure once before, 40 years ago and my very first concert ever. I was only 18 and for a country boy who just moved to the big capital Oslo, it was an almost indescribable adventure. People where drinking beer and there was an odd sweet fragrance in the air – they were screaming and clapping hands: I was overwhelmed *LoL*.
On the stage there was Jethro Tull from England leading by a long haired, tartan caped maniacal flute player named Ian Anderson: The concert is still reckoned as one of the great rock performances of the 70s. Most of the songs were in the album “Aqualung” released two months later. The year after, he made the album “Thick as a Brick” and of course it went through my head at this adventurous concert – this time together with my dear wife DianeCA. Our tickets were a gift from my friends at the “Boys Only” party when I turned 60 – some weeks ago. I gladly share our experience with you – this time with some collages of the photos – the light conditions where difficult, so I hope you understand:
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Actually it was not Jethro Tull, only Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson on the posters this evening. Earlier this year it was 40 years since “Thick as a Brick” and with that in mind “Thick as a Brick 2” was made as a follow up album- however this time with Ian Anderson only on the cover.
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It was the same band composition which Jethro Tull is known for: Guitar, bass, keyboards and drums – and in addition the boss’ with his special small guitar and his trademark: the Transverse flute. Besides, there was an extra vocalist, Ryan O’Donnell who also performed as an actor and mime artist – singing in a similar style and balancing out the more rusty voice of the boss.

The original work was performed as it was originally released on LP record – in two consecutive sessions. “Thick as a Brick” was originally featured a mixture of a prog-album and a rock opera. The so-called story – about childhood to Gerald Bostock was admittedly very in the background. In return here all the classic progressive elements with their frequent theme and tempo changes. It is not classic pop songs, but rather a coherent symphonic works. This could probably also be part of the reason that the material has been so seldom performed. The music was remarkable complex and unique in a style never copied through all these years.

The second half of the concert consisted of the raw material anno 2012. It continues the story of Gerald Bostock with a wide range of stories about what happened after adolescence. Unlike the first part of this disc consists of simple songs with a kind of cohesive story and not a coherent work. The material is also performed by this 65-year-old’s voice, and worked perfectly as successor to the first part of the concert.

And by “Locomotive Breath” as an encore, it was also a rehearsal with one of the classic songs from “Aqualung“. Although Ian Anderson doesn’t stand as long on one foot when he plays his flute solos, he is full of energy and the same enthusiasm and artistic aura which he had back in the 70s. A truly magical evening and a trip back memory lane all rolled into one.

Family from Norway exploring Cinque Terre in Italy

Family from Norway exploring Cinque Terre in Italy #1Cinque Terre (means five lands) consists of 5 tiny villages connected by footpaths and linked by boat, rail, and trail. At the Northwest coast of Italy, they date as far back as the 13th century and sit on the hillsides of that plunge into the Mediterranean Sea. Colorful houses seem to hang on the cliffs. Local churches sound their daily chimes. And the land is terrace farmed for food. Surrounding these five villages is an infinite mosaic of vineyards, olive and lemon groves, and fruited trees. These agricultural plots seem to hang onto the sheer cliffs above the sea. And from these marvelous fields, we receive tangy local wines such as Sciacchetra, purely extracted olive oils, and delightful herbed pesto.
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These five communities discourage auto traffic to preserve the tradition and ecological impact of the area – so they are best reached by train. It has now become a World Heritage Site and a UNESCO National Park. In fact, certain parts of the nearby sea are part of the National Park system as well. And it is the preservation of this area that makes for some clear water scuba diving and snorkeling.
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The agriculture is of main concern here in Cinque Terre. All of the 5 towns and other rural villages are tied to each other in their quest to keep local farming alive. The towns people, like their forefathers, preserve the terraced farms as a means of income and property stability. While some of the farmland has been abandoned and is scrub, most have been passed on from generation-to-generation. They farm mostly wine grapes, olives, pears, and herbs. Each family plot is divided by old, dry-rock, stonewalls, built hundreds of years ago.
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Monterosso al Mare is the most western of the 5 towns and the closest to being a classic beach town of the Italian Riviera. Vernazza, and Corniglia are just a few kilometers down the coastline.

The latter is different from the others because it is situated on a plateau, over 300 feet above sea level, while the others lie next to the Sea. Manarola and Riomaggiore lie on the eastern end. All of the villages are linked by charming cobblestone pathways that make home to local musicians.
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Over centuries, people have carefully built terraces on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the sea. Part of its charm is the lack of visible corporate development. The villages are not influenced by modern development, and that simple, original look, combined with pretty colorful houses, arranged one upon another like stairs gives this piece of Ligurian coast a unique charm:
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This is the fifth post from our big family trip; my wife (DianeCA) and I, our children + SO and even my grandchild met up with Diane’s brothers and spouse from the USA. 14 people in all gathering in Pisa at the Park Hotel California, and having the time of our lives enjoying each other’s company, getting better acquainted and exploring this wonderful part of Italy. From my first post: Family from Norway touring Tuscany in Italy, you’ll get an introduction and then you’ll find information and links to my other posts from Pisa, Florence and Sierra.

Pisa more than Leaning Tower for Norway Family

Pisa more than Leaning Tower #7Born as an Etruscan port on the banks of the Arno River around the middle of the 6th century B.C., Pisa is much more than the famous Leaning Tower. Known as Pisae, a Roman colony, the settlement displayed some Ligurian and Etruscan influence. After the end of the Roman Empire, this was a port town of great importance for the Goths’, the Longobards and the Carolingians too. In the 11th century, a further development transformed Pisa into one of the most powerful Italian Maritime Republics, together with Genoa, Venice and Amalfi. In this period the buildings that made Pisa famous were begun: the Duomo, the cathedral’s bell tower and the well-known Leaning Tower.
Because of their peripatetic nature, Pisans brought long-forgotten ideas of science, architecture and philosophy back to Europe from their trade travels. Pisa’s great variety of architectural styles in its monuments is testament to their exposure to different people, cultures and artistic concepts and to their willingness to blend and harmonize external influences into new and original forms of expression.
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It was here that the refined Pisan-Romanesque style was born – Pisa’s permanent legacy to the world’s art, and where Galileo, one of the world’s greatest physicists and astronomers, and Leonardo Fibonacci, the great mathematician, were born, studied and taught. It can also add its renowned University established in 1343 to its hall of fame, as it remains today one of Italy’s top schools.

Piazza Garibaldi:
This square is very popular. It is in the exact centre of the city, and in fact the bridge opposite the square is called Ponte di Mezzo, the “middle bridge”. The statue in the square is of Garibaldi. The square is always very crowded and it is one of the gathering points in Pisa:
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From April to July the square is packed with students going to the bars that open onto the square and sitting on the Lungarno walls. Moreover, in this square you can find the best ice-cream shop, La Bottega del Gelato: don’t miss it!

The Square of Miracles:
The Piazza dei Miracoli was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO 25 years ago. The square is not located in the center of the city as you might imagine but to the north-west of the fortified wall, almost out of the town; there probably wasn’t enough space to use at the time the project got underway so this is the site decided upon. Since the times of the Etruscans, the three structures found in the piazza have been considered central to religious life, symbolizing the main stages of a human’s life: the Baptistery represents birth, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore life and the graveyard of course alludes to death.
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The square is surrounded by a beautiful green lawn where tourists and university students can lie down and relax in this amazing setting.

The Leaning Tower:
What about the Tower of Pisa? Well, we haven’t forgotten it but the famous and so called Leaning Tower of Pisa is actually considered a part of the cathedral since it is really its bell tower.
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The construction of this imposing mass was started in the year 1174 by Bonanno Pisano. When the tower had reached its third stores, the works ceased because it had started sinking into the ground. The tower remained thus for 90 years and was completed by Giovanni di Simone, Tommano Simone (son of Andreo Pisano), crowned the tower with the belfry in the mid-14th century. The top of the Leaning Tower can be reached by mounting the 294 steps which rise in the form of a spiral on the inner side of the tower walls.
The Tower is the monument that, among the others of the “Piazza dei Miracoli”, stirs the imagination of everybody. Typically tourists take some kind of photo of them holding up the tower for fun! And our extended family is no exception as you can see – after all it is quite heavy!
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This is the fourth post from our big family trip; my wife (DianeCA) and I, our children + SO and even my grandchild met up with Diane’s brothers and spouse from the USA. 14 people in all gathering in Pisa at the Park Hotel California, and having the time of our lives enjoying each other’s company, getting better acquainted and exploring this wonderful part of Italy. From my first post: Family from Norway touring Tuscany in Italy, you’ll get an introduction and then you will know that I’ll do more posts from this trip, so stay tuned – Cinque Terre is next – I’ve saved the best post for last!

Norway Family touring Medieval Siena in Tuscany

Medieval Siena in Tuscany Italy #1Siena is a classic walled city and one of Italy’s prettiest medieval hill towns located in the heart of Tuscany with ca. 55 thousand inhabitants. It’s also the best preserved medieval city in Italy and I’ve read that the people of Siena speak the purest Italian in Italy – actually Italian language students often go there to learn the correct pronunciation. Its peak was about 1260-1348 when it was one of Europe’s wealthiest cities and many of its buildings and art works originate from that time.
While on a family trip to Italy recently, it was on the top of our list to explore of course. So if you like to join us, I’ll gladly give you taste of this magical, beautiful and culturally rich Tuscan town. It is world famous for its renaissance architecture, a stunning view of the landscape, famously fantastic cuisine, wine and the big event: Palio di Siena – a horse race festival – taking place at the large fan-shaped Piazza Del Campo in the heart of the city:
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Twice a year, this famed Palio delle Contrade takes place on the jam-packed piazza. The city’s three districts, di Citta, di Camollia and di San Martino, were once divided into 59 sub-districts (or contrades) of which 17 still exist and make the competing teams. It’s a horse race like nowhere else (only ten can compete at any time for safety reasons) and runs on July 2 and August 16. All Sienese are affiliated with one of the contrade, to which a typical Sienese feels loyal with a strength perhaps surpassed only by their loyalty to their family.
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Since the 11th century, the Sienese have conducted festivals every year where the contrade compete for renown (and in times gone by, actual political power) through contests such as flag throwing, horse racing and even fist fights. The race itself is in late evening but the whole day of the race is taken up with processions through the streets of the various contrade competing in the particular race.

The Duomo in Siena:
A magnificent black and white Italian Romanesque cathedral including the Libreria Piccolomini, Baptistery, and an attached Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. The construction of the cathedral began in the 12th century, but it was not finished until the 14th.
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Its bands of dark and light marble make it an unusually beautiful cathedral, and its western façade is richly decorated with statues. Inside, the floor of the cathedral is covered with 56 marble panels with figures from mythology and the Old Testament.
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Walking in the Medieval Renaissance City:
The center of Siena is accessible only on foot. Cars (other than taxis, police, etc.) are strictly prohibited, but motorcycles and scooters are OK – and there were plenty of them : -). Of course it’s like a fairytale to walk in this best preserved medieval city and maybe it is the warm colour of its buildings that also made it very special. After all, it is clay from surrounding district – terra di Siena – that gives us the colour in our crayon boxes; “Burnt Sienna
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Talking about the horse race and that all Sienese feels loyal with strength: Each contrade has a public fountain bearing its emblem, such as a panther, a fish or an eagle. While strolling through the city, we saw them on the corners of the houses too (top left in this photo):
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This is the third post from our big family trip; my wife (DianeCA) and I, our children + SO and even my grandchild met up with Diane’s brothers and spouse from the USA. 14 people in all gathering in Pisa at the Park Hotel California, and having the time of our lives enjoying each other’s company, getting better acquainted and exploring this wonderful part of Italy. From my first post: Family from Norway touring Tuscany in Italy, you’ll get an introduction and then you will know that I’ll do more posts from this trip, so stay tuned – Pisa and the leaning tower is next!