Winter Solstice and Santa Lucia at Yule

The return of the sun this Winter Solstice day is a calendar milestone with an important impact on top of the northern hemisphere. The day has been celebrated for over ten thousand years throughout the world. Interpretations of the event has varied from culture to culture, but most have held recognition of rebirth, involving holidays involving light or candles, festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations.
The end of the darkest period of the year is of course one important reason to celebrate in the Nordic countries. In Oslo (at 60°North) the capital of Norway, the sun rises at 09:19AM and sets at 3:12PM – to give you an idea, I took a picture from our neighbourhood around 3PM today with my Nokia mobile phone:
Winter Solstice and Yule in Norway #1
The Sun about to set in the horizon.

The celebrations are also direct connected to Yule, sometimes pronounced “you all” or “jol”, in Old Norse meaning “Feast” or “Wheel”. In the old Almanacs, the symbol of a wheel was used to mark Yuletide. The idea behind this is that the year turns like a wheel, The Great Wheel of the Zodiac, The Wheel of Life, of which the spokes are the old ritual occasions.

Winter Solstice & Lucia Celebration:
Now you maybe ask; what’s the connection? Well, I did a research for this post and found some you might like to know too – and of course I gladly share:
In Scandinavia, the solstice was celebrated with the Lucia Day, but when the Julian calendar was abandoned in favor of the Gregorian, one kept Lucia Celebration date for the 13th of December and came out of synchronization with the winter solstice. Observe also that on this day one should not work with something in a round shape or bake a cake! And also that the Yule ale should be completed by 22 December so you would not have “solstices” in it.

I know that in most of the rest of the world you say Christmas about the coming Holiday, but remember Yule has many pagan elements and more pagan history in its foundation and pagan rites than Christianity and has been celebrated since the beginning of time in the Northern Hemisphere. Many of the cultures located in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate Yule, all with a common theme, the birth of a God by the Goddess. Most of these Gods are associated with the Sun or with death and re-birth. Maybe not so strange when you know the fact that the days from now on will be longer – not to mention warmer! – Even if there is beauty in the view of the nature at this time. Like in this photo, also taken in the neighbourhood at Winter Solstice, also around 3PM, but in 2006:
Winter Solstice and Yule in Norway #2

We are still eagerly looking forward to the shift to longer days and the coming of spring, especially now at the darkest point in the travel around the sun. I hope that wherever you are and whatever you celebrate you remember also the celebration of the earth and the coming of spring – and may all your Christmases be bright if not white!

Dreaming of a White Christmas in Norway

Are you dreaming of a White Christmas, you’ve come to the right place – virtually as well as literary. In Norway, we’ve had some real good winter weather for almost a month now followed by some snow – just like it was in the good old days : -)
Leaving the house late morning the other day, I was met by this scenery – and with my Nokia N8 Mobile at hand, I can share with you:
Dreaming White Christmas in Norway #2
Not a lot of snow, but a clear blue sunny day with fresh crisp air!

This took me down memory lane from the days of my childhood when even the adults were frolicking and building snowmen. I don’t know about you, but I often reminisce about how winters used to be much snowier when we were kids – those were the days. Snow is beautiful, and everyone loves it – at least at Yuletide:
Dreaming White Christmas in Norway #1 Dreaming White Christmas in Norway #3

I guess nothing in weather is romanticized more than a white Christmas. If we were to credit one person with making us dream of a white Christmas in 20th- and 21st- century; it would surely fall to a certain white-bearded, weight-challenged superstar of the Nordic Arctic north. Besides: A lot of songs sing wistfully of sleigh rides in new fallen snow, and delightfully frightful weather and the movies are filled with large fluffy snowflakes that turn stark villages into magical white kingdoms but somehow never interrupt the joyous green- and red-clad travellers.

My reasons for wanting snow for the holidays is even more related to our family going to great lengths to keep traditions of winters past, doing the same things in the same way year after year, stemming from childhood traditions related to cold and snow. So that’s why I had to use my mobile phone, trying to capture the atmosphere (the three pics above) and share some of why I am dreaming of a White Christmas – or Yuletide in my memories (a pic from winter 2000 on a lake):
Dreaming White Christmas in Norway #4
Combine that with a child’s natural love of snow and ice — with skating, snowmen, skiing, sled rides and hot chocolate — and it’s no surprise that children want snow at Christmas. I guess I’ve never really grown up, and I intend to stay that way!
How about you: Dreaming of a white Christmas too? Or maybe winter memories to share with us in comment?

Christmas trees from Norway around the world

In New York, Washington, London, Newcastle, Berlin and more Christmas trees from Norway are lit to celebrate the beginning of advent. In some cities Festival of Trees are organised around the decoration and display of multiple trees as charity events. In these cases the trees represent special commemorative gifts. The tradition has various backgrounds and reasons and some quite old. Let’s start with Norway in itself:

CristmasTreeNorwayLighting the Christmas tree the first Sunday in Advent in the local community has a long tradition in Norway. We are going into the darkest period of the year (5 hours of daylight) and need something delightful to look forward to you know :-)

Actually these celebrations are from thousands of years ago: To celebrate their belief in the powers of the Gods, the Norsemen (Vikings) held festivals. The father of the Gods was Odin or Thor, commonly called the Yule Father (Yule referred to the sun).

But back to modern times, Advent and Christmas trees: Above is a picture (click to bigify and enjoy), from our community where the local marching band (with “Nisseluer” = Santa clause hats) playing while parents and siblings are dancing around the tree.

So to share this tradition and to strengthen the friendship bonds, Norway sends Christmas trees all around the world. Here are some of the places:

UK – London and Newcastle:
At Trafalgar Square, the Christmas tree is perhaps the most important symbol of Britain and Norway’s warm relationship. The first tree was brought over in 1947 as a token of Norwegian appreciation of British friendship during the Second World War. When Norway was invaded by German forces in 1940, King Haakon VII escaped to Britain and a Norwegian exile government was set up in London. To most Norwegians, London came to represent the spirit of freedom during those difficult years. From London, the latest war news was broadcast in Norwegian, along with a message and information network which became vital to the resistance movement and which gave the people in Norway inspiration and hope of liberation.

In Newcastle upon Tyne, where the 15 m tall main civic Christmas tree is an annual gift from the city of Bergen, Norway, in thanks for the part played by soldiers from Newcastle in liberating Bergen from Nazi occupation.

US – New York and Washington:
The Tree at Rockefeller Center in New York is an annual Christmas tree erected and lit in early December or late-November, and has been broadcast on NBC in recent years. The tree, usually a Norway spruce 75 to 90 feet (23 to 27 m) tall, has been put up every year since 1931. The tradition began during the Depression-era construction of Rockefeller Center, when workers decorated a small balsam fir tree with “strings of cranberries, garlands of paper, and even a few tin cans”, as recounted by Daniel Okrent in his history of Rockefeller Center.

Norway also annually gifts a Christmas tree to Washington D.C. as a symbol of friendship between Norway and the US and as an expression of gratitude from Norway for the help received from the US during World War II.

Germany – Berlin:
Last Sunday Norwegian Christmas trees where lit at the Pariser Platz at the Brandenburg Gate. This year, the two foreign ministers Jonas Gahr Støre, Guido Westerwelle and the Governing Mayor of Berlin Klaus Wowereit and the mayor of Frogn, Thore Vestby from Norway (where the tree came from) lit the lights of the fir tree and held speeches to mark the 20th anniversary of the event. It’s said that the German foreign minister, Westerwelle even surprised the audience even with a few sentences in Norwegian.

Do you have a Festival of Trees tradition in your local area, or maybe you’ve seen or heard about lightening a Christmas tree from Norway? If so, we would love to hear about it in your comments to this post.

Yuletide Nisse and old world food in Norway at Christmas

Yuletide and Christmas in Scandinavia calls for lots of food and celebrations. And no wonder we need a break and some hearty nourishment when we are in the middle of the coldest and darkest part of the year. Traditionally the return of the sun was celebrated with wild feasts in Norway long before Christianity came to this part of the world. For 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 Clause. All of this comes to mind when visiting my parent’s home for the Christmas day smorgasbord. The house is filled with yuletide spirit with decorations and food traditions which have been in our family for generations.

Let me start with one in the entrance to the house. On the stairs coming in you will meet the family Nisse, or Norwegian elf (click all pics to enlarge and enjoy!):

Yule Nisse from Norway #1

A Nisse is a mythical creature of Scandinavian folklore originating from Norse paganism. He were believed to take care of a farmer’s home and children and protect them from misfortune, in particular at night, when the house folk were asleep. Nisse is the common name in Norwegian, Danish and the Scanian dialect in southernmost Sweden.
Yule Nisse from Norway #2

Above is a group of mischievous bitty small Nisse which come from my great grandmother’s home. My mother now has these, and my sister has a few as well.

Yule Nisse from Norway #4

Sometimes we catch the Nisse climbing out of view, like this little fellow hanging from the old family clock from the 18hundreds! He was probably hiding a surprise for someone when they weren’t looking.

And then of course there is the food. My mother makes most of the dishes in the traditional way. The pork patties are made a couple weeks before Christmas and frozen until Christmas eve. The rib must be made from the good old recipe: salted and grilled in the oven, and the fat on top of the rib must be crisp – a very important part of the meal!! My sister prepared the salmon herself in a process which takes several days before it can be served. A lot of time and careful preparation goes into the food for this special brunch. Here is some of the dishes:

The sweets are also prepared at home. Marzipan is a necessity at Christmas time, and the marzipan balls are something we look forward to each year:
Christmas sweets from Norway #3

Another example is this special cookie-cake. The kransekake (literally ring cake ) is a traditional Norwegian and Danish dessert, usually eaten on special occasions such as weddings, baptisms, Yule, or New Year’s Eve. Kransekakes take the form of a series of concentric rings of cake, layered on top of each other in order to form a steep-sloped pyramid. It is made with almonds, sugar, and egg whites (marzipan). The ideal kransekake is hard to the touch, yet soft and chewy.
Christmas sweets from Norway #1
Kransekake – home made of course :-)

So now you have seen the Norwegian Santa Claus and your mouth is watering from all the delicious foods! I hope you have enjoyed learning about out Christmas, and I would love to hear from you about your own traditions at home. Have a continued good Yuletide, and a Happy New Year!

By the way: If you have been missing me a bit, I have a confession to make; My back is not doing so well lately so I have not been able to sit at the computer that much – the hardest is to type. However we are thinking of you, so please don’t feel neglected if I am not around as often to comment right now.

Christmas Tree and Food Traditions in Norway

Norwegian’s celebration starts Christmas Eve at 6PM with a feast, a walk around the tree and presents opening. Let me share in a nutshell:

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. Click the pic to see some from decades back!

Norway Christmas Tree

The baskets can be filled with candy or nuts. Chains made of colored paper are also very popular. Christmas trees became common in Norway from around 1900 and I guess you know it’s originally from Germany. Before presents are opened, we “circle the Christmas tree”; all the family holds hands to form a ring around the tree, and walk around the tree singing 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 to busy after opening them :-)

I often post about food, so let me share some of what Norwegians eat at Christmas Eve too:

Christmas food traditions vary from district to district. Coastal traditions are different from those found inland and the traditions of Eastern Norway are different from those of Western Norway. Years ago, diets reflected locally available foods and the resources and bounty of nature. I have tried them all (click all pics to enlarge and enjoy!):

Lutefisk Norwegian Yule dish
In the coastal districts and in North Norway, the traditional Christmas dinner naturally consists of Lutefisk, cod or halibut. Read my post about how to make and eat Lutefish here!

Norwegian Christmas Day Smorgasbord #3
In Eastern Norway Pork RibsRibbe – pork patties, Christmas sausage and spiced cabbage.

Norwegian salted lamb's ribs
Western Norway supplies with delicious mutton, so what is more natural than Salted Lamb’s RibsPinnekjøtt – with mashed rutabaga and I like Brusselssprouts and cranberry jam. Read my post about how to make and eat it here!

On Christmas Days (both the 25th and 26th of December are holidays in Norway), the family feast gatherings go on and we all are invited to my parents for home made Christmas food Mom have made. You’re welcome to join us by clicking my post from two years back: Norwegian Christmas Day Smorgasbord.

So from all of me, to all of you: Merry Christmas – or God Jul, as we say it in Norway!