For Chirstmas 2013 we officially welcomed in a new member of the family when my sister married her boyfriend, of two years, from Norway. The Norwegian culture is not one I thought about often prior to her meeting Audun, but we’ve now been fully introduced to it having shared a mostly traditional Christmas with them and spending 10 days in the country for my sister’s wedding.
A Norwegian Christmas is a bit different than our own. Presents are exchanged on Christmas Eve for one. Instead of Santa coming overnight, in Norway Santa Claus, Julenissen, arrives the evening of the 24th with gifts. Traditionally, Norway also has gift-bearing little gnome or elf known as Julebukk or “Christmas buck,” he appears as a goat-like creature. This goes back to Viking times when pagans worshipped Thor and his goat. During pagan celebrations a person dressed in a goatskin, carrying a goat head, would burst in upon the party, Christmas Eve dinner, and during the course of evening would “die” and return to life. Few keep this tradition up today.
We spent Christmas, Jul, with Natasha and Audun in 2011 and they combined our Italian roots with his Norwegian. In Norway a Christmas pig provides the bulk of the meat dishes. They served a Ribbe, or Roasted Pork Belly with the traditional sides of sauerkraut and boiled potatoes. Audun also treated us to gravlaks, which is salt-and-sugar-cured salmon, seasoned with dill. Not a Christmas dish, but very Norwegian and so good!
A favorite holiday cookie is called a sand kager is made by mixing 2 cups of butter and sugar, 4 cups of flour, and 1 cup of chopped almonds. Then pressed into a tin, baked until golden brown, and cut into squares.
The decorations of the holiday lean natural, the tree decorated with candles, apples, red harts, cornets, straw ornaments, balls of glass and tinsels, all depending on what you like. The homes have a scent of hyacinths, red tulips, spices and tangerines. You may also find elfin ‘nisse’ decorations. Tradionally the nisse guarded all the farm animals, and played tricks on the children if they forgot to place a bowl of special porridge out for him.
A Holiday wouldn’t be complete without cheer. In Norway there is a tradional Julebryg-style dark rye ale as well as Aquavit an aged Norwegian spirit. You hold up a glass and yell “Skol”.
Happy Christmas, GodJule, to you and your family, whatever your traditions!