Christmas in Norway

Our family has really been enjoying the Christmas Season while learning a lot about how Norwegians celebrate Christmas. Ada, fortunately, gets to experience a lot of what makes Christmas special in Norway through her school. Let’s start on December 1st- Evidently, Advent calendars are very big here and some parents go to the trouble of buying 24 paper bags and then filling each with a toy for every day leading up to Christmas. The other class representative and I made an advent calendar for Ada’s class (each kid was chosen to receive a bag of goodies during the month of December) which you can see below. Of course, many parents don’t do this for the children and buy a traditional chocolate advent calendar instead (which is what we did- who needs more toys!).

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On December 6th, Ada and her fellow classmates got to climb 1.3 miles up a mountain to Sæten Gård, the farm/DNT cabin we visited earlier this fall. At Sæten Gård, she learned about elves from an old Norwegian woman dressed up in traditional Norwegian clothes who pretended to be the “skognissemor” directly translated as the forest mother elf.

They sang a traditional Norwegian Christmas song about a barn elf who is eating his “julegrot” or traditional sweet rice pudding that Norwegians eat for dessert on Christmas. In the song, the elf has to fend off the rats who want to eat his julegrot. You can see a clip of other people singing this song later in this post.  Ada then got to eat julegrot (which she absolutely loves) with warm black currant juice (another Norwegian winter time treat) inside a barn.

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Ada also played games, saw the animals on the farm and then her class headed 1.3 miles back down the mountain. (By the way, she and the other 34 children in the preschool at OIS did this hike when it was 40 degrees F and rainy so they wore wool long underwear, a one-piece fleece, and a rain suit!) When they got back she said she had the best time though her teacher told me she had to pee twice while hiking which is not easy to deal with when you are wearing so many layers!

Through Ada’s school, we also got to learn about Santa Lucia. Santa Lucia is the Saint of Light who gave food to the poor and hungry. Her sainthood is celebrated in Sweden, Norway and some parts of Finland during the darkest time of the year. Usually, the oldest girl will dress up as Santa Lucia (in a white dress with a red bow and a crown of candles), and younger girls will follow her in a processional while they sing a song about Santa Lucia. There is also a Santa Lucia sweet bread called “luciakatter” which I got to help Ada bake at school a few days before the celebration so they could eat it after their performance. Here is a picture of Ada shaping the luciakatter and a finished piece ready to be baked:

Here is a hilarious video of Ada in the Santa Lucia processional (John took this video and Ada usually hates getting her picture taken):

and a bonus video of Ada performing in her winter concert at school:

Our family has been using our weekends to visit some pretty incredible Christmas markets in town. (Christmas markets or julemarkeds are quite common- they usually are outdoors, involve fires to warm you up, Christmas food, hot drinks, and Christmas handicrafts for sale.) The first we visited was in downtown Oslo called JuliVinterland. Here is a pic of Ada and Maddie warming up by the fire:

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We also went to the Christmas market at the folk museum in Oslo. This was my favorite market because we all got to see the “nisse” or Christmas elves and Santa perform the song about the barn elf defending his rice pudding from rats that Ada learned on her hike to Sætern Gård:

and we saw another Santa Lucia processional:

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and heard the traditional Santa Lucia song again from professionals:

One of the kids’ activities at the Folk Museum was whittling a stick into Santa which Ada loved and almost made me have a heart attack:

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The girls also got to make a simple version of the traditional Norwegian heart basket as an ornament for our Christmas tree. These heart baskets traditionally hold sweets which used to be the only gift the children received for Christmas. I didn’t get a picture of them making it but here is a description of how to make the more complicated version.

Last weekend, we had John’s friend, Danny, over for dinner. Danny connected John to the University of Oslo (which is one of the reasons we decided to spend this sabbatical in Norway). Because we were curious about what Norwegians eat on Christmas, John decided to make a traditional Norwegian Christmas dinner. He made Pinnekjott (salted and dried lamb ribs that you have to soak in water for 30 hours and then steam for 3 hours), rotmos (mashed rutabaga, carrot, and potato), potatoes, and snap beans. As mentioned before, Norwegian’s usually have rice pudding as dessert. On Christmas eve, they hide an almond in the rice pudding and whoever gets the almond gets to eat a marzipan pig. (They then leave the julegrot out for the barn elf so he doesn’t make mischief during the new year.) However, since Maddie and John do not like rice pudding, we had ice cream with pepperkakke (gingerbread) instead. Everything, as you can guess, was delicious.

Pepperkakke, (scandinavian’s gingerbread cookie), by the way, are ubiquitous and inexpensive in Norway this time of year. Most grocery stores also sell pepperkakke deig (gingerbread dough) so you can make gingerbread cookies at home. At one of the Julemarkeds, Ada and Maddie got to decorate gingerbread cookies and we also made some at home (with the premade dough) with cookie cutters loaned to us from a friend.

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We did not celebrate  Christmas Eve or day in Norway (or in Atlanta which we will miss!) but we did celebrate in Denmark with my cousin Margaret Hunter, her husband Bjarne, and their children Peter and Peyton. We’ll post more on that later. In the meantime, Merry Christmas!

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