Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Christmas In Norway - Newsletter from Mission Sister Hill

In Norwegian “Merry Christmas” is translated: “God Jul”.  Happy New Year is: “Godt Nyttår”
A Norwegian Christmas is full of many celebrations and traditions, old and new. Christmas starts early in Norway, as this is the time of the year traditionally set apart to clean the house thoroughly. In England and America, we would call this “Spring-cleaning”. This is a great opportunity for missionaries to ask people if they can help with any cleaning when they are meeting people the week before Christmas – especially those knocking on doors.
Norwegians have many parties at Christmas time. In the Church we have a family party called Juletrefest (Christmas Party) - many actually have this party after Christmas, as we do in the Oslo Ward – normally during the first or second week of January. This is a good time to invite non-members and less-active members. We have a Relief Society Christmas Dinner before Christmas with well over 100 sisters attending, with fabulous food and wonderful entertainment (Oslo Ward). Many Wards have a Christmas workshop where we make decorations and cards and so on. Check with your local Ward for when these activities are because they are also great to bring non-members to.

Advent also starts the Christmas concert season. In every city, practically every choir, band and classical music group have their annual Christmas performances in churches and halls throughout the city. Also in each city a huge Christmas tree stands tall in the centre square. Usually on the first Sunday of Advent, the township gathers together for the Lighting of the Christmas Tree celebration. When the tree is lit the people hold hands and dance around the Christmas tree singing carols. Julenisse (Santa Claus) makes an appearance and hands out gifts to the children. We have a very popular Christmas Choral programme called Jul-i-toner which you should be able to get tickets to. Performances are held in Oslo, Romerike and Drammen.
You may also be able to attend a Saint Lucia celebration on the 13th December. Although it is more common in Schools, some of the Wards in Norway also do this in Church with the Primary children. Activities include a casual procession of singing children. A child is chosen to lead the procession (traditionally a blonde-haired girl), who represents St Lucia.  They are dressed in white with a red sash and a wreath of candles around their head – today they use electric lights. 
Christmas Eve (Julaften) is only half a normal working-day.  People go about their daily routines, go to work, and finish their shopping. At 4 pm the church bells ring throughout the city, which means Christmas has officially started. This also starts the first Church service for Christmas.  Christmas Eve is the main day of celebration for Norwegians at Christmas and is when presents are exchanged. The gifts are sometimes brought to the house by Santa Claus (“Julenisse”) personally. As Missionaries you will not be expected to buy gifts for members or bring anything with you when you are invited to dinner (at Christmas or any other time). Most Wards collect gifts for the missionaries serving in their Wards and these are given out on Christmas Eve.
Norwegians also have a name for the day before Julaften, which is Lille Julaften. (Little Christmas Eve) This is typically when the decorations are hung and the Christmas tree is lit in the home. Decorations include hand-made heart baskets and paper-chains, pepperkaker (gingerbread) and also a string of little Norwegian flags. Norwegians prefer to use real Christmas trees as they give off a nice smell throughout the house. During Christmas many people visit the graveyards and light candles on their families’ graves – it is a very pretty sight.
Normally “Christmas” starts around 5 pm with a large sumptuous meal of one or more of the following: roasted pork-ribs (ribbe), mutton-ribs (pinnekjøtt), ham (skinke), white Christmas-sausage (julepølser), turkey (kalkun), and served with white sweet cabbage finely chopped and cooked with caraway seeds and vinegar (surkål), vegetables, gravy, cranberry sauce and potatoes. Others may have the traditional fish dish called “lutefisk” eaten with bacon, mushy peas and sauce. It is made from aged stockfish or dried/salted whitefish and lye. It is gelatinous in texture. Its name literally means "lye fish". This dish is more common in the North of Norway. Gløgg, (mulled non-alcoholic wine with spices, nuts and fruit) is a common Christmas drink, along with regular soda. 
Rice porridge (Grøt) is the traditional dessert eaten on Christmas Eve (served with butter, sugar and cinnamon, with whipped cream mixed in!). If you find an almond in your portion you're traditionally given a marzipan pig as a reward. You actually have to show that you have found the white-blanched almond, so don’t eat anything that seems crunchy! Helping clean up in the kitchen afterwards is very much appreciated as the families have often spent all day preparing and cooking the meal.

Dancing around the tree is perhaps the most unusual tradition for foreigners. The tree is pulled out to the middle of the room and whilst singing carols, and holding hands, people “dance” around the tree (really, people walk around the tree, but some songs may include the odd hop or other action!). The favourite song for children is “På låven sitter Nissen” (Santa Claus is sitting on the barn) because when that is sung, Julenissen typically bangs on the door and comes in with lots and lots of presents. Most missionaries enjoy this tradition, and in many families one of the missionaries may also be asked to “be” Santa!

You will enjoy many different types of cakes and biscuits over the Christmas period in Norway, and a large proportion of the population still bake their own. One of the most popular is a special bread called 'Julekake' that has raisins, candied peel and cardamom in it. There are seven different sorts of cookies that are made traditionally (or you can buy them at the local store!).


Boxing Day as it is known in England is called “andre juledag” (the second day of Christmas) and is also a public holiday to relax and enjoy family; it is typically a very laid-back day. Some English/American families in Norway choose to celebrate this day rather than Christmas Eve.  The time between Boxing Day and New Years Eve is called “Romjul”. It is the quiet time of Christmas where the streets are bare and the shops have limited hours as Norwegians spend this time with family.  The local sledding hills and parks are filled with families skiing and sledding. If you are allowed, buy a cheap toboggan (akebrett) and enjoy sliding down the hills in winter.

On New Years Eve (nyttårsaften) Norwegians celebrate the new year with fireworks and parties The fireworks can begin quite early, but the standard time for setting them off is about ten minutes to midnight until ten minutes after. New Years Day (Nyttårsdag) is also a public holiday.

On the 13th January Christmas is officially over. Decorations are put away and the Christmas tree is chopped into firewood and used in the fire, or collected by the local commune. However, there is a saying in Norway that “Julen varer helt til Påske”… (Christmas lasts right through to Easter…)

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