God Jul: A Norwegian Christmas
It is fair to say that Norwegians live for Christmas and their festive traditions, and I believe if you were searching for the core of Norway — it's very essence, you would actually discover Christmas.
Landing at Bergen airport on a cold, dismal, grey and rainy afternoon, we had but one hour of what could be loosely described as light before the darkness descended. It was enough time to shatter our dreams of a snowy white winterland — for the fourth year running.
Snow or no snow (snø), we also visited the gingerbread village in Bergen (the largest of its kind, in the world) and marvelled over the gingerbread prison and gingerbread old folks' home.
This exhibition is not just for children, or for the hungry. Gingerbread houses are an extremely important part of the tradition, and so we purchased our self build and whittled away an entire afternoon constructing our own. While it didn’t make the grade for the show, and it wasn’t edible, it was good fun.
One aspect of traditional Norwegian Christmas completely threw me for my first four years - the whole event revolves around Christmas Eve (24th December). This is called Julaften. This day is where the main meal is eaten, all the celebrations take place and importantly, the Christmas gifts are opened. But what happens on the 25th, real Christmas I hear you ask? This must remain a mystery.
A big part of the celebration too is lille-Julaften, celebrated on the 23rd December — Little Christmas Eve. On this day, families gather across the country and watch the annual airing of The Butler, also known as Dinner for One. It’s all in English, it’s really old, and it’s a comedy sketch. I like a good laugh, but I don’t think I get this one. We watch it every Christmas, and it’s such an integral and loved part of the tradition that it’s impossible not to enjoy — even if it is confusing.
And so on to the main event. Christmas morning — on the 24th, remember.
Here is a good time to mention Santa. He is called Julenissen — and will traditionally visit all families with little ones. He doesn’t appear down the chimney, preferring to enter via the porch and asking if the children have been kind this year. We are all grown ups, so he isn’t expected to visit, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy the Santa Shrine. There are approximately, I’d guess, 50 of these little guys around the house, ranging from miniature to life size. (I know one house with more than 1000 Julnisser — Espen’s step mums house). It’s super cute.
So after making our way around all the Julnissene, we gather around the Vimpel (the Norwegian flag flying on poles outside most people’s houses) and we sing the national anthem… Only joking.
We opened all the gifts.
And it was epic, we Skype some absent family members, and play with our toys. But this is all a massive distraction from the really big deal, Christmas lunch, which has lovingly been in preparation for many, many hours by this point.
Oh, the Christmas fayre. After the grog and the gingerbread men we get straight to the pinnekjøtt — stickmeat. This dish is the star of the Christmas show. It is simply mutton ribs, salted, soaked and slow cooked, then devoured. Served with potatoes and mashed turnip, it’s nothing fancy. It’s simple. It’s purposeful. It’s hygge.
Family, love, laughs, thousands of julnissen and some aquavit.
That is Norwegian Christmas.
Alex is Scottish and Espen is Norwegian. They met in Scotland, fell in love in a hopeless place, and decided that life was too short to stay in one place. They now spend most of their time adventuring, exploring, hiking, wild swimming, collecting firewood, camping, skiing, hunting down amazing coffee, planning their next trip, and generally trying to figure how to actually be wild. You can follow us at www.thewildpioneers.com or instagram.com/wildpioneers.