As I have previously mentioned, Joe and I are spending this Christmas in Norway. It's not our first Christmas abroad (we spent one in Gabon) but it's our first in Europe and both of us were quite excited to see what Norway had in store for us during the holidays. It's such an interesting experience to see the commonalities between cultures during the holidays but also the traditions that differ.
Clues of the holiday to come started popping up around Stavanger in November. The last public holidays in Norway were way back in May so it feels like there's a lot of build up to this one. The real holiday kick off came the first weekend of December with a (very) small Christmas Market in Gamle Stavanger and the annual Christmas tree lighting in the main square (evidenced in the photos above.)
Typical to everyday life in Norway, holiday decor is understated and neutral. I have yet to see a coloured bulb let alone blow up Santas. In fact, the exterior of houses aren't decorated at all. We've noticed a few neighbours stringing white lights along their balconies and hanging a glowing star in the window as well as something that looks quite similar to a Menorah perched on a window ledge. Downtown, however, is really quite endearing - garland and lights drapes above the cobble stone streets and there certainly is that feeling of holiday spirit.
Christmas tree lots popped up all over the city and the grocery store is littered with Christmas versions of everything. Our toilet paper is now decorated with ornaments, sacks of flour feature a Christmas scene and our favourite part, the juleøl has taken over the beer section of the supermarket. Before Christmas came to be in Norway, Jul was actually a Viking drinking festival and thus, juleøl remains a big part of the season. Each of the breweries release a Christmas beer - usually dark & hearty, perfect for the weather. Pepperkake (gingerbread) is also popular and the meat sections are filled with ribbe (roasted pork belly) and pinnekjøtt (salted & dried lamb ribs.)
The main event in Norway is actually on Christmas Eve consisting of a large meal and a Christmas service followed by the opening of presents, and if you're lucky, a visit from julenisse - a kind of cross between Santa and the Norwegian troll. Unlike the Santa we're familiar with, this guy isn't as shy and stops over while the children are awake. He's apparently a jolly guy but can also be a bit nasty if you don't pay him his bribes. Some households also have children leave porridge, lefse (a traditional flatbread) & beer out in the barn for the nisse, a troll/elf who protects the land and it's thought that if he's not happy, he'll start playing pranks on your family. 1 Juledag and 2 Juledag follow (December 25 & 26) which are public holidays and meant for family time. All of the shops remain closed although I hear there may be a few pubs open around town.
Joe is meant to work a half day today and then we'll celebrate the holidays together. The house is fully decorated, the presents bought and later in the week, we'll have a traditional Canadian Christmas meal with friends of ours. It might be a little quieter than had we flown home to Canada but we're both looking forward to cozy days at home together.
From our family to yours, we wish you a God Jul!