As we wind down to Christmas, I’m pulling in to the big countries and to the countries that are closer to me personally. Today we visit Norway.I’m not Norwegian, even if I’m regularly mistaken as a Scandinavian. I guess that’s what you get when you’re a 6’2″ blonde. I married into a partially Norwegian family, so I was introduced to that culture when I was pretty young, in college.
My mother-in-law, Nancy Winder, is a Lutheran pastor (one of the first female pastors) and full-blooded Norwegian. The first Christmas at her house was a little surprising to me. Rather than Christmas dinner like at my family’s house, often ribs and mac-n-cheese or chicken tortilla casserole, we had a Norwegian buffet of specialties. I think we all assume that our way of having Christmas is the only way. You mean that chicken tortilla casserole isn’t eaten in every American house on Christmas Eve?? What?? I was shocked.
It was interesting to see how other people do Christmas, but I was not a fish eater and did not find much on the buffet to eat. Norwegian food is a little particular and was strange for me. Lots of fish, pickles and strangely colored cheese. I was not as adventurous back then, so the next year they were kind enough to have a plate of sausages on the table for the non-Norwegian.
On the other hand, the sweets! I think I could live on lefse alone. Norwegians know how to make a cookie. After Christmas dinner, trays and trays of beautifully made cookies come out. I could care less about cake, but I’ve got a serious weakness for cookies. The variety and beauty of the cookies from Norway is impressive.
I’ve invited my mother-in-law to give us her take on Norwegian Christmas traditions. She is an inspiration behind this Advent calendar as she always prepares a fun and unique Advent calendar for my kids each year.
Christmas in Norway is a time for food and family, Christmas Eve (Julekveld) is the important day. This is when gifts are exchanged and famlies gather. Children (and adults, too) wait for the visit of the Julenisse who will knock on the door todeliver gifts. Although the Nisse is a very ancient creature of Norse myth, these little Julenissen have become the Norwegian Santas. The day before Christmas Eve, December 23 – Lillejulekveld, or Lillejuleaften – is often a time when people invite their friends and neighbors for dinner or snacks, or when gifts of food are taken to neighbors. On Christmas Eve people will often attend church, and it is one of the most important church services in the Norwegian year. After Christmas, people may go off to their hytta (huts) in the mountains to ski, that is if they aren’t already in Majorca or the Costa del Sol!
There are many foods special to Christmas. Norwegians make many cookies and breads. Some of the cookies are krumkakke (a cone shape cooked on an iron), sandbakkelse (in various shapes baked in forms), rosettes (deep fried in hot oil – a delicate treat), fattigaman (it means “poor man” and is a fried cookie shaped in twist), and many others depending on the region and the baker! A special bread called Julekakke (Christmas cake – really a bread with raisins and citron) is served throughout the season.
The main meal on Christmas Eve may be meatballs and potatoes, or pork ribs and red cabbage. Fish and potatoes can also be served. In the United States, descendant of Norwegian immigrants often eat Lutefisk – the piece of cod that passes all understanding! Literally “Lye Fish” Lutefisk was a way to preserve cod through the winter. When Norwegians emigrated this was a convenient way to bring food. And so it has become part of winter celebrations here in America. The people of Norway can’t believe people here still eat it!
Another Christmas treat is lefse, a flat bread often served with butter and cinnamon sugar. Many Norwegians here and in Norway, especially those from the south and the east, make a lefse out of potatoes. It remains soft and needs to be eaten shortly after it is cooked on a lefse grill. In the west of Norway they make Vestlands or Hardangar lefse. This is made from flour and is stored dry. It is moistened between towels to become soft, then spread with butter and cinnamon sugar, and sometimes with a luscious combination of butter, sugar, cinnamon, and sour cream.Singing is important for Norwegians at any time of the year, but the songs of Christmas are particularly dear.
Here are links for two favorites: Jeg er så glad hver julekveld
and O jul med din glede, sung while dancing around the Christmas tree
God Jul! (Merry Christmas)