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Christmas in Norway

This year will be my 3rd Christmas in Norway, despite the extreme cold and few hours of daylight it's a pretty special place to be in December.

Norwegian Christmas Morning
Christmas Morning at the Barn with Jane

Often described as the country of Christmas, Norwegians take the festive period seriously. With a guaranteed white Christmas, Reindeer running on the roadside, lights, and decorations on almost every barn, embracing the Christmas season is compulsory whether you like it or not. Norwegians have their Christmas meal and main celebrations on the evening of Christmas eve, Christmas day is a public holiday and a National Day of Rest. Of course, (like all farmers) we were up feeding the cows & calves as animals are still hungry, and Christmas is no exception.

Christmas Baby Cow
Christmas Calf

The month of December is full of parties, alongside many family gatherings, there are 'farmers parties', district parties, young people parties, any excuse and there is a party. The Law on purchasing alcohol is extremely strict, tax makes alcohol expensive (£8 for a pint!), it can only be sold in shops before 8pm on weekdays, 6pm on Saturdays and no purchasing on Sundays. Therefore, you must rush to buy drinks for a weekend party! I'm not sure if this helps prevent drinking, but one thing is certain - Norwegians love to party. I feel that the strict laws are potentially a deterrent for ‘generalised’ drinking - it's not so common to go for a midweek pint/catch up with friends but when there is an excuse for a party, it can get messy quickly. A popular Norwegian Spirit is called Aquavit and has been present at all Norwegian Celebrations that I've been to; Aquavit tastes vile until you start to get drunk and then it tastes like water – from experience, I’ve learned that this can be dangerous. Aquavit is usually served in fancy shot glasses, hearing the word “Skål” (translates to cheers) means everyone must take a sip of their drink. This gets everyone drunk quite quickly as there are more shouts of “Skål” as the night goes on. At one of my first Norwegian parties, I heard “Skål” and mistook it for the English “Skull” which means you have to down your drink. After ‘skulling’ at least 4 drinks I turned to my Norwegian friend who was still on their first, I was incredibly embarrassed, and they thought it was hilarious…

Dog with Christmas Tree
Jane with Christmas Pine Tree

A Christmas Tree is an essential part of any Norwegian household. In rural Norway, it’s normal to walk into the family-owned forest, choose a tree, saw it down and then bring it back to the house – quite different than a trip to the supermarket in the UK. Most of the forestry is owned by a farm and there is a ‘right to roam,’ same as in Scotland, that anyone can walk anywhere (in the forest), this means Jane and I have been on some great adventures. There are rules that you can’t take a tree from another’s forest, without permission and forestry management is important – selling timber is a reliable source of income. There are two types of Christmas trees: a traditional fir tree or a less popular pine. I’ve always preferred a pine tree; they look bushier and less sparse for decorations. Fortunately, there is plenty of both in the forest and after much debate, I chose the very top of a pine, Ola had to climb the tree to retrieve it and we dragged it home. I’m glad that it didn’t take exceptionally long, that day was -26 degrees Celsius!

Gelatine Egg Salad
Gelatine Egg Salad

Traditional Norwegian Food on Christmas Day consists of either Pork Belly or Dried Lamb Ribs, known as Pinekjott, I've both and significantly prefer the pork. Trimmings (vegetables) are usually potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and sprouts. In both years, my boyfriend's grandmothers have made a gelatine egg salad with vegetables, it tastes quite nice despite looking a bit odd, I'm not sure of its cultural heritage. The majority of Norwegians love their culture and embrace it; historically, the long, dark winters meant that meat had to be preserved by drying, salting, or curing. A lot of dried meat is eaten at Christmas, reindeer and moose are popular tasty treats with a more game-like flavour like deer or pheasant in the UK, although tasty, the dry meats are often very salty and you can get thirsty easily. A Christmas drink is Juleøl which translates to Christmas beer, often homebrewed, it's an extremely sweet, carbonated drink with a low alcohol percentage; it looks like Guinness but the lack of alcohol taste and overriding sweetness makes it popular for young children. For dessert, we had a creme Caramel Pudding, traditionally made with colostrum milk and I brought a lemon meringue pie. I think that my boyfriend's family quite like English desserts - I'm often reminded how good Sticky Toffee Pudding tastes (a home favourite). Norwegians are typically particularly good bakers, with fresh sweet treats served at every coffee time.

Trying Norwegian Rakfisk

On Christmas Day (25th) morning, we went to the grandparents for a breakfast, there were homemade karbonaide (burgers) from a calf at the farm. Rakfisk which is a fermented fish, I’ve often called it rotten fish. When the fish is first removed from the fermenting liquid the smell is horrendous. In November, Ola brought some home and I had to be on the other side of the house whilst he ate it. He and another relative go into the mountains and catch the trout used for Rakfisk with nets in the summer. The trout are then gutted, headed, and placed to ferment; it is usually ready after 2 months but can be fermented for up to a year. The longer Rakfisk is stored, the stronger the taste. After 3 years in Norway, I had avoided eating any until this winter: it wasn’t as bad as I had thought. Rakfisk is eaten on leftse (Norwegian Flat Pancake bread), with butter, boiled potatoes and thinly cut leeks, often with sour cream. Personally, I don’t enjoy eating it plain, it tastes extra fishy even when I held my breath before eating it. The smell dramatically reduces when left in the open air away from its fermenting liquid. Therefore, there wasn’t an overwhelming stench on Christmas morning. After the main dish, there is always coffee, this is the same for every occasion, not just Christmas. Norwegian coffee is much weaker than coffee drank in other countries. It is filter brew and then often left on the heat for drinking throughout the day, Norwegians drink it ‘black’ with no milk and no sugar. I think it tastes very bitter and stale, especially when left on the heat for a while, although it’s something I’ve semi-gotten used to; I still much prefer a good old English cuppa tea.

We had planned to go skiing on the afternoon of Christmas Day, the ski lifts are usually open. Due to a snowstorm, the main lift was closed and the lack of snow on the slopes meant that we cancelled. I hope to get at least one day of skiing in before I leave though. Christmas was spent snoozing on the sofa by the fire until it was time to feed the calves in the barn again. A relaxing day with plenty of food, is what Christmas is meant to be.

Girl Skiing
Skiing at local Ski Slope


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