Saturday, April 28, 2012

Christmas in Norway


Christmas in Norway.

When Christmas comes, everything is party. Come see the holiday traditions and gastronomy as lively and magical. So welcome to the land of the trolls and the smoked fish.

Christmas was celebrated long before Christ's birth. Formerly it was held when the sun reversed its course, when at last the days begin to lengthen. The Norwegian, true to their ancestors the Vikings, knew how to convert food into the centerpiece of the celebration and there we have the julebord (Christmas table) celebrations at home or in restaurants. The festival takes place between food odors, spices, cakes and cookies. Candles with its dancing flames give warmth and a touch of magic to Christmas 

The celebration of Christmas begins four Sundays before December 24th to light one of the four candles of the Advent wreath. Normally we turn on the christmas lights decoration of the streets the day 1 of December and in my city we turn on the lights of a giant Christmas pine in the main square.
The 13th of december we celebrate the Santa Lucia, whose name means "light." All the girls dressed in a white robe wearing a crown of live candles on her head. For the smaller ones we use battery candles, just in case.

Throughout the month of December are the time of preparations for the big christmas party with small parties in between. We have the julebord, meetings between employees of a company, partnership or just between neighbors who come together to celebrate in restaurants and private homes.
Everything is now called Jul (Christmas), we juleöl (Christmas beer), julebord, jule curtains, jule calendar, everything has changed and of course we have the julenisse (Santa Claus).

The juleöl is a special beer that is manufactured only for Christmas, the brewery normally makes one or more types of this brew. Normally this type of beer has more degrees of alcohol and takes longer time to mature. The magazines and the newspapers tast the different christmas beers and give them quality ratings and rankings.
In all the celebrations we have to have juleöl, otherwise there is no Christmas.

Another thing we do is a drink called glögg (mulled wine). Made from red wine with cinnamon and spacing, cardemomo, ginger and cloves. You can also bring some vodka to upload some degrees. Serve with blanched almonds and raisins. The tradition is to take it during Advent and especially on the feast of St. Lucia.

Another beverages we must have for the Christmas celebration is the akevitt. Known for its digestive virtues. We drink it frozen or chilled in small cups. The akevitt is a type of liquor or scnaps that is made of potato and contains about 40º alcohol. It has a blend of herbs and the most valuable are cured in barrels inside of ships that go cross the ekvator and  back to get the perfect maturation of akevitt. With the Christmas meals we cheer with large glasses, which is the Christmas beer and with small glasses, which is the akevitt. Normally you get many in an excellent mood after a few cheers.

How I remember the Christmas in my childhood. One thing I had to have was the Christmas calendar. (Julekalender) is a schedule ranging from 1 to 24. Boxes are opened, one each day, and within each box is a gift or a sweet. It was something special that helped you survive the long waiting until the big day came with the christmas gifts. 

I never liked porridge, not even as a baby. But we have a Christmas porrigde that have a big affection, risengrynsgröt. A kind of gruel made with rice sprinkled with plenty of sugar and cinnamon. In the middle a small knob of butter. A family dish in which the cook had hidden a lucky almond. Whoever finds the almond hidden in your plate receive a marzipan pig as a gift. In the end, the children serve some of these invigorating porridge on a plate that is deposited in the barn or in the garden to give to Julenissen (Santa Claus) to be recovered from his long journey, delivering gifts.

In December we starts to prepare all kinds of Christmas cookies and candies. We maake the famous "pepperkaker" (gingerbread cookies) that one can find various types of forms and also made as  gingerbread houses. It is an endless variety of sweet. Donuts, crowns, chocolate stones, cakes and tarts. It is also the time of the krumkake, a cone-shaped tile, christmas goros and delicious waffles decorated. A big amount of recipes and each house has its own secrets that are passed from generation to generation.

We are enclosing us increasingly to the celebration of Christmas. The day before Christmas is when we have to decorate the tree but before you have to go out to the forest and choose the right tree and then cut it, to finally bring it home. The whole family prepare decorations, the youngers make woven baskets  from paper and parents dress the house of perennial branches of holly, mistletoe or pine. In the afternoon on December 23 turns on the lights of the Christmas tree and you can feel like the nerves run through your body, just one more day to the 24th. The children have problems with consolidat their sleep, but finally they fell asleep and everything is ready for the big day.

For Christmas Day we have certain obligations we have to do before we begin to celebrate. One of them is going to the cemetery and visit our dead relatives. We clean the graves of snow and we decorated wreaths and candles. It is a sight to see the cemetery full of candles in the early evening we have in the winter.

At 5 o'clock starts all the churches bells ringing. Is the signal that Christmas Eve begins and at this time is it when we have the christmas dinner in Norway. The dark night outside and the houses decorated with a fire on the fireplace with the flames dancing. Everyone at the table, waiting for the food and of course for the gifts. We have a huge variety of inputs including sausages, hams and fish, prepared in different ways. Now comes to the table the Juleöl, the akevitt and all types of wines. The most popular and traditional main course are turkey with different types of stuffing,
lutefisk with lots of trim, the ribbe with sour cabbage or the lamb pinnekjøtt with mashed kohlrabi. The secret of the turkey is the stuffing and of course preparing the sauce. A plate with long traditions is the lutefisk is cod that is desalinated with acid and stays as something gelatinous. With this dish we need to combine with a variety of companions that one can choose freely. As a signature dish at the table we have the ribbe which is part of the loin of pork with roasted skin and finally melted to get the crust crispy. We can combine this dish with sausage and of course the sour cabbage. The high loved dish is the pinnekjøtt. Rack of lamb who is first salted and then dried. Similar as we do with the hams. Then we put in a saucepan wooden sticks crossed and then put the meat on top and do the pinnekjøtt steamed. Usually served with mashed kholrabi mixed with potatoes. You can also combine the holiday meal with different types of sausages and meatballs type called medisterkaker. As we garnish sour cabbage, red cabbage, potatoes, bacon, mashed peas and kohlrabi. In the end we have the rice cream desserts, krumkake or some other kind of cakes. The berries also may be among the desserts in one form or another.

After lunch it's time for a little rest before starting the coffee, served with a varidad of cookies and Christmas cakes. Children impatient waiting for the time to open the gifts. Time stands still and everything is going very slow. In my family it was time that gathered the whole family on my father side. I remember one of my aunts always was late and I had to wait longer than normal to open gifts. Before we open the presents we had to sing typical Christmas songs and walk around the tree holding our hands to who was at your side. At the end one of the older disguised as a Julenisse and distributed the gifts.
Then we had to go to the home of my maternal grandfather to repeat the same operation there. Sing carols circling the tree and then distribute the gifts. And this ended a long day full of joy and good food.

The barn elf (fjösnissen) is a creature of Scandinavian folklore. It was described as a short man, no bigger than a horse's head, dressed in gray, baggy pants and a red cap like that was worn by Norwegian farmers. He lived in the barn and was so shy that you almost never could see him. It was a good helper on the farm, while the farmers treated him well. Especially at Christmas we have to remember to reward him with a big bowl of porridge and home brew. Also let yours Christmas leftovers on the table for the nisse can enjoy them. The fjösnisse had supernatural powers and could become invisible. When something strange or inexplicable happened on the farm the responsable for it was the fjösnisse.


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