Christmas musings from the Desperate Expat Wife – to kiss or not to kiss and can we really have champagne with the porridge?
In Norway, friends greet each other with a good ol’ bear hug. But when we went to a Christmas get together with Norwegian friends here in Luxembourg the other day, there was actually some confusion – do we hug or do we kiss the French way? And if we kiss, how many times? Two as they do here in Luxembourg and large parts of France? Three as is also common here because of all the Frenchies from the three-kiss regions? I used to live in a four-kiss region of France, and that is quite exhausting. And if you make the leap to Montréal, Canada, they are said to be licking each other behind the ears, but I don’t know how many times.
We quickly settled on the bear hug, adapting is great, but there are limits! Hugging is much nicer and less complicated, besides there are certain things that we should stick to. Especially at Christmas. And that was the reason for our get together; to keep our Norwegian Christmas traditions.
The particular tradition on this day was julegrøt (Christmas porridge). Rice porridge served with sugar and cinnamon and a little bit of butter. Black currant syrup to drink with it and gløgg (Glühwein) to precede it. Based on white wine this time, which is increasingly popular, and it both looks and tastes warm and lovely with a piece of cinnamon stick and a slice of orange in it. Nothing wrong with a new twist to old traditions! Traditionally, an almond is hidden in the porridge, and the lucky finder gets a prize, which is usually a marzipan pig. Although the rice porridge might seem desserty, it isn’t. Dessert is marzipan for everybody, gingerbread cookies and mandarines.
So we keep our Christmas porridge and our gingerbread cookies. We light our four purple Advent candles, one for every Sunday while we wait for Christmas. We sing our songs and we tell our Christmas stories. And Santa comes on December 24, not on December 6 under a slightly different name (it’s the same guy you know!), or December 25 for that matter.
But then we want to show that we appreciate traditions in our new country as well, so we slip a little present to our children on December 6 after all. We extend our repertoire with Petit Papa Nöel and Léiwe Kleeschen. We eat the little soft and sweet fellows called boxemännchen – and we drink champagne on any occasion, even with the porridge! It was very easy to adopt that tradition by the way. When or if we return to Norway, I’d like to bring those traditions with me, with the possible and sad exception of the champagne due to ridiculous alcohol prices in Norway.
And sometimes we mix it all together, new and old traditions from here and there. When we sit down at the table on Christmas Eve, presents waiting under the tree, it will be later than we traditionally do in Norway, where dinner call is the church bells chiming throughout the country at five o’clock to tell us that Christmas is here. The menu will be Christmas fusion, our special mix of French and Norwegian with our own touch – why not choose the best of several worlds for Christmas?
So wherever and however you celebrate, and no matter what you eat or how you greet – God Jul – Merry Christmas – Joyeux Nöel – Fröhliche Weihnachten – Schéi Chrëschtdeeg!
By Unni Holtedahl, Christmas time 2013