Christmas traditions are important, especially when you live abroad as an expat. You try to make the holiday as normal as you can and simultaneously adapt new traditions. When you move back home your traditions have changed quite a bit – like hanging miniature bottles as ornaments on your tree.
However, I really do miss some of my childhood traditions. Already in October, we went for walks in my granddad’s wood to look for a nice tree. When we found it, I was given the honor of tying a red ribbon around the trunk. Then we could easily retrace it and cut it in December.
We also used to clean the house from attic to basement and made traditional Christmas food from scratch, like sausages and pig brawn. Nowadays we aren’t as thorough, as we are able to buy both next-to-ready food and hire cleaning services. But I miss sitting around my grandma’s kitchen table helping her prepare the food and I can still smell the spices she used.
When I was a little girl, my granddad dressed up like Santa and danced around a bowl of rice porridge we had placed in the barn. Since it was dark, my dad pointed the car lights towards the open doors and I was looking out of the window all excited. One year, Santa was even accompanied by a black cat, just as in the children’s books I read. Wow – I really believed in Santa for many years.
Good memories are important and I’ve always tried to mix old and new traditions for my daughter from Norway, Canada, Brazil and America – where she has lived.
When she was smaller, we needed to shorten the time before dinner and presents, so we went ice skating in down-town Oslo. The Christmas spirit really came along while dancing to cheerful American Christmas songs. Even if I looked like Bambi on Ice, it was a lovely feeling. Or should I say a wobbly feeling? When our feet were ultra-sore, we went to a nearby pub for Glühwein while watching Disney’s Christmas show on the big screen, normally used for football games. Some of our friends thought we were crazy, but next year they even joined us!
Earlier years we used to go to Christmas mass in church, but after my mother and mother-in-law passed away, we had to choose cheerful activities to stay in good spirits, as we missed our family members so much.
Originally, Christmas food in Norway depended on which part of the country you were from. People from the western part ate lamb ribs, while people from the eastern parts had pork ribs. People from the north and south often had cod or lutefisk – air-dried fish soaked in lye. Turkey is also a popular option. Today people eat what they like the best no matter where they come from. The restaurants start serving Christmas dishes already from mid-October, so when Christmas Eve appears, you might already have had you share…
Unfortunately, yule goat, a children’s custom, is a dying tradition. In the old Norse tradition, the yule goat was the symbol of the pagan goat and represented the ghosts of winter nights. When Christianity appeared, the pagan rituals were replaced by children wearing masks going from house to house to receive treats (like Halloween) between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Today children seldom dress up to sing carols at random doorsteps. Too bad, because they were so cute!
While being expats, we quite often went home to Norway for the holidays. However, we have celebrated several abroad too. In Kentucky, our family use to have lobster for dinner and they even have a drive through Santa in their neighborhood. A middle-aged couple use their own money to put up an enormous amount of decorations. They also give away small presents to all the children being driven through by their parents, and they even provide reindeer dust to attract Santa.
While living in Rio de Janeiro we witnessed the largest Christmas tree ever, built of steel floating in the middle of the Lagoon at Ipanema. When they lit the tree, you could see it and hear the music from miles away. It was amazing, accompanied by fantastic fireworks!
Nowadays we celebrate Christmas in Cape Coral, Florida. No snow, but a fantastic boat parade with elves, Santas and reindeer accompanied by Christmas songs. Quite amazing. From an American friend we adopted the idea with miniature bottles as ornaments on the tree.
The Christmas Spirit
Before Christmas, there are concerts and plays all over Norway and people are gathering in churches, concert halls and theatres to get into the Christmas spirit. We also have pre-Christmas parties for friends and family with traditional food and lots of fun.
Every year we hope there will be snow on the ground in December, because nothing adds that little extra touch of Christmas spirit like snowflakes falling from the dark sky.
While waiting for the snow to fall, I pick up the dumbbells from my granddads farm and listen to the lively sound while my thoughts are drifting back to the old days when we went for sleigh rides at Christmas, covered up in furs. Great memories.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers. Love from Heidi
Text and photos by Heidi Nesttun-Sunde, December 2015