Jule: Norwegian word for Christmas. Pronounced “Yool-a”.
Skål: Cheers! Pronounced “Skol”.
It began slowly. A festive looking product here, a bright red display there. This being my first Christmas out of Canada in 5 years, I was slightly intrigued by the Jule chocolates and pepperkaken (gingerbread). It gave me some degree of comfort to know that these familiar items would be available for my enjoyment as the season approached, even though I can’t remember the last time I ate gingerbread unless it was forced on me by a well-meaning Christmas fanatic.
I have never really counted myself as one of them. The Christmas fanatics. The people who get nosebleed-level excitement at the mere thought of the office Secret Santa draw. They have jingle-bell earrings and hum along to Christmas tunes in the shopping mall whilst their kids belt the crap out of each other on Santa’s lap. I am sure there is some gene I am missing, but I just cannot get that into it. Probably spending the majority of my youth working in retail has something to do with it. Once you have seen the crazed look of desperation on the face of the last minute shopper banging on your store window at 5.30 on Christmas Eve, it pretty much destroys any thought you have that this holiday is anything more than a very useful marketing ploy. But I digress.
It seems that the majority of Norwegians could not disagree with me more on this point. These are the people who helicopter in a Christmas tree and deposit it at the peak of the highest suspension bridge in the region. Fast and furious, the Jule products have been hitting the shelves. Bags of “pinnekjøtt”, a traditional dish of salted and dried mutton rib that wouldn’t look out of place in a Flintstones cartoon take pride of place in the grocery aisles. I can barely keep up with the variety of pre-packaged Christmas goodies, the most infuriating of these being the rather innocuous sounding, “Jule Brus”.
Having found this item amongst the colourfully decorated Christmas wines and the normal selections of beer and hard cider, I was swayed by the brightly coloured red-liquid inside. “ I am gonna try THIS!” I declared to Scottish partner, who took one look at it, scrunched his nose and went back to comparing the prices on the tins of cider. He’d be sorry. On Jule Brus’s label there was a jolly drawing of an elf -type creature looking mildly inebriated which seemed like the best reason of all to buy an alcoholic product. If it works for the most-trusted of Santa’s helpers, then old Grinchy over here needs to give it a try.
Taking it home I decide that I need to choose just the right moment to open this greatest of Norwegian Christmas treats. Red alcohol, what will they think of next?
Jule Brus sits in my fridge for a week. Dinners and a Saturday evening go by, and finally by Sunday I am ready for a taste of Norway’s finest festive brew. I take a swig. The sugar nearly knocks my front teeth out.
Cream soda. Give me a break.
As it turns out, “brus” does not mean “brew” as would make sense to most English speakers, it actually means “soda”. And apparently just because some sort of liquid is stored in a bottle in the alcohol section of the supermarket does NOT mean it will get you loaded. Also, always bring a dictionary to the liquor store.
I hurtle into the bathroom and grab my toothbrush, looking forward to removing the saccharine taste of the brus. As I glance around the apartment and out the window I realize there is so much more to a Norwegian Christmas than disappointing red pop and left-over lamb bones. The Christmas loo paper I purchased thinking it was just the normal white stuff really does add a touch of class to any toilet situation. And the choo-choo train and candy cane Christmas lights that decorate the booze palaces in town make it so much easier to find your way home after a night of too much Yule-tide cheer. Not so bad, really.
Merry Christmas, Norway. You may well make a fanatic of me yet.