Christmas in Norway is once again upon us, the time of year where sleigh bells ring and everyone is holly-jolly except for the poor individuals who work retail and have to put up with the rest of us trying to decide between the red jumper and the blue jumper for dear old Uncle Anders .This time last year, I had just arrived in Stavanger, and as I was yet to learn Norwegian customs or make any Norwegian friends, the Christmas season was a rather solitary and slightly confusing affair for me. Nonetheless, it being my first yuletide season outside Canada in five years, I was anxious to explore the festive options that Norway had to offer. I was all over the Julebrus (a disappointment as it turned out, due mostly to its distressing lack of alcohol), and somewhat transfixed by the meat dishes of gargantuan proportions. I survived the out-of –control decadence of the julebord at the Sola Strand Hotel and learned that the buffet works best when wearing elasticated pants. Then there was a trip to Egersund Christmas market which started with me and Scottish partner dressing completely inappropriately and thus almost losing a toe to frostbite, and ended with a never- ending futile search for somewhere we could sit down and warm up. Which in the end, happened to be the delightful, albeit unfestive, Pizza Bakkeren at the train station. Since that time I have been reliably informed that sitting at these events is out of the question: gløgg and a sausage are all one needs. Too bad I don’t particularly care for either. And standing, let me tell you, is highly over-rated.
Gingerbread is another matter. Having eaten myself into a sugar coma on more than one occasion over the holiday season, there is something safe and comforting about gingerbread. I love how important this simple spiced biscuit is to a Norwegian Christmas. Imagine my excitement when I learned that Norway is the home of the “biggest and best” pepperkakeby (gingerbread town) in the world? An interesting claim to fame, to be sure, only I am certain I shouldn’t be allowed to go near it. The last time I was involved in making gingerbread my sole focus was to see how many red gummy candy lips I could pile on each cookie whilst gluing them together with the maximum amount of icing. Then I ate one. Or eight. In my books, gingerbread is not so much for admiring as it is for power-eating. Clearly, I would be to the pepperkakeby what Godzilla was to Tokyo. Best keep my distance.
But the real joy for me this year has been that I am at last privy to the mystery of that naughty little inebriated elf on the front of the Julebrus bottle. This year, I learned the story of fjøsnisse and julenisse. These partners in elfdom are quite the pair, with one of them being more of a thug than the other. While julenisse seems to be the happy go lucky, rosy -cheeked bringer of gifts in a similar vein to our Father Christmas, fjøsnisse seems less accommodating. Quite frankly, I am down with any mythical creature that expects you to supply it with porridge and beer, and will sabotage and generally irritate your farm animals if you don’t. Santa Claus could really learn something from his Nordic cousin. Lesson one: ditch the whole good guy act, S.C. It’s BORING. Instead, maybe it’s time to employ more gangster tactics. Like, steal a hamster or two and see if that gets you a glass of merlot next to the tree this Christmas.
Which is all anyone needs, really. Bring on the julebord and its mountains of meat. Pass me a julebrus, and just to be festive, I will add my own alcohol. Better still, I’ll take a glass of merlot, a few gingerbread cookies, and if I’m very lucky, a visit from of julenisse on Christmas Eve. A very Norwegian Christmas, indeed.