Christmas in Norway

As I remembe it from my childhood in Ringerike, Norway.

Of the year’s great festive holidays, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, it was Christmas where the greatest preparations were made.  Already two or three weeks before Christmas they were begun for the festive holiday.

First there was the butchering of the Christmas hogs and preparing of a large amount of headcheese, "rullepolse" (rolled sausage), meat puddings, meatballs, sausage, and the finest pastries.

It took at least a week for two ladies to make all the good food.

Then came the house cleaning, every room in the house, from the loft to the cellar, should be washed and scrubbed until all was shiny clean.  Silverware, copper and brass were made as shiny as a mirror.  An old man used to say, "It should be so shiny that it dripped from it."

After the cleaning came the Christmas baking; two or three kinds of bread, lefse, Julekake, and a large assortment of Christmas bakkelse.  When all this was finished Christmas was at the door.

Christmas Eve was busy day, as all work should be done by a designated time.  The men chopped wood, enough to last out the old year.  After 5 o-clock it was a holy day.  Five o'clock the next morning it was work again.  This early morning was called Jule Otta.

The Christmas sheaves for the small birds were set up.  On two slender birch trees two bundles of oats or wheat were tied together in the top and raised, one on each side of the drive way.  It was interesting to watch the sparrows.  It was as though the Christmas meal was served for them.  First a couple of scouts came to look over the Christmas sheaf and then flew away for a little while to return with many of their comrades to feast in the large bundles.  All farm animals were given an extra portion on Christmas Eve.

Everyone was busy, each with their own work, outside and indoors, to be ready by 4 O’ clock.  All had a bath and dressed up in their Sunday clothes.

Soon the church bells began to chime in Christmas. 

"It chimes now for Christmas rest ... 

It chimes for the heavenly guest. "

Everyone listened to devotions, and it seemed that one heard the angels singing on Bethlehems plains, "Peace on Earth."  I believe there were few who didn't feel quiet peace settle over heart and mind.

All, who in anyway could, should have new clothes for Christmas; and I believe there were few homes, however poor they were, that didn't have one or another new piece of clothing for Christmas.

Santa Claus didn't exist in my childhood, and we learned that Christmas Eve was our Savior's birthday; so all our gifts and all preparations were to honor Him who came to earth to atone for our sins; that He came poor and humble, the Holy Child of God, who had glory with the Father, before the world was; was born in a stable, and laid in a manger.

On the Christmas table were two very large lamps, and when the first star shone in the heavens all the lights should be lit.  It was the father of the house who had the important duty to light the lamps.

Christmas Eve was a very holy occasion.  All the house members remained at home.  All businesses and stores closed at 6 o'clock so everyone could have a quiet, peaceful Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve supper consisted of rice or cream porridge (romme graut), spare ribs, sausage, pork fillet and many delicacies.  Before the meal a hymn was sung, thereafter the father of the house read the Christmas gospel.  After the meal a couple of more hymns were sung.

A couple of hours later the Christmas trees were lit.  Everyone, large or small, stood in a ring around the tree and sang the old, dear, well-known hymns, "Silent Night", "I am so Glad Each Christmas Night" and "A Little Child."

Then the tree was left in peace for the smaller ones and gifts distributed.  It was not Santa Claus who gave out the gifts, but rather the mother or another member of the family.  Everyone had to go to bed early to be prepared to go to church on Christmas Day.

As the distance to the church was often six or seven miles, and it was not as now, to get into an automobile or drive the distance in a few minutes.  No, it was to drive with horses, and it was more festive to sit nice and warm in heavy wraps, over a foot warmer under a bearskin robe, while the well curried, brushed, shiny, fat horses appeared as in competition with brass or white copper mountings on their harnesses.  The harness bells would ring when the horses stamped or pawed in the snow, restless to get going.  Soon sleigh after sleigh would swing in on the church road and by the time they reached the church there was a long line of horse-drawn sleighs.

The church was always packed full on Christmas Day as some who seldom attended church met up that day.  A festive mood appeared over both the pastor and the congregation in an involuntary feeling.  This is God's house and heaven's portal.  The worship service continued possibly a couple of hours and then it was time to be homeward bound.

It always went faster on the way home, the horses knew a good portion waited for them, oats in a warm stall, and undoubtedly the people were thinking of the well laden table waiting for their return.

Everyone remained at home the remainder of the day.  The second day of Christmas church services were again held and those who didn't come on Christmas Day were present on the second day.

Then began the Christmas tree parties and Christmas visiting.  The young people had get-together contests and parties.  Six or seven sleighs, packed with young people, with torches in hand, appeared as a long flame in the darkness.  They would drop in at homes of other young people where lunch was served.  They entertained themselves with song and games.  This continued until New Year's.

New Year's was celebrated in similar fashion to Christmas but not with as holy an atmosphere.  In the towns, worship services were held and the Church bells rang in the New Year.  After New Year's it was again work as usual but some liked to continue Christmas until Epiphany, but then Christmas must end for this time.

(Prepared by Mrs. John Fosholdt, Cooperstown, N.D., and read at the Lutheran Church at Cooperstown in December 1933. 

Mrs. Fosholdt was born at Aadal, Ringerike, near Oslo, Norway January 27, 1872.  She died May 7, 1952). 

The original was in Norwegian and translated by Edward Johnson, 1981.

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial page 50

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