The meaning of Christmas in Norway

In Norway where winter is so long and so dark, people should invent and actually they did invent a lot of festivities on the occasion of the Christmas celebration. The county was pagan during Vikings time and people occupied themselves with fishing and some agriculture. They were isolated by the rest of the world and believed in the little demons of the woods, the trolls. The luck of light which is most obvious in December made them desperately to find occasions to celebrate; so the Christmas is the best occasion.
While Norway is predominantly a Christian country, Christmas wasn’t celebrated here until about the 10th and 11th centuries. Before then, people celebrated yuletide in the middle of the winter, and drank beer in honor of the Nordic gods, waiting for the warmer weather to return. It is believed that the word Yule derives from the Proto-Germanic language, but the etymology of the word remains uncertain. To this day, Christmastime is still called juletid in Norway – and while it has preserved some Old Norwegian traditions, it is also influenced by hundreds of European and American Christian practices. . Lots of beer (juleol) was brewed and drunk in honor of the old pagan Scandinavian gods. A traditional Norwegian Christmas Tree decoration are small paper baskets called ‘Julekurver’ which made in the shape of a heart. It’s said that the writer Hans Christian Andersen might have invented them in the 1860s!

City lights and parties
From mid November, the whole Norway get in the Christmas mood. The lights and the decorations come and make the streets look brighter, as soon as the dark season sets in. Of course, at this time everyone join one (or even more) parties at work, with friends… They are called julebord.
Even kids celebrate it at kindergarten and school, and these parties are called nissefest. There, children usually dress as nisser or goblings and dance around the Christmas tree in little red suits, red-rosy cheeks and freckles.
St. Lucia Day
Lucia Dagen is celebrated on the 13th December in schools around Norway. A girl or a boy represents St. Lucia wearing a wreath of candles around the head. The children sing the St. Lucia hymn and they go on a precession though the classroom. Saint Lucy’s Day, also called the Feast of Saint Lucy, is a Christian feast day celebrated on 13 December in Advent, commemorating Saint Lucy, a 3rd-century martyr under the Diocletianic Persecution, who according to legend brought “food and aid to Christians hiding in the catacombs” using a candle-lit wreath to “light her way and leave her hands free to carry as much food as possible. Saint Lucy’s Day is celebrated most commonly in Scandinavia, with their long dark winters, where it is a major feast day, and in Italy, with each emphasizing a different aspect of the story. In Scandinavia, where Saint Lucy is called Santa Lucia in Norwegian and Danish, and Sankta Lucia in Swedish, she is represented as a lady in a white dress (a symbol of a Christian’s white baptismal robe) and red sash (symbolizing the blood of her martyrdom) with a crown or wreath of candles on her head. In Norway, Sweden and Swedish-speaking regions of Finland, as songs are sung, girls dressed as Saint Lucy carry cookies and saffron buns in procession, which “symbolizes bringing the light of Christianity throughout world darkness”.

Lighting Advent candles on Sundays
Advent is a preparation period before December 25 which starts four Sundays before Christmas. Every Sunday up until Christmas Day is commemorated by lighting a four-candle candelabra. On the first Sunday the first candle is lit, on the second Sunday the next two candles are lit, and so on. Advent is the period of four Sundays and weeks before Christmas (or sometimes from the 1st December to Christmas Day!). Advent means ‘Coming’ in Latin. This is the coming of Jesus into the world. Christians use the four Sundays and weeks of Advent to prepare and remember the real meaning of Christmas.
The Advent wreath, or Advent crown, is a Christian tradition that symbolizes the passage of the four weeks of Advent in the liturgical calendar of the Western church. It is traditionally a Lutheran practice, although it has spread to many other Christian denominations.
It is usually a horizontal evergreen wreath with four candles, sometimes with a fifth, white candle in the center. Beginning with the First Sunday of Advent, the lighting of a candle can be accompanied by a Bible reading, devotional time and prayers. An additional candle is lit during each subsequent week until, by the last Sunday before Christmas, all four candles are lit. Many Advent wreaths include a fifth, Christ candle which is lit at Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The custom is observed both in family settings and at public church and school services. There are many types of advent calendars used in different countries. They are made of paper or card with 24 or 25 little windows on. A window is opened on every day in December and a Christmas picture is displayed underneath.

Decorate with nisser
A nisse is a mythological creature from Scandinavian folklore, which could be compared to a garden gnome or a goblin. According to tradition, they are present in farmhouses in which they act as guardians of those living there and even occasionally help with house chores. They were believed to be the ‘soul’ of the first person living in the property, and are described as small creatures resembling old men with long beards and red conical caps. Nisser are a typical character from Old Norse culture and are also associated with the winter solstice. Today, they have been assimilated into Christian culture in Scandinavia and appear in Christmas tales, decorations, and cards. Santa Claus, known in Norwegian as Julenisse, is himself a sort of nisse.
Eat traditional Scandinavian food
Typical Norwegian Christmas dishes include risengrynsgrøt, ribbe, pinnekjøtt, lutefisk and rakfisk. Risengrynsgrøt is Norwegian rice porridge usually prepared for lunch on Christmas day. It is served with sugar and cinnamon and a dab of butter in the centre. An almond is hidden in the large pot, and the person who finds the it in their portion traditionally receives a marzipan as a gift. Ribbe are pork ribs, and Pinnekjøt, or Stick Meat, consists of salted or dried lamb ribs that are soaked in water for approximately 30 hours before consumption. Similarly, lutefisk is dried cod, stock fish or clip fish that is soaked into a solution of lye in order to rehydrate it before eating. It has a gelatinous texture, both loved and loathed by Norwegian people, who seem to agree that ‘once a year is enough.’ Lutefisk is traditionally served with fried bacon, mashed green peas and boiled potatoes. Finally, rakfisk, considered a Norwegian delicacy, is probably one of the world’s smelliest fishes. It is heavily salted trout fermented in water for up to a year. It is then eaten raw with a glass (or several) of aquavit. Last but not least is the drink gløgg, a beverage usually made with red wine along with various mulling spices and raisins. It is served warm and may be alcoholic or non-alcoholic.


The SAD phenomenon

It is four years and a half since I moved in Norway…My God time flies…isn’t it? I remember the excitement and the fear of the unknown that overwhelmed me before my coming here. These feelings lasted about a year after my installation here. I was so excited and at the same time so anxious because I wanted to survive here, meaning that I had to find myself any kind of job and most important learn the language so I didn’t pay attention to this SAD phenomenon..

And by SAD I mean seasonal affective disorder. Winter is quite literally depressing in Norway and most probably in all these Scandinavian countries. First described in the 1980s, the syndrome is characterized by recurrent depressions that occur annually at the same time each year. Most psychiatrists regard SAD as being a subclass of generalized depression.

When I first came here a friend told me “watch how Norwegians become frenetic and obsessed with the sun”. The first summer we were here I saw many people lied on the grass in the parks, by the riverside, wherever they would have more access to the sun. I smiled with compassion.

Poor me…The luck of sun had started to have an impact on me as well, only I hadn’t realized it by then..

But every year until now we managed to travel either to homeland or to another place during winter time so the fact that we had bought tickets made us kind of more cheerful. Besides we had a circle of friends, some of them were very good ones, so we had the chance to socialize and just hang around with people. But this year something happened to our circle. My best friend here moved for good to homeland, one other friend moved also and we discovered after a sequence of events that we cannot get along with certain friends so we drifted apart …

Therefore I have the winter blues just before Christmas time .. My behavior is quite aggressive sometimes to my partner and so is his, and I find difficult to have energy to do things and experience feelings of hopelessness. Yesterday I couldn’t sleep because of my dark thoughts. I felt like I suffocated and couldn’t breath as if I was in a dead end situation and there is no way out.

In fact I remember now that last year in a cold winter day I was out for a walk with my best friend and we went to the botanical gardens of Oslo. There were some particular tropical plants which needed lots of heat, that’s why there were installed in greenhouses with hot lamps inside. When we entered the greenhouse, this warmth -so familiar to a girl like me coming from Greece -was so soothing and rejuvenating to me that I felt immediately relaxed and at ease that I didn’t want to come out of the greenhouse! The same happened to my friend.

So I have the symptoms of SAD..but what about the Norwegians? Are they experiencing the same thing?

They do get depressed. They are affected by this luck of sun. It is in their genes and that explains why they drink too much and they go mad when they visit warmer countries like Greece.

During the dark season Norway lives indoors. It is often sludgy, slippery and very wet, and the amount of physical work that it takes just to live daily life–the constant dressing and undressing for the outdoors, trudging through a meter of snow, walking on very slippery ice paths, brushing cars of snow every day–can make a lot of people want to stay indoors. Of course when the first snow comes, they go outdoors for langrenn ski. They wear the hi tech ski uniforms and nobody can’t stop them from this. They have been training the whole year so they don’t want to miss that opportunity.

Norwegians love fire. Any chance they get they will light up a candle. It is normal to see many candles on tables and windowsills. Welcome candles are small dishes in the snow by front doors to greet visitors. Shops also use these candles to welcome customers in from the cold as well as open fire torches. Even though the sun can’t be seen, a fire always warms the soul.

By law all buildings and houses have outside lights for safety which are turned up a specific time. During the Christmas season, which lasts til the 13th of January, Christmas lights decorate houses and front garden Christmas trees. So, even the streets are very festive and beautiful in Norway. Window lamps are in every house. Most lamps only give off 40w so they don’t give really a good light. Tee lights are very common as well as a variety of candles around the house. At Christmas you’ll find the traditional 5 or 7 stick candelabra in many windows or a lighted star.

So after last “dark” night I read some things on the internet and would like to share with you.

There are several theories, none of them definitive, relate to the circadian clock or rhythm —the roughly 24-hour oscillation in our behavior and biology that influences when we feel hungry, sleepy or active. This is no surprise given that the symptoms of the winter blues seem to be associated with shortening days and longer nights, and that bright light seems to have an anti-depressive effect. One idea is that some people’s eyes are less sensitive to light, so once light levels fall below a certain threshold, they struggle to synchronize their circadian clock with the outside world. Another is that some people produce more of a hormone called melatonine during winter than in summer—just like certain other mammals that show strong seasonal patterns in their behavior.

Mental health can also take a hit during the year’s darkest days. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a sub-type of depression that involves many of the same symptoms, including loss of energy, lack of interest in enjoyable activities, oversleeping and feelings of hopelessness. Decreased sunlight can cause drops in your body’s production of serotonin, a brain chemical that helps to determine mood. Lack of light can also alter the brain’s balance of melatonin, a chemical produced during the hours of darkness that helps to govern sleep patterns and mood.

So it seems only in case I find an outdoor activity to do or buy the next flight ticket to a warmer country as soon as possible, I am going to make it here. Even all kinds of extra vitamins cannot substitute the sun. And I love the candles, but it is absurd to expect from them to light your inner darkness, isn’t it?

I know I sound very depressive but to be honest it is the job that keeps me going here. But I am not going to speculate what my future will be here. After all people go through several phases in their life. Let’s find out what will be my next phase 🙂