Maine Nordmenn Julefest
An old-fashioned celebration, full of tradition
By Eleanor Froiland Andrews
Special to the Norwegian American Weekly
If you can’t spend Christmas in Norway, the next best place is Maine. The fragrance of balsam fir fills the air, Christmas lights sparkle from lighthouses, trees, and homes, sleigh bells ring, carolers sing, and in seaside villages, Santa Claus arrives on a lobster boat.
In keeping with the season, Maine Nordmenn hold their annual Julefest early in December. Since the organization began in 2003, the lodge has gathered to celebrate, most recently at the Sky-Hy Convention Center in Topsham, Maine. This rustic lodge, once a center for downhill and cross- country skiing, has a spacious hall with a large open stone fireplace and beautiful views of the surrounding hills. In front of a roaring fire, a Christmas tree stands decorated with Norwegian ornaments made by lodge members at a regular monthly meeting. Shortly before noon, members and guests arrive from as far away as Connecticut and New York City carrying delicacies for the Julebord and treasures for the Silent Auction. Soon the tables on one side of the hall are filled with interesting items for sale. Guests have a chance to get acquainted as they browse and place their bids on items for last minute Christmas gifts. They hope their bid will be the lucky one, but since all proceeds from the auction go to the lodge, everyone is a winner.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the hall, ladies in bunads and men in Norwegian sweaters prepare a Julebord of smørbrød, shrimp, smoked salmon, anchovies, sliced eggs, homemade breads, gjetost, Jarlsberg cheese, Swedish meatballs, pickled herring, salads, julebrød, and lefse. Children in their holiday finery wait anxiously for the call to dinner. Before helping themselves, guests join in the table prayer, “I Jesu Navn,” and while they are eating, Warren Johnson provides dinner music on his accordion, including Norwegian favorites such as “Hils fra meg der hjemme,” “Johan på Snippen,” and “Jeg er så glad hver julekveld.”
Hidden in a back room is a separate table full of desserts so delectable that they can’t be unveiled until after the main course to prevent kids of all ages from spoiling their dinner. The guests are filled with delight when the table is brought into the room laden with krumkake, sandbakkels, kransekake, fattigmann, rømmegrøt, and risengrøt with the traditional hidden almond. The lucky person who discovers it wins a marzipan pig.
Dessert is followed by Scandinavian folk dancing lessons for anyone who wants to join in or for those who want to work off their dinner. The afternoon continues with a delightful St. Lucia procession, the Pepperkaker Boy handing out spicy cookies, and the arrival of Julenissen with gifts for the children. Results of the Silent Auction are announced and happy winners claim their treasures. As the Julefest comes to a close, guests gather around the giant Christmas tree, form rings, hold hands, and dance around the tree singing “O Jul Med Din Glede” and other festive songs. Finally, guests toast each other with Akavit, wish everyone “Gledelig jul og Godt nytt år,” and head home in the crisp Maine air aglow with Christmas cheer.
This article was originally published in the Nov. 13 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For subscription information and to learn more, email us at email@example.com or call (800) 305-0217.