A genuine Norwegian julebasar
Popular Christmas fair returns to Norwegian Seamen’s Church in NYC
As you entered New York’s Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Midtown Manhattan, you were greeted by a friendly welcome: gløgg, (non-alcoholic, for everyone to enjoy) and the ubiquitous vaccination check. It felt wonderful to be back in this sacred space for their popular Christmas fair.
Last year, you could only pick up products at Christmastime because of the pandemic. Like many, I was grateful for the opportunity to purchase traditional Norwegian food but missed the warmth, the fellowship, the sharing of a cup of coffee and chatter while reconnecting with friends that is so much a part of the annual Julebasar.
This year, the main room offered tables full of traditional items for sale. On one side were non-edibles: candles, knitted goods, Scandinavian ornaments, a proliferation of Norwegian Christmas elves, the beloved nisser, on napkins, cards, and such—and much more.
The other end of the room featured food: marzipan and “Success” cakes, open-faced sandwiches of shrimp, salmon, and karbonader, and, of course, strong coffee, and waffles, for which the Seamen’s Church is famous.
Some food products for sale included: gløgg, krumkaker, knekkebrød (made by Norwegian Baked in Brooklyn) and the much sought after Juleribbe.
Doris and Odd Andersen attend the fair annually. They said they could make Norwegian food at home, “but it’s just a treat to come here.”
This event would not have been possible without many stalwart volunteers. I spoke to two of them, Pauline Tonnenssen and Trena Madison, both who had been involved with the church’s knitting club before COVID-19 hit. They had made the oh-so-soft and adorable booty slippers, with pointed nisse-style toe to fit infants through adults.
The knitters explained the steps to make these comfy Norwegian tøffler. First, you knit larger than needed. Then the item is placed in hot water and grønnsåpe (you need lanolin), which shrinks and binds the piece, creating felt.
Madison had even traveled all the way from her current residence in Minnesota to volunteer her skills for the knitting project this year: now that’s dedication to the church!
Artist Lois Andersen, based in Concord, Mass., delighted the attendees with her exhibit, “Å finne hjem” (Finding Home), in the Trygve Lie Gallery on the lower level.
As visitors started down the staircase, they were greeted by a painting of a window entitled “Looking Back” and a quote from T.S. Elliot: “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
This exhibit is full of highlights. The painting “Foreseen Lofoten” is so beautiful that it stands out, with long blue shadows blanketing the formidable rock formations, while the last remnants of light streak through the darkness in fiery flashes before being extinguished.
Across from this rectangular painting is a smaller image, entitled “Å, Lofoten.” Close and personal, the view is cropped to accentuate the rocks. You can feel the movement of the mist, floating in, as it partially veils the view.
Then there is the pairing of “Going” and “Coming”. “Going” depicts the Spind Kirke Farsund graveyard, while “Coming” portrays an infant’s baptism inside the simple, rustic church—a solemn, lovely, and poignant statement. Quietly placed together, they encapsulate the circle of life, the deep and relenting call of home, and what it means to belong.
Andersen’s exhibit will be on view through Jan. 9, 2022.
An extra bonus on the day I attended were two performances. In the afternoon, there was a choir of about a dozen voices conducted by Maren Ørstavik. The group, which included pastors Geir Øy and Jofrid Landa, was formed about three weeks ago and had only had three rehearsals.
The choir sang many holiday favorites, including “Joy to the World,” “Deck the Halls,” and “Silent Night.” They ended with “Deilig er jorden” in Norwegian and invited everyone to join in.
“This choir is full of spirit, so spontaneous and so professional at the same time,” enthused The Norwegian American’s own Lori Ann Reinhall, who was visiting in New York.
You will be able to catch the choir’s next concert at the church this spring.
The evening topped this off with an open mic. Christian L. Stahr, head of music and cultural programming at the church, accompanied on piano, with another volunteer on drums.
The show opened with none other than Reinhall singing the hauntingly beautiful Swedish Christmas song “Jul, jul, strålande jul.” Mozart’s “Turkish March” rang out from the strings of an electric guitar, adeptly played by a young woman—a great surprise.
Another participant chose to share sweet Disney songs, and Lisa Daehlin shared a medley of Christmas favorites, both sacred and secular. There was also an audience sing-along, including the beloved “Silent Night,” in both Norwegian and English.
The New York Norwegian Seamen’s Church gifted the first taste of the Jul season to many, and it was wholeheartedly consumed. Partakers left feeling lighter and satiated in both body and soul.
Although the Julebasar is now over, products will be available until they last. Upcoming Jul events to enjoy at the church include: a Christmas concert on Dec. 11 at 5 p. m. and Advent and Christmas Services. Risgrøt is also available on Saturday afternoons. Details may be found on the church website at sjomannskirken.no/new-york.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 3, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.