A holiday greeting from Ambassador Anniken Ramberg Krutnes
God jul og godt nyttår!
Anniken Ramberg Krutnes
Norway’s Ambassador to the United States
December has arrived, and with it comes the seasonal coziness that only the holidays can bring. (Norwegians are famous for making things cozy, or koselig, to get through the long winter.) Here in D.C., local Christmas markets are up and running, and the houses around the embassy are decked out in festive decorations – not to mention the embassy itself!
Soon, we’ll light the Christmas tree that we present at Union Station each year. This is a holiday tradition symbolizing the close relationship between our two countries, which began as a way for Norway to thank the United States for its support during World War II. The 2023 event is especially exciting for families with young children, as it will feature singer Lisa Stokke—the Norwegian voice of Elsa in Frozen.
I’ve come to love this time of year in the Washington, D.C., area, but here at the embassy, we keep our Norwegian traditions alive, too. As in the United States, most holiday activities are open to everyone, no matter what their religious affiliation might be. Everybody gets the opportunity to enjoy the season with friends and family!
For those Norwegians who do celebrate Christmas, though, we might choose to count down the days using an Advent calendar—or, often, an orange. We push 24 cloves through the orange peel, which fills the room with a lovely scent all the way through the holidays. Each morning, we remove one clove until there are none left – marking Christmas Eve, our main day of celebration.
Some families light a candle on an Advent wreath each Sunday leading up to Christmas, with one additional candle lit every week. This is not necessarily a religious observance, although it may be for some. The most popular way of following this tradition is to read one stanza of a famous poem by Norwegian writer Inger Hagerup for every new candle. “The Advent Candles” invites participants to reflect on four qualities attributed to the holiday season: hope, joy, yearning, and, above all, peace.
We also love our gingerbread houses in Norway, or pepperkakehus, as we call them. The city of Bergen is so enamored with them that they are known across the globe for their pepperkakebyen—a whole gingerbread-house city, and one of the largest in the world! Countless volunteers, from nursery students to business owners, come together every year to construct it, giving it a unique spin each time it is remade. Visitors might spot famous Bergen landmarks and some quirky individual designs as well as traditional gingerbread cottages. (Norway House in Minneapolis also hosts a “Gingerbread Wonderland” every year. Check it out if you’re able to!)
Naturally, gingerbread isn’t the only sweet treat we make for the holidays. Have you ever heard of syv slags kaker—seven types of cookies? No holiday season is complete without sampling at least that many, if not more! Some of my traditional favorites are gingerbread, butter cookies, donuts, syrup snaps, ginger nuts, waffle cookies, and sugar cakes. A variety of other seasonal goodies have gained popularity in Norway, too, especially those involving chocolate.
For people who celebrate Christmas, once the 24th arrives, it’s time to start the party. We don’t wait until the 25th like our American friends. Instead, that evening, we dig into our carefully prepared Christmas dinner, which can range from ribbe (roasted pork belly) to pinnekjøtt (dried lamb ribs) to cod. Julenissen, or the Norwegian version of Santa Claus, will likely stop by to greet any small children. And of course, there are presents, carol singing, and spending time with loved ones around the Christmas tree, just like in the United States.
Regardless of how you and your family might celebrate the month of December, I hope that this holiday season is a joyful and meaningful one for each of you. God jul, happy holidays, and here’s to 2024!
This article originally appeared in the December 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE.