Faring the Scandinavian Christmas fairs

With four such events in one weekend, the people of New York face a tough choice

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Gabriel Rodríguez Festive New York is a great place to celebrate the Christmas season.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Gabriel Rodríguez
Festive New York is a great place to celebrate the Christmas season.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Christmas traditions have begun. I don’t mean the street lights that were strung a month ago or the store aisles filled to the brim with Christmas tchotchkes, once again eliminating Thanksgiving altogether; I mean it is the week for the Scandinavian Christmas fairs in NY.

I am not sure when or why they all four merged their dates into the week before Thanksgiving, but they have: The Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Manhattan, The Swedish Church in Manhattan, the Danish Seamen’s Church in Brooklyn (so popular that it had to move part of the festival to a larger space in Plymouth Church), and Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Brooklyn.

I only had the chance to visit one of these fairs this year, the one at Our Savior’s, and did so on its opening day, Friday, November 21. But a bus full of Sons of Norway members came in from Long Island and managed to visit three of them. Quite a feat.

Our Savior’s bazaar is truly old school. It is held in the great hall of their education building and offers mostly vintage and secondhand items, rather than new imported items. But you can really score, as the prices are so reasonable. Some of the items are generic, but I have also uncovered fine Scandinavian wares, such as linens, porsgrunn plates and crystal, and retro mercury glass ornaments. Some years the ladies of the church offer knitted gloves and mittens with Nordic motifs—all new, for a fraction of the cost elsewhere.

There is always a wonderful, very large table of homemade baked goods. Behind that table a cafe has been set up, serving open-face sandwiches, heart-shaped waffles, and homemade cakes, and of course the obligatory church urn of coffee.

I remember leading a tour of Vanse/Lister Ladies a few years ago. One stop was to Our Savior’s to see the sanctuary. When we entered looking for Sonja Nerjes, who was to be our tour guide, she was buzzing around taking care of all the necessary details with a lot of other stalwarts who make the annual Christmas Bazaar a success. I had not realized that our tour overlapped with the fair, but I am glad it did. It was kismet. The Norwegian ladies got to take a load off, taste the good food, and luxuriate in a cup or two of strong coffee. Most of all it was a time of exchange, interchange, and fellowship, a highlight of their trip.

Our Savior’s Church was founded in 1866 in Manhattan, as the Norwegian Lutheran Church of Our Saviour, and moved to Monroe Street in Brooklyn in 1876, following the movement of the increasing Norwegian population. In 1885, they built a new church on Henry Street. In the 1920s and 30s, when much of the Norwegian population moved again to the Bay Ridge area, Our Savior’s followed, building their current church at the corner of 80th Street and Fourth Ave. They are known for their stellar preschool, and share space with the Salam Arabic Lutheran Church.

I had a chance to ask member Sonja Nerjes about Our Savior’s fair. She told me, “It has been held in this location since the education building was constructed in 1960. It had been held in other buildings prior to that. Its purpose is to raise money for the church.”

Reader, I am sorry if you missed out this year, but if you are in the New York area, I recommend you stop by one or all of the fairs next year. It’s a lovely overture to the holiday season.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 5, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.