Finding ways to connect to Norwegian heritage and traditions during a pandemic
In these extraordinary times of COVID-19 and quarantines, connecting to our heritage can be challenging. For Norwegian Americans, lutefisk suppers and Scandinavian festivals are on pause, and there are very few concerts, games, or Sons of Norway meetings to attend. On top of this, the cold, dark winter months are looming. Without the ability to travel much or gather in person this winter, it might be easy to lose touch with our Norwegian heritage and traditions.
With this in mind, I began to ask myself: what are ways that we can connect to Norwegian heritage when we are physically distant from others? I started by imagining what it would be like to spend a long winter the way an immigrant to the United States would have 100 years ago, perhaps isolated in a cabin in Minnesota somewhere: solitary, seeking shelter from icy weather, eating food made with lots of butter. In such times as those, being Norwegian-American in a long winter had very little to do with big dinners or festivals but spending time cooped up inside with family.
To answer this question, I came up with a plan. In the course of four days, I challenged myself to incorporate a tradition or aspect of Norwegian or Norwegian-American culture into my routine.
Day 1: Scandinavian Baking
In coming up with ideas for my week, food was the first thing to come to my mind. I can think of countless occasions making lefse and kringle with my grandparents, smells of cardamom and almond, and covering everything with flour. Food was the first part of my Norwegian heritage that I remember, but in my family, these culinary traditions are usually reserved for special occasions and not a part of our daily diet (although with all the butter involved, maybe that’s for the best).
I decided to make pepperkaker, a spiced cookie popular all over Scandinavia, but less common in the Midwestern Norwegian-American communities I grew up in. I had eaten pepperkaker before but never attempted to bake any myself, so it was the perfect thing for my week of connecting to my Norwegian roots.
The pepperkaker recipe I used was from Scandinavian food blogger Daytona Strong: outside-oslo.com/norwegian-christmas-cookies-pepperkaker.
Overall, I was pretty proud of the result! The cookies came out perfectly golden brown and warm and spicy, and they were gone almost instantly. I will definitely be making these again and again this winter.
Day 2: Koselig
For the second day of my challenge, I wanted to incorporate a little koselig into my day. In Norwegian, koselig roughly translates to a feeling of coziness, usually brought about by creating a warm and comfortable space, and spending time with people close to you. In my four-day plan, I was especially looking forward to this day, as it is essentially my introvert dream. I lit some candles, wrapped myself in blankets, and sat down with Per Petterson’s novel Ut og stjæle hester (Out Stealing Horses). There’s nothing cozier than reading about an old Norwegian man reliving his childhood trauma in a cabin in the woods.
To create a koselig experience for yourself, you can:
Create a cozy environment with candles, blankets, and lights, and put on your favorite Norwegian sweater.
Put on your favorite Norwegian movie or TV show or grab a book. (I suggest the Norwegian TV show Occupied, which is available on Netflix.)
Brew a cup of coffee or tea.
Pull out some board games to play with those in your quarantine circle.
Day 3: Friluftsliv
A quintessential trait of any good Norwegian is a deep connection to the outdoors: a love of friluftsliv, the outdoor life. However, even if you don’t live in a place where you have unlimited access to nature, you can still find moments to connect to the outdoors and to the idea of friluftsliv. This could be by just taking a walk to the park and sitting down for a while to enjoy the fresh air. It could be renting skis for the day or playing a game of kubb with family and friends.
Luckily, my town has plenty of opportunities to connect to the outdoors, as do most towns, if you know where to look. So, I took my dog and hit the trail for the afternoon. We hiked along a lovely trout stream and in the woods, but you can find an outdoor setting that fits your comfort level near you. No matter what you do, being in nature for a little while will leave you with a peaceful mind and a fresh outlook.
Day 4: Tour Norwegian-American museums and cultural sites online
On the last day of my Norwegian heritage week, I decided to take a look at what was available to me from major Norwegian-American cultural centers. I took a tour of Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum and Heritage Center’s virtual galleries, and watched a few online folk art and language classes, and Norway House’s “Bli hjemme!” (www.norwayhouse.org/stay-home), which has a multitude of activities, recipes, and online galleries to explore. Finally, I had to check out some of the new articles from The Norwegian American newspaper. There are so many more online opportunities to connect with, right at our fingertips.
This week of actively seeking to connect with my Norwegian heritage showed me just how comforting and valuable it can be to incorporate simple pieces of my heritage into my daily life. It’s a comfort to know that things we experience now have happened in the past; an isolated winter seems less daunting knowing your ancestors have lived through similar things before you.
Not only this, but this week also helped me to find ways that I can support the places that strengthen my cultural community in these difficult times. And besides, it’s fun!
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 13, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.