Memories from my childhood in Norway
Mina Bjerknes Larsen
Mercer Island, Wash.
I grew up on a farm about 50 miles from Oslo. We were eight children, six girls and two boys. With my parents, my grandfather, and two boys and two girls who worked on the farm, we were 14 people in the household.
Preparation for the long winter and the Christmas season started early. In October, before the first snow, we would go out into the forest and pick out the Christmas tree.
In early December, the butcher would come, and the animals were butchered and prepared: sylte, rull, sausage, meatballs, and pork chops. Meat was salted down in large barrels to keep through the winter.
My mother would start the baking. Traditionally, you must have at least seven kinds of cookies. She would stay up after we were all in bed and bake the cookies in a large wood-burning stove. Fattigmann, goro, smultringer, sirupsnipper, pepperkaker, berlinerkranser, krumkaker, and sandnotter were stored in milk pails and large containers in the hallway. Bread and julekake were baked in a large brick oven. A fire was made in the oven and after it burned down, the coals were raked out and the bread was put in to bake. The oven would take about 18 loaves.
The day before Christmas Eve is called Little Christmas Eve. That day, my father would cut the Christmas tree and bring it home.
On Christmas Eve morning, we would almost always wake up to new falling snow. In the morning, my mother would decorate the Christmas tree. My father would put out the julenek (sheaf of wheat) on the trees in front of the house for the birds—all the animals would get a special treat.
Soon the aroma of the Christmas dinner would fill the house. At 4 p.m., we were all dressed in our new clothes, my father and grandfather in their best suits. We all gathered on the front stairs to listen to the church bells ringing in Christmas. All the church bells in Norway were ringing at the same time. This was really the beginning of Christmas.
The table was set in the dining room with the special Christmas tablecloth and our best silver and china. Our grandfather at the head of the table would read the Christmas story and with our hands folded, we would sing the special table prayer. Then all the food was brought in: meatballs, potatoes and gravy, pork ribs, surkål with tyttebær (lingonberries), apples, and prunes. Dessert was usually caramel custard.
Now the door to the parlor was opened, and there was the Christmas tree, all lit up with real candles and decorated with the old glass ornaments, heart baskets, angel hair, and Norwegian flags.
While holding hands, we would walk around the tree and sing all the Christmas carols.
Suddenly, a knock on the door: in comes Santa Claus with a gunnysack on his shoulder. The gifts were passed out. We would usually get a special gift from our parents, and from a friend of my mother, and my grandfather’s sister, Tante Mina. Now was the time for cookies and coffee and juice for the kids, then oranges and nuts, and special apples that my father had saved in the cellar.
Between Christmas and New Year’s (romjula) was the time for parties. Different organizations would have parties for children. The highlight was always walking around the tree and singing.
In Norway, Christmas lasts until Jan. 5, which is the 12th day of Christmas.
This article originally appeared in the December 13, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.