Norway Journal, chapter 10: Our Christmas Story, 1997
Andrea Nelson and her husband, Jerry, lived in Hamar, Norway, for a year in 1997-1998. During that year Andrea wrote articles bi-weekly for several newspapers in Wisconsin and Minnesota in order to help her readers visualize what it was like to be living there. The following excerpt is from her “Norway Journal” in which she describes one of the most harrowing (but also most wonderful) Christmas Eves they have ever experienced.
We had not seen our children since the day in August when my husband, Jerry, and I left Wisconsin to spend one year living in Hamar, Norway—a year that was to be the chance of a lifetime, a dream come true. When we learned that all three of our adult children and their families could manage to come to Norway to spend Christmas with us, the dream turned into a fairy tale too good to be true. Several of them had to work right up through December 22, so the seven of them were scheduled to fly on KLM out of Minneapolis on the 23rd, which meant that by the time they landed, it would already be 11:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve. But even with the two-hour drive from Oslo airport to Hamar, we would still be home early afternoon in time for church services and a family Christmas together.
They assembled at the Minneapolis airport, the seven Nelsons, which included our daughter Wendy and granddaughter, eight-year-old Kristina; our son Nils and new wife Anneke; and our son Rich with his wife Leanne and their brand new baby, Hannah, born November 30, our newest granddaughter whom we would be seeing for the first time ever.
It was in Minneapolis that they heard about the bad weather in Boston, where their plane was touching down before heading overseas. The two-hour wait there was only the first of many. The next five-hour delay was spent two in the air circling Boston, waiting to land, and three on the ground waiting to leave again. Seven hours behind schedule meant, of course, that they had already missed the connecting flight that should have taken them from Amsterdam to Oslo.
For that, they were prepared, but they were not prepared for the shock of learning, once in Amsterdam, that all regular flights between Amsterdam and Oslo were canceled and that the only one left on the schedule was an evening flight, which meant another eight-hour wait in the Amsterdam airport.
The explanation was simple: Christmas is such an important holiday in Norway that everyone who is going anywhere is already there. Not enough people fly to Oslo on the afternoon of Christmas Eve to keep a regular flight schedule. But the explanation did nothing to help the exhausted adults, to say nothing of the children who were beyond tired.
Fornebu Airport, Oslo
Too excited to sleep, Jerry and I had left far earlier than necessary for the airport to meet the plane we thought the family was coming in on. When we learned that they were delayed, we next went to customer services for KLM to see what flight they were scheduled for. The KLM agent, Presterhus, was watching my face when she told us they were scheduled on the night flight. She saw how disappointed, how sick we felt. I choked out something about them being our whole family, coming for Christmas Eve—two kids, one of those our brand new grandchild… and Ms. Presterhus went into action. She started scanning her screen for possibilities. Suddenly she was on the phone to KLM in Amsterdam. She said, “SAS has a flight going to Copenhagen soon.” She explained the situation briefly, quickly, and asked, “Can you get seven more people on that flight, and then schedule them on the connecting SAS flight to Oslo?”
We were only hearing one side of the conversation, but the questions became obvious as we heard the answers:
“We don’t know where they are. Somewhere in the Amsterdam airport.”
“Couldn’t you page them, party of seven, named Nelson?”
“No, we don’t care about the luggage. We’ll handle that later.”
“Just think all the kids spending Christmas Eve in your airport. Their parents spending it here at Fornebu where everything is already closing down.”
“Yes, this is my number. Fax me in 30 minutes and tell me what happened.”
She looked at us as she said, “This agent is a Norwegian too. She knows how important Christmas Eve is to families. Go have a cup of coffee. We’ll know in a half hour or so.”
Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam
Our children sat stunned, close to tears, absorbing the news. Suddenly the voice of an angel came over the loudspeaker, “Nelson family of seven, run to gate 42! Nelson family of seven, run immediately to gate 42.”
They looked at each other. “How many parties of seven Nelsons could there be?”
They grabbed the baby, hand luggage, each others’ hands, and, trusting like the shepherds had, they ran. SAS was holding the flight for them. Only after they were buckled in and taking off were they told that they were headed not to Oslo, but to Copenhagen. But then were also scheduled on the next flight out of Copenhagen to Oslo. Then the tears came. Tears of wonder. Tears of relief.
They landed late afternoon in Oslo, a bedraggled, exhausted, happy bunch. Our anguished eight-hour wait in the airport dissolved into ancient history as we gazed on our new grandbaby, Hannah, for the first time. We were all back in Hamar in time for Christmas Eve, thanks to several very special and caring KLM and SAS airline employees who knew the importance of a Norwegian family Christmas and a cooperative SAS crew that held the plane.
And the luggage? It got an extra two-hour taxi ride and was delivered by two smiling men to our front door just before midnight. When we expressed surprise that they brought it on Christmas Eve, they said, “No problem. It’s not our holiday. We’re Muslims and glad to have the work.” And left with a cheerful “Glædelig Jul!”
Andrea Cowles Nelson is a graduate of Luther College. She spent her career as a German teacher but has always been in love with all things Norwegian, which is part of her heritage. She and her husband, Jerry, now live in Mound, Minnesota. They have traveled to Norway many times but credit the year they had the privilege of living there with being one of the highlights of their 53 years together.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 18, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.