Barneblad: O Juletre, O Juletre!
Bring an old tradition to life each year — decorate a Christmas tree
Brought to you by Lori Ann Reinhall
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree”— how welcome these words are each year, as friends and family gather to celebrate Christmas around a newly decorated tree. Soon after the rush of the Black Friday shopping frenzy, Christmas trees are to be found everywhere: at shopping malls, in parks and plazas, at work, church, school, and at home.
Did you know that the beloved song about the Christmas tree didn’t originate in Norway, the United States, or England? It came our way from Germany, where the tradition of the Christmas tree was already very strong several hundred years ago.
An ancient tradition
The Christmas tree tradition as we know it came from the city of Strasburg in the Alsace region, where the cultures of Germany and France come together. The oldest sources date the Christmas tree to 1605, but it is not until the 1820s that there is any mention of the juletre in Norway. It made its way there via Denmark.
In Norway, the first Christmas trees were simple, with homemade decorations: hand-dipped candles with simple tin holders, little woven baskets often in the shape of a heart, cookies in various shapes, apples and mandarins, and perhaps some raisins strung on a string. Most of all, it was important to put a Christmas Star on top.
Traditionally, the juletre was brought into the house on Christmas Eve so everyone could decorate it together. In some families, the mother would prepare everything and light the candles to surprise the children. Once the tree was ready, the festivities could begin, with all the delicious Christmas food, happy songs, and long-awaited presents.
Today, some Norwegian families still wait until Christmas Eve to put up their tree. Others start a day earlier on “Little Christmas Eve,” and some mark the holiday season by putting up the tree on the first Sunday of Advent.
These days, no one uses candles because of the danger of fire, and few use perishable decorations. Electric lights, shiny bulb ornaments, and tinsel are popular, yet many decorations are still inspired by the traditional baskets, cookies, and fruit. An interesting addition is the strings of small Norwegian flags for a cherished holiday in Norwegian life.
DIY the old-fashioned way
As Norwegian Americans, we love to explore our roots. You can make your Christmas more special by making your own Norwegian juletre.
Here are the supplies and instructions for doing it the old-fashioned way:
1. Ask an adult to buy a small tabletop-sized cut tree or a little potted tree.
2. You will need a string of white lights to replace the glow of the candles. String these on the tree first.
3. Buy some apples, mandarins, and raisins.
a. Since apples and mandarins are heavy, put them at the base of the tree instead of hanging them to add ambiance and fragrance.
b. Have an adult help you string the raisins with a needle and thread. Drape the raisin garland around the tree.
4. Buy or bake some soft gingerbread cookies. You will need to string a ribbon or thread through them before you hang them on the tree.
5. You can also make woven Christmas heart baskets and fill them with nuts or candy. For this you will need two colors of Christmas paper (shiny red and gold look great), and you can follow the instructions at www.norwegianamerican.com/heritage/christmas-ornaments-make-share.
An old-fashioned Christmas tree will only last a few days, but you can enjoy the fun and fragrance of an ekte norsk jul, a genuine Norwegian Christmas. And if your family chooses to make a modern juletre, you can have it up for much longer: according to tradition, you shouldn’t take it down before Twelfth Night (Jan. 5) or Epiphany (Jan. 6) or even Tjugende Knut, Saint Knut’s Day (Jan. 13), 20 days after Christmas!
This article originally appeared in the December 14, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.