Seeing Norway in a new light
Hopewell Junction, N.Y.
To visit Norway in December is to see Norway in a new and magical light.
Last December my husband John and I were lured to Norway, beckoned by the invitation to attend a New Year’s Eve wedding, as well as the opportunity to spend Christmas with our son (who has lived in Norway for nearly six years) and with our exchange student “daughter” and her family.
Our previous six trips to Norway were all in the spring and summer in the weeks surrounding the summer solstice. On these trips daylight was abundant and temperatures comfortable as we took to the road, stayed in hytter and rorbuer, and made our way eventually to every fylke in Norway. We relished the long daylight hours and travels to new places, along with time spent with our family and friends.
In contrast, for this December trip, which started on the winter solstice, we stayed with our family and friends, no hytter and rorbuer, no travel to new places. This trip was all about people and familiar places. Yet the season provided a lens through which we experienced familiar Norway in a new and enlightening way.
First stop, Molde
Direct from Gardermoen, our first stop was Molde where our son Matt lives and teaches at Molde kulturskole. Molde is a very pretty and walkable city. We enjoyed seeing it on the winter solstice, the main street adorned with Christmas decorations.
Matt had told us that the winter light was special, and we found that to be true. The sun does not get high in the sky. The length of daylight is short (in Molde sunrise fades into sunset with little or no “daylight” in between) but twilight, sunrise, and sunset are extended. One can more easily see the blue in twilight—popularly called blåtimen or the “blue hour”—and the red and orange of sunrise and sunset, as well as the nuances in the colors.
Trips to the grocery store and Torget were a new adventure with all the Christmas food and decorations not seen in the summer months. We always find grocery stores to be an excellent place to learn about people and their culture!
Matt plays bass trombone with Molde Brass Band, one of the top brass bands in Norway. The highlight of our time in Molde was the band’s concert at Molde domkirke on lille julaften. Entitled “Stille stund” (“quiet moment”), this annual concert is presented in the late evening of December 23 after Christmas preparations are finished, a time to relax and to get into the Christmas spirit. The concert program included traditional and familiar songs such as “O Helga Natt” and “Deilig er Jorden.” Like the blåtimen, the indoor light was soft and blue, uniquely winter.
Molde’s Årø Airport, like most of the country, shuts down operation on julaften, except for one early morning flight to Gardermoen. In the pre-dawn hours we were amused to see Julenissen in the cherry picker de-icing our plane.
Christmas with family and friends
The rest of our stay was spent in the Oslo area—Aurskog, Lillestrøm, and Vinterbro—with our “daughter” Camilla and husband Anders, her children, and her parents. December 24 and 25 in Aurskog were picture-perfect, with blue skies, snow on the ground, hoar frost on the trees, and crisp below-freezing temperatures (-20 C outside, +20 C inside). The sun, barely above the horizon even at noon, made the sky seem even bluer and the frost even whiter. Later in the week we walked on the frozen Hemnessjøen and experienced cabin life in the winter (including frozen pipes!).
We experienced firsthand the Norwegian Christmas traditions we had heard so much about, primarily food! On julaften we enjoyed ribbe, innmatpølser, tyttebærsyltetøy, mandelpotet, and kålrotstappe, with karamellpudding, followed by an array of sweets and of course coffee.
Over several days of Christmas, our Norwegian friends were gracious in serving us other traditional Christmas foods, such as pinnekjøtt and lutefisk. We had some of these foods more than once, prepared in different homes, and so we learned about the regional differences of how they are served, such as the various sauces served with lutefisk. Whatever we ate, we found akevitt to be the perfect complement.
Even non-Christmas meals were special. We were treated to our award-winning chef friend Christer Rødseth’s famous apple cake with caramel cream, a perfect ending to his mother’s lasagna dinner.
More than once we were reminded, “It doesn’t matter what you eat between Christmas and New Year’s, but rather what you eat between New Year’s and Christmas.”
A fairy tale wedding
The New Year’s Eve wedding at a chapel in the Norwegian woods was just what one might imagine, a fairy tale “Frozen” wedding with a Disney-like prince and princess.
The setting was magical. The red Mangen kapell (Aurskog-Høland kommune) stood out in sharp contrast to the winter wonderland around it. The day was perfect—the ground snow-covered, the sky blue and cloudless, the sunlight shining low through the trees covered with hoar frost, the air chilling and crisp.
Berit (Camilla’s sister) and Henrik were married at 12 noon at Mangen kapell. The 111-year-old chapel accommodated the wedding. Henrik’s family is from Finland and guests came from Norway, Finland, and the U.S. The ceremony was said in Norwegian (except for “you may now kiss the bride” and “Fly Me to the Moon,” sung with English lyrics), but we could follow along.
Outside the chapel after the wedding, the bride was kept warm by a full-length fur cape made by her mother. Berit’s resemblance to Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen” was striking.
The wedding reception, lasting well past midnight, was held at Bekkelagshuset in the Nordstrand district of Oslo overlooking Oslofjord. We experienced the Norwegian New Year’s Eve fireworks celebrations we had heard about. The temperatures were cold but the fireworks, champagne, and camaraderie won out over the frozen temperatures.
The next morning, as if on cue, rain clouds arrived, the hoar frost and snow disappeared, and the “Frozen” backdrop was gone.
The new and the familiar
This was a trip of the new and the familiar. We literally and figuratively saw Norway in a new light, a Norway vastly different, in some ways, from the sunny and warm summer Norway. Yet the people there, including our family and friends, are as welcoming and generous in the winter as in the summer. We learned that there can be no place warmer than December in Norway with family and friends.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 11, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.