Not really a Christmas thing, but the sledge-like object in the picture at the top of the page is a spark, or sparkstøtting. As you can see, it has a handle at waist height and long runners behind the seat, so you can walk and push a child, or carry something. It’s not uncommon to see people taking them to the shops and around the town and children sometimes play with them on the road to our apartment. The pavements are rarely gritted, so sliding about isn’t too difficult. That said, at minus ten, there tends to be less ice and even though the snow is hard-packed, it often has powder on top. When the temperature rises above zero and it begins to melt, that’s when it is at its most treacherous.
The office is now filled with Christmas cheer. These three nisser look a bit more cosy than the one in the hotel last week. I was hoping to bring pictures of our Christmas lunch, but I ended up working elsewhere on Thursday. I did take pictures of some of the most common Christmas “biscuits” though. On the left are kokosboller, top right are pepperkaker and bottom left are havreflarn.
And this is risgrøt – basically rice porridge. This is what the nisser should be fed on Christmas Eve (Julaften). I had mine with butter, sugar and cinammon, but John tells me they eat it up here with spekemat – dried meats and sausages. One day I’ll have to give it a try.
As in the UK, there are lots of Christmas sweets and snacks in the shops. Many are marzipan based, with a particular slant towards marzipan pigs. There is also the delicious sounding Juleskum though, if you’re feeling brave. I also had to take a photo of a packet of salted caramel crisps. Salted caramel is lovely, but this is one of those moments when even I think they’ve taken it a step too far!
If you’re thirsty, the classic drink is gløg, which is a warm, spiced wine drink, a little like mulled wine, though there is an alcohol free version for children.
Alternative drinks include Christmas beers, made by all the bigger beer-makers and also Julebrus, which is a sweet, fizzy drink in either red or brown flavours. Mack is our “local” brewery (it’s in Tromsø) and it’s the most northern brewery in the world. As you can see, they make Julebrus as well as beer. The Julebrus here is different from the brands we used to buy when we lived much further south.
I’ll finish off with a few decorations. These are from a cafe we visited yesterday in Bardufoss. I was hoping they’d have some more Christmassy food, but nothing was leaping out at me, so I had a coffee instead, which was very pleasant.
And these are from my own Christmas tree. My mum sent me these tree critters, so they’re not actually Norwegian, but they are definitely now part of my Norwegian Christmas.
Christmas in Norway wouldn’t be complete without Nisser. There’s a programme on Netflix about them at the moment, and the name has been translated into English as “Elves”. But Nisser are nothing like the elves in British and American tradition, which assist Father Christmas or Santa at the North Pole. Nisser are definitely not helpful. Indeed if you forget to give them rice porridge on Christmas Eve, they can apparently become cantankerous. I should imagine they’re a bit like John when he’s expected to put up a Christmas tree with insufficient Pedro Ximenes. Anyway, I found one in the hotel up in Storslett. The poor critter has been given uncooked rice, which will probably give it a terrible stomach ache, but at least they tried.
I have a few more photos from Storslett. The candlelit lavvo we ate in was beside a beautifully decorated Sami shop. The log cabin at the top of the page (under a sky that was green with aurora) was nearby too.
We’re a few days into the polar night now and when the sky is clear, it is layered with pale blue and pink. The temperature has remained low all week and the snow creaks when you walk on it. Often you can smell wood smoke in the crisp air as you walk. This is the view from my garden at eleven o’clock in the morning.
Another snow picture for you, this time from a drive inland, where it’s generally colder. My car reminds me that its battery isn’t happy as soon as it drops below minus twenty, and here it was nine degrees below that, but fortunately, despite the objections, the car brought us safely home.
And just in case you were thinking that Christmas in Norway is all tasteful (Nisser aside) here’s a wonderfully over the top display I found, in the toy shop in our local shopping centre. I took a still photograph, but if I say there was plinky-plonky music playing and they were swaying their heads in time, you’ll be able to imagine the scene in full.
Given all the uncertainty at the moment around the pandemic, I thought it would be nice to share some images from my life over the next four weeks in the lead up till Christmas. I had hoped to spend Christmas in the UK with my parents this year. It wasn’t to be but Christmas in Norway is beautiful, so hopefully I can share some of it with you.
Back in Scotland, in the lead up to Christmas, we used to go round the village where we lived to find the “crazy houses” – those wonderfully over-the-top places where there were inflatable snowmen in the garden, where a spotlit Santa was ascending the wall on a makeshift ladder and the entire house was lit up with flashing lights that would put Blackpool Illuminations in the shade.
Here in the north of Norway, there are a lot of lights, but most of them are warm white. The painted wooden houses look very cosy in the darkness.
In the town centre yesterday afternoon, my eye was caught by some lovely shop window displays and by a rather drunken looking Christmas tree, lingering beside a door. There was also a stall in the local shopping centre, selling cured sausages.
We decided to take a walk in Ånderdalen national park and then have coffee at Senja Roasters but our plans were foiled by the cold temperature. It was minus twenty two when we set off for our walk. Triar has always been surprisingly resilient in the snow, so it hadn’t crossed my mind that perhaps minus twenty two might be a step too far. We managed less than two minutes before his natural enthusiasm left him, and instead of racing ahead, he came back and walked in front of me looking very uncertain. We carried him back to the car and he seemed relieved. I paused to take a photograph of the fjord, which was already starting to freeze in the shallow bay.
We weren’t sure whether we would be able to go into Senja Roasters. We did contemplate leaving the car running for Triar while we galloped in for coffee ( it was a balmy minus eleven in Stonglandseidet – the temperature changes as we drove around were astonishing) but happily, they allowed us to take Triar inside, so we could have a somewhat more relaxed lunch.
It was beautifully decorated with candles and coffee beans, and a few other cosy Christmas touches.
The food was great, of course, as well as the company.
And happily for Triar, we have hopefully found a solution to the cold-toe problem. See you next week!
One of the UK customs I miss is the celebration of bonfire night on 5th November. It was an occasion I loved when young. My father always loved a good bonfire, and I have wonderful memories from when I was eight or nine, when we moved to a house with a large garden and there was a party with Parkin and treacle toffee, and my dad set off fireworks in the garden. It always felt like the start of winter and meant that Christmas was not far off. In Norway, bonfires are lit to celebrate midsummer, which is very different.
The Norwegian custom for lighting candles against the darkness of winter is something I have completely embraced though. For now, I have autumn coloured candles, but in three weeks time, they will be replaced with an advent crown. There are already purple candles available in the shops. When I first arrived in Norway and took Norwegian lessons for a year, they lit a candle in class at the beginning of each week and left it burning during the lessons that day. Advent will come at almost the same time as the Polar night arrives. I suppose it serves a similar purpose to the British bonfire night, bringing light at the darkest time of year.
The British affinity for queuing is another custom that I have found it hard to shake. I have applied for Norwegian citizenship, as well as reapplying for permanent residency under the new Brexit rules. I hadn’t originally applied for the Brexit pass as I hoped that I might gain citizenship before the Brexit pass deadline, which is the end of December. I initially went to the police to show my documents for citizenship in August (having sent my application more than a year earlier, the offices being closed in the meantime due to Covid) and was told that they couldn’t process it as I didn’t have a valid residence permit. This seemed odd, given that the deadline for the Brexit pass was December. Anna had showed her papers a month earlier in a different office without any problems. Anna told after she’d applied that the waiting list for citizenship applications was eight months. Having handed in my papers last week, I checked the waiting time, which is now eleven months. So no wonder they were insisting I should get the Brexit pass as it’s obviously going to be a long time before I find out if I can get a Norwegian passport.
Another odd thing was that it was possible to get appointments with the police for citizenship, but there were none available to show your papers for the Brexit pass, which is obviously more urgent. I am on a Facebook group for Brits living in Norway, and someone advised me that they had called the number provided for those with problems, and had been offered an appointment within a few days. It seems there are many times when there is little choice but to phone if you want to push your way to the front of the queue, though in fact I took a citizenship appointment and my Brexit pass was processed at the same time and has already arrived. But the need to phone, rather than wait (other than in dire circumstances that require a rapid response) still doesn’t come easily to me. I was reminded of when I was very sick in 2012 and losing weight at an astonishing rate while I waited to get my gall bladder removed. The six weeks they had told me I had to wait had come and gone and I was very perplexed that I hadn’t heard anything. When I asked my Norwegian friends, they told me I had to phone, which I did, and was taken in within a week or so.
It’s the same with job applications. In the UK, I always sent in my CV and whatever else was asked for, then waited patiently (or perhaps inpatiently, but still in silence) for a response. Someone in the Brits in Norway group asked for help as they were having no success with applying for jobs. I told them the advice that was given to me. There are instructions in the advertisements for how to apply, and I had always followed them to the letter, with little success. There was always a name and phone number to contact if you had questions, but as I rarely had questions, I had never called it.
Apparently, there is an unwritten rule that you must call that number for a casual chat, because if you don’t, they assume you’re not keen! This of course, seemed outrageous to my all-too-British, ready to queue soul! Then again, I have also been shouted at once by a doctor’s receptionist for not queuing enough. Doctor’s receptionists here are not behind a sliding screen off the waiting room, but behind a closed door. In my British ignorance, I once went through the door to queue politely behind someone else who was speaking to the receptionist. This was outrageous apparently, as discussions with the receptionist are private.
Customs are very odd things and some of them are invisible until you stumble over them. I love living in Norway, and hope to gain Norwegian citizenship, but I recognise that I am never going to be fully integrated. I will leave that (hopefully) to my children.
I haven’t mentioned my other writing much. My agent hunt is continuing slowly. I have been told that so many people have written books during lockdown that many agents are swamped. I’m not in any particular hurry, fortunately. I have most of the storyline for a second book in place. It did cross my mind however, that I should perhaps do more research regarding one of my main characters who is blind. I therefore contacted the RNIB for help and they have shared my request with a Facebook group. A few people have got in touch with me, which was very cheering yesterday evening. Hearing about other people’s lives is always interesting and rewarding, so I have a pleasant weekend ahead of me.
I will leave you with a picture I took last weekend of Kistefjellet, which I still haven’t reached the summit of. It’s the peak on the left with the mast on it. One day I will get there and when I do, I’ll share it with you. Have a good week.
A very brief post to mark the arrival of Mørketid. The sun made it over the horizon today for nineteen minutes, but now the Polar Night has arrived.
It was cloudy today, and the light was blue-grey over the sound, but when the darkness comes, festive Christmas lights are everywhere.
And of course it is the first Sunday advent and in true Norwegian style, we have an advent crown… though over the years I have strayed a long way from the traditional purple candles. This years crown looks like this.
It’s the first day of December, and happily, also the first Sunday in Advent. Candles are a much bigger part of Christmas here in Norway than they were in the UK. Every supermarket has its candle section, usually with a large array of coloured and scented candles. They are there all year, but when November comes around, suddenly all the shops are also filled with the purple candles that are traditionally used in the advent crown. In schools (including the Opplæring Senter where I sat my Norwegian course) they have an advent crown where they light the new candle each week. Anyway, I fear I have broken with tradition, and have used white candles because I prefer them.
I also love the gjenbrukt shops here. Gjenbrukt effectively means second-hand, though the Norwegian name literally translates as “again used”. They have massive collections of second-hand decorations. Last year I found the “God Jul” table mat in the picture above for only 30kr (roughly £3). There were metres of it, so now I have enough for the coffee table and the main dining table, though I did have to cut it up and hem it. This year I found a large glass platter, which I have used to make this decoration.
Last but not least, Charlie (wonderful husband that he is) brought me back a Thornton’s Continental Advent calendar, so in a minute or two, when he makes me my evening (decaff) latte, I will be able to open the first door. A very pleasant end to the evening.