Christmas is just coming to a close for me in Norway and I just thought I’d share a bit about what it was like for me to spend my first Christmas away from home! A lot of people asked me if I was going home for Christmas, and while I made some very believable photo evidence of me being home for the holla-days, that is not in fact true. With Rotary Youth Exchange, it’s mandatory for us to stay in our host countries over Christmas. While I obviously wish I could have seen my family in Canada on Christmas, I think spending the holidays in a foreign country was a really good experience for me and I got to experience a lot more Norwegian culture because of it.
Not gonna lie, I don’t think I expected to get homesick over Christmas time but i definitely did. It wasn’t missing actual Christmas day that made me feel homesick, it was more going through the holiday season without a lot of the people who mean the most to me. However, being away from home for Christmas has definitely been a growing experience for me and I’ve met so many wonderful people here who I know care for me.
For all the norwegians reading this, I know what you’re really wondering- did she eat ribbe or pinnekjøtt on Christmas? And the answer to that question is both- on Christmas eve I tried pinnekjøtt (a traditional norwegian lamb dish made by drying and curing the lamb and then boiling it again or something like that), and on Christmas day I tried ribbe (another traditional dish, pork though). For dessert at Christmas, it is traditional to eat rice pudding. Sometimes you have the hot version, and sometimes you have the cold, more creamy and less poridge-y version. When I told my mom about the rice pudding over facetime she gagged, but I’ve actually grown to really like it. 10/10 for norsk julemat.
Eating marzipan around Christmas time is also something that is a very unique tradition from anything I’ve experienced. The first time my host mom asked me if I wanted to eat a “julegris” (christmas pig in english) i’m sure I looked at her as if she had 7 eyes. I have to admit, I mostly only like marzipan when its accompanied by chocolate but at the same time I won’t turn down a snack if it’s part of the cultural experience. Another thing that’s unique to Norway is julebrus, or Christmas soda. Every year children anticipate the arrival of Christmas soda in the store and once it’s out substitute it for water in their daily regimes. Julebrus is pretty much just a super sugary soda in a Christmas bottle- however I will give it some credit, because it is delicious and again just a part of Christmas in Norway.
Christmas in Norway is celebrated mainly on Christmas eve, and then the 25th is the first Christmas day and the 26th is the second. Since the 26th is still Christmas, that means that all of Norway is shut down for the day and that they don’t in fact have boxing day, the greatest shopping holiday known to north Americans.
The Norwegian Christmas traditions started on Christmas eve eve, which is technically just Christmas eve in Norway since Christmas is on the 24th. We sat around the television and watched a Christmas program called “kvelden før kvelden” and had a good old tv dinner. To my surprise, i saw one of my friends from Australia on the television program & was starstruck to say the least. After that we stayed up to watch love actually, making this the first in what has been a series of very late nights over the Christmas break. We also decorated the Christmas tree on the 23rd, which is very different for me because in Canada the Christmas trees go up as soon as the Halloween decorations come down.
On Christmas eve, the day started pretty relaxed. The festivities didn’t start until 2pm, when some family friends came over and we got dressed up and ate risgrøt, or rice pudding. It is tradition in Norway that somebody gets an almond (mandel) hidden in the rice pudding and if they find it they get a prize. Unfortunately I didn’t find the mandel- but Canadians (and Norwegians looking to escape to paradise aka Canada for Christmas), clear your schedules for next Christmas eve, rice pudding party at my place!! an almond will be hidden inside!!
After the rice pudding party, we all took an icy trek to the local church for the Christmas eve service. At the service I ran into the mom and sisters of my Norwegian friend who’s currently in Canada for exchange which was super cute. Dinner followed the service, which was followed by holding hands and singing around the Christmas tree (true story). After that, we stayed up til 3 am opening presents. In Norway, Santa normally comes to the house on Christmas eve and brings the children their presents directly to them instead of bringing the presents down the chimney and putting them under the tree in the night like in Canada. I received lots of very special gifts from both Canada and Norway, but my favorite present was a Norwegian “ostehøvel” (cheese slicer) with the Norwegian flag engraved on the handle.
PSA: Check yourself (and your Christmas presents) before you wreck yourself.
I made a big and hilarious mistake this Christmas and if you’re reading this then you should feel special because it’s not a story I like to tell out loud. Anyways, my host brother at my new family is 24 and has just moved back from Germany to celebrate Christmas before moving to a new country. I didn’t know what I was gonna give him for Christmas, and I had a lot of Canadian gifts that I brought from home so I thought I would give him a Canada water bottle with maple leaves on it. It was packed in a little box and I wrapped it up and gave it to him, and when he opened it he turned it around and on the other side from the maple leaves, written on the water bottle, it said “somebody who really loves me gave me this present”. I think why this story is embarrassing for me is pretty self explanatory. let this story be my Christmas present to you.
The first Christmas day was mostly spent sleeping. We had brunch around noon, and then I went to visit Milly (my best friend from Australia)(I’m sure you know her by now) and her family. It was special for me to get to see her on the 25th, because in Australia the 25th is Christmas day, like in Canada. After Christmas dinner, I went home to another Christmas dinner- but this time it was duck. Dinner round 2 also didn’t disappoint, and afterwards I spent the night playing Rummikub with my host sister and calling my family in Canada to wish them merry Christmas!
Anyways, hope this gave you a little bit of insight on what Christmas away from home & also what Christmas in Norway is like! God jul og godt nyttår alle sammen!
Lauren in Norway