As I mentioned in my post about all the Christmas-themed food here, Norway does Christmas big. It’s a pretty sight to see all the huge, live trees and lights all around town, and it’s been fun to experience how a different country celebrates this season.
I’ve taken lots of pictures over the last month so that I could share with you.
Lysfesten – “Light Festival”
On the last Saturday of November, Bergen holds their Lysfesten, which is where they turn on all the Christmas lights in the city center, including the lights on the big tree that they set up in the middle of the lake in town. During this “festival,” they have live music, the lighting ceremony, and then fireworks.
During this celebration, people also purchase lighted torches to hold during the ceremony. We didn’t get a torch because John Hayden likes fire a little too much 😂 so I just took a selfie with one in the background so you could see what they look like. (I also was cold so I slowly backed up to this one so I could feel its warmth. Lol)
Here is a picture of the tree from another day when it wasn’t crowded. I call this one “Sevenish Swans A Swimming.” 😂
One way they really go big for Christmas is the European tradition of having a Christmas market. This is Bergen’s 2nd year to hold one, so I’m glad they started this tradition before we got here so we could experience it. The market runs from the end of November until Christmas and is set up in the city center. Even if you’re not going there, it provides such a cozy Christmas ambiance to the area whenever you’re walking by.
We spent a little time one Saturday walking around the market and taking pictures. Here’s a sampling of all the goodies they have for sale there:
Pepperkakebyen – “Gingerbread Village”
Bergen has one of the world’s largest gingerbread villages on display in the month leading up to Christmas. It’s modeled after the city, and it is adorable. Here are some of my favorites from our walk through it:
Bryggen Christmas Decor
Bryggen is the original area of town that dates back to 1070. The buildings have all suffered multiple fires, though, and had to be rebuilt so nothing is original, but it is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and still reflects the architecture from its original time.
From 1350-1754, the Bryggen buildings housed the German Hanseatic League merchants who used it as a trading centre, warehousing and trading stockfish mostly. The buildings in the 2nd picture (the close up pic with the tree) are the oldest originals from the rebuild after a fire in 1702. (A fire in the 1950s forced them to rebuild the other buildings then.)
This area is always charming, but especially so during Christmas time.
Like I said earlier, there are big trees and lights all over the city center, so here are a few pics I took from various times I’ve walked through there.
Norwegian Christmas Traditions
Since our kids are in public school here, we’ve gotten to experience how Christmas is celebrated in the schools.
At the beginning of December, John Hayden’s class and the 2nd class students (which would be kindergarten and 1st grade in the US) had their Christmas program where they sang Christmas songs. It was all in Norwegian and we didn’t understand anything except the last song, “Feliz Navidad.” After the program, which was at night, they had their “class party,” which was a potluck dinner with the students and their families. It was really nice and a lot different than we’re used to in the US.
During the last week of school before Christmas, the students went to church together for a small Christmas service (it was optional; they had an alternative option as well) and on their last day of school before the Christmas break, John Hayden’s class had a Julelunsj together (“Christmas lunch”) where the school provided bread and drinks and the kids brought different “spreads” (stuff to go on bread for lunch; meats or actual spreads) to share. They also watched a Donald Duck show. (It’s tradition here to watch Donald Duck shows at Christmas time. Not sure why, but it seems to be a tradition beyond Norway as well in other Scandinavian countries.)
The kids also “went around the Christmas tree,” on the last day of school too. Every school yard seems to have a Christmas tree and what they do in Norway is they hold hands in a circle around the tree and dance around it and sing Christmas songs.
Outside of school, there have been a lot of differences in the celebration of Christmas here versus the US as well, but one thing that hasn’t been different is the shopping. Lots of crowds, lots of sales, just like the US. Normally all stores, including grocery stores, are closed on Sundays here, but leading up to Christmas, everything has been open on Sundays.
Whereas in the US, our celebrations are centered around Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, here they are more spread out. There is Lille Juleaften (“Little Christmas Eve”), which is the 23rd and when families make final preparations for Christmas, eat rice pudding with an almond hidden in it (whoever gets the almond gets a marzipan pig), and watch the annual TV broadcast of Dinner for One, a comedy sketch from the 1920s. (Note: some Norwegians eat their rice pudding for lunch on the 24th.)
Christmas Eve, “Juleaften,” is the big day of celebration here in Norway. This is when big meals are prepared, a lot of people go to church, and gifts are opened. Traditional Christmas Eve dinner is “ribbe,” pork ribs, or “pinnekjøtt,” steamed cured lamb ribs. (It’s my understanding that a lot of families have someone dressed as Santa come to the door to deliver gifts since they open everything that night.)
And the festivities aren’t over after that! “Romjul” is the time between Christmas and New Years. I’m not sure what exactly happens during this time. I think it’s just a lot of down time with family which is really nice. (Once stores close early on Christmas Eve, they don’t reopen until the 27th.) The New Year’s Eve tradition is for kids to dress in costumes and go door-to-door singing carols and getting candy. It’s like a mash-up of Halloween and Christmas caroling, which is kind of strange but fascinating to this American. Lol
And I can’t end this very long post (sorry for the Christmas overload) without mentioning the “nisse.” A nisse is a little gnome/elf creature that is said to live in the barn or attic and supposedly looks after your property if you’re nice to it. And if you’re not nice, it can be mischievous. On Christmas Eve, you’re supposed to leave rice pudding/porridge out for it (with sugar, cinnamon, and butter) to keep it happy. Because of this, nisses are a big part of the Norwegian Christmas decor (along with stars, hearts, angels, and mushrooms–the Alice in Wonderland variety).
“God Jul” (Merry Christmas, pronounced “Good Yule”) from Norway!!