By SRO Kjell Michelsen
God Jul, Merry Christmas.
Christmas in Norway, or “Jul” as it is called, from the old German pagan word “Yule,” brings back many memories this time a year. Like I wrote in my last column, the Advent season is the start of the Christmas season.
Dec. 23, or “Little Christmas Eve,” as we call it is the day in Norway when the Christmas tree is brought inside and decorated. This day is nearly steeped in as many traditions and rituals as Christmas Eve itself. The home has been cleaned, the decorations are up, the traditional pork ribs have been salted in preparation for the Christmas Eve dinner, rice porridge is simmering on the stove, it’s dark and cold outside, and your busy pre-Christmas preparations can finally rest a little.
In the evening of Dec. 23, we would gather around the TV with warm rice porridge, accompanied by a cup of Gløgg, or “Glühwein,” as it is called here. In the evening, a show called “The Evening before the Evening,” a show that still is aired live where the hosts and guests talk about Christmas traditions, how to prepare the perfect pork ribs and of course live Christmas music. One special tradition this evening is this black-and-white British comedy sketch originally called “Dinner for One” that’s been shown every Little Christmas Eve in Norway for decades. (Look it up on YouTube, it’s fun to watch.)
Then the big day, Christmas Eve finally arrives. A few last minute shoppers are hurrying around, others are preparing for the big meal which will be served later in the afternoon. At 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, streets empty, stores and restaurants close and a stillness descends that’s almost surreal. At 5 o’clock the church bells start tolling, ringing in Christmas. Around the same time, families, all dressed up for the occasion sit down around the dining room table, the roasted pork ribs are served accompanied with steamed potatoes, sauerkraut, vegetables, and gravy. The pork ribs or “ribbe” as it called is the most popular dish but others will also eat “Lutefisk,” which is Cod that has been soaked in lye, or smoked mutton ribs.
Christmas indeed brings back many memories from all of our childhoods. The most unique Christmas I recall was when I served with NATO in Bosnia in the mid-90s, and we hosted some American soldiers to a traditional Norwegian Christmas celebration. It brought us altogether far away as we were from friends and family on this special day. That’s one important part of Christmas, being together with family and friends, creating memories, but most importantly, celebrating the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. Until next time, God Jul og Godt Nytt År. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.