Christmas, or jule, is a big deal in Norway. The most important day, however, isn’t December 25. Norwegians have their biggest celebration with presents and a family dinner on Christmas Eve. The 24th is such a big deal that the day before is called “Little Christmas Eve,” or as the locals say lille juleaften.
December is also filled with julebords, or Christmas tables, where friends and co-workers gather at a restaurant for a night out. I was invited to half a dozen of these and am tuckered out from the festivities, but it was heartwarming to take a headcount of how many connections I’ve made in just one year.
This is my second Christmas in Oslo. When we moved here last November the streets were already lined with lights. Since we were still unpacking boxes and getting our bearings, I barely noticed the holiday except to visit a Christmas market.
Our trip to the julemarked last year was a desperate attempt to enjoy the holidays at the tail end of an exhausting international move so this year, I spent an afternoon wandering from booth to booth to see all of the quirky things for sale.
There are dozens of julemarkeds around town but this particular one, at National Theateret by the Parliament, is special to me because it’s the start of my very own Christmas tradition in Norway.
The perfect way to warm your hands is to have an elk burger, a Norwegian specialty topped with carmelized onions and condiments.
What this pink pig has to do with Christmas was a mystery to me until the shopkeeper saw my puzzled face and explained: Rice porridge, called risgrot, served with butter, sugar and cinnamon, is a traditional dessert on Christmas Eve. If you find an almond in your porridge you’re given a marzipan pig as a prize.
Here is my favorite part of the julemarked – a beautiful, heated tent filled with kitchenware, hunting knives, clothing and other knick knacks handmade by the Sami, the indigenous people of the Arctic.
Sami handicraft, called Duodji, is meant to be functional rather than just decorative. Craftsmen use leather and roots to make clothing and baskets, as well as wood, bone and antlers to make knives, drums and, as you see below, toys.
The Sami are nomadic reindeer herders. Their work is not only an occupation but an integral part of their culture. They use each part of a reindeer once it’s killed, making clothes, shoes and rugs from the fur. The material is ideal for the cold as each hair of the reindeer fur is hollow and holds heat.
Doudji artists are lauded for their ability to bring function and their handicraft are considered valuable by art collectors around the world.
Freshly made churros all the way from Spain, the perfect way to end an afternoon at the julemarked. I ate half of them before I remembered to take a picture.