God Jul og Godt Nytt År
I know that this post is far from late haha, but between the work I've been doing here and the unforgiving weather of northern Norway, I haven't felt too up to writing. But I'm back! And I want to update you guys on what I've been up to these past couple of months.
The phrase you see in the title of this post means Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in Norwegian. In December when I got to Tromsø, this phrase could be found throughout town on buildings, advertisements and neon signs. Christmas time in Norway, especially in Tromsø, is taken very seriously. In the U.S. some people have Christmas Eve traditions, but for the most part observing families and individuals celebrate the holiday on the 25th. Well, in Norway the holiday is celebrated from the 24th-26th, with Christmas Eve being the main celebration day. There are also traditions that take place on Christmas Day, but the presents are opened on the night of the 24th, so Christmas Day mostly comprises traditional meals (a large Christmas Day breakfast and Christmas dinner). Norwegians also celebrate what they call 2nd Christmas Day on December 26th.
I had the pleasure of experiencing a Norwegian Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, thanks to a family exchange program put together by the University of Tromsø (where I have been working for this portion fo my Watson Year). Since not all international students can make it home for Christmas and may stay in Tromsø for the holiday season, every year the international student counseling center arranges a family exchange so that the students have the option to be with other people and feel less lonely for the holidays. Although I am not an international student at the university, the international student counseling office at UiT allowed for me to participate in the program.
I got to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with two different local families and participate in Norwegian Christmas traditions. On Christmas Eve, the mother of the family, Ingrid, picked me up and drove me to her home where I met her husband and 3 sons (ages 13-22). The youngest son was excited to practice his English with me and let me taste the ginger beer that he fermented himself. He also talked to me about his interests in rock climbing, camping and beekeeping. For a 13-year-old he had a lot of really cool interests, and although I shouldn't have a favorite, he was easily my favorite of the family. For dinner we ate ribbe (a Norwegian pork belly dish), a traditional Norwegian Christmas dish. After dinner the family opened their presents, and they were kind enough to gift me with a pair of locally made mittens, and a smoked salmon that the father prepared himself. After opening presents one of the family's traditions is to play a game of Chinese checkers. Although it was my first time playing, I loved learning a new game and had fun with the family. Once the night was over, the father and oldest son walked me home. Overall it was a great day and made me feel less sad about not being home with my dad, stepmom and stepsisters for our usual Christmas eve traditions.
The next morning I got up early and was ready to head to my next family's house for a traditional Christmas morning breakfast! The father, Asbjørn picked me up, and coincidentally lived in the same neighborhood as my Christmas Eve family. For breakfast we had an assortment of meats (leftover ribbe from the night before, salami, ham, tomato pickled herring which is much better than it sounds, and smoked salmon), a few different cheeses (one of which was brunost, a Norwegian brown cheese), different kinds of homemade bread, and eggs (which I found out go really well with smoked salmon!). Their youngest son was 8 and was also excited to practice his English with me and tell me about the presents he got for Christmas. After a few cups of coffee, we layered up to head outside for some sledding! We walked to a nearby park with cross country ski trails, an ice hockey rink, and a large hill that was perfect for sledding. After about an hour of fun, and only one minor injury, we went back home and rested for a little before the mother and father started preparing dinner. The mom's three sisters, their husbands and all of their children came over for dinner. After helping Asbjørn remove the table leaf, the dinner table was ready to seat all 16 of us! I got to speak with all of the family members and we talked about all sorts of things like American politics, things to do in Tromsø, the environment, and countless other topics.
Getting to have a Norwegian Christmas was an amazing experience! From the culture and traditions to getting to meet so many new, kind people, I know that I'll carry this experience with me for the rest of my life. Although I didn't think I'd want to celebrate the holidays with strangers, being around people was much better than being in my room all day watching Netflix. It forced me out of my introverted bubble and let me get through Christmas without being devastated and alone. It also gave me a taste of discomfort that would prepare me for a week of solo travel after Christmas. On Dec. 28th I packed my bags for an 8 day trip to Oslo, Norway and Stockholm, Sweden! While I would love to share the details of that trip in this post I can sense that it's already pretty long haha, so I'll give my next update soon!