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OUR CULTURAL HERITAGE:  NORWEGIAN FOLKTALES

Folktales and myths form, in addition to folksongs, the bulk of our more ancient literature.  Folktales are free ranging and imaginative stories which have passed from storyteller to storyteller throughout times.They are based on real life, yet never confined to reality or what people consider true and reasonable.  They often feature supernatural and extraordinary elements.  The folktales have a style all of their own, with a standard opening formula.  The most common are:  «Once upon a time…», «Once there was a king and a queen» etc.  Similarly, folktales tend to have a standardized ending.

In folktales simplifications and schematization are common.  The stories have a limited list of stock characters.  The plot is often schematized, too, and usually there are only two people in the plot at any given time, and repetition is used to emphasize what is important.  The number «three» recurs; we meet three brothers, three princesses or three trolls.  Danger and difficulties increase each time they are mentioned, and the solution is normally reached the third time round.  The folktales start and end calmly.  The good are rewarded and the evil are punished.  There is always a happy ending.

We usually divide the folktales into three groups:  animal stories, tales of the supernatural and comical stories.  The Norwegian word for folktale, «eventyr» crops up as early as the twelwth century meaning event or strange occurrence.  Despite having old roots, folktales were not written down in Norway until the nineteenth century.  In the 1840's Asbjørnsen and Moe published their first small pamplets.  The first addition to their collected folktales came in 1852.  Some may wonder how Norwegian are our folktales?  The stories migrate from one place to another over large parts of the globe.  If one picks up a collection of folktales from another country, one may well find many features which one thought were specifically Norwegian.  The typical Norwegian folktale style is above all objective in its matter, the environment in which the stories take place are Norwegian, and the King in the story bears a striking resemblance to a Norwegian landowner.

If  you want to read more about Norwegian folktales and myths, just  open this site


ADVENT

«We light a candle today.
We light it for joy.»

Advent is the preparation for Christ’s Nativity and marks the beginning of the church year. It comprises the four Sundays before Christmas Day on December 25th.

Advent is a time for preparations. In no other month are so many arts and crafts, presents, Christmas decorations, biscuits and sweets churned as then. Nothing is better than homemade. Christmas literally begins to creep under one’s skin, lifting spirits and creating a cheerful, joyful atmosphere . Every Sunday during Advent we light a candle, and every day we open a door in the Christmas calendar. Norwegians all become kinder, more thoughtful and caring during the Advent.

St. Lucia's Day December 13
December 13th is celebrated in honour of Saint Lucia, the young girl who according to the legend died a martyr in Sicily. St. Lucia’s day is celebrated in schools, day-care centers and hospitals, with processions led by a young Lucia in a white robe with a crown of lights on her head and a candle in her hand. In Norway, this night used to be called "Lussinatten". It was the longest night  of the year and no work was to be done. From that night until Christmas, spirits, gnomes and trolls roamed the earth. Lussi, a feared enchantress, punished anyone who dared to work. Legend also has it that farm animals talked to each other on Lussinatten, and that they were given additional feed on this longest night of the year.

The Christmas tree
During the midwinter feast in Norway, evergreen branches, mistletoe and holly were used long before the Christmas tree became a tradition. Today the Christmas tree has a central  place in the celebration of Christmas in Norway. The tree, a spruce or pine, is usually bought in town or chopped from one’s own forest.

Outdoor Christmas trees put up on squares, in parks and other places where people walk are lit the first Sunday in Advent, but the tree in the home is not lit until Christmas Eve. Year after year the tree is decorated with homemade and bought ornaments, and tiny candles or lights.

Christmas Eve, December 24th
At 5 p.m.on Christmas Eve all the churches begin to ring in Christmas. The churches are never as full as they are on this day. All kinds of people gather on this day. Christmas dinner awaits them in their warm, Christmas decorated homes. Not everything has changes with time. The family gathers all dressed up and sit down for a well prepared Christmas dinner. The dinner follows with anxious children waiting for Father Christmas (In Norwegian: The Julenisse) to come with their presents. After the presents are opened and the excitement  subsides, the family sit down again for coffee and cake. A feeling of peace and tranquillity gradually takes hold. Outside, the snow falls gently from the sky. Quiet and darkness envelop the snow-covered landscape and Christmas night.

CHRISTMAS IN NORWAY

Christmas in Norway is based upon a mixture of  both heathen and Christian traditions. In the time of the Vikings, people celebrated the harvest, fertility, birth and death.Then, when Norway was christened, they started to celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus on December 25th.

In the old days…
Many years ago, Christmas required extensive preparations.  People on the farms did everything themselves. From making home made presents to slaughtering animals and brewing beer.  That is why everybody on the farm had to work together. The women took the main responsibility for the many preparations, and the men did the hard work, like chopping wood. The animals which were slaughtered, were to last a whole year, and nothing went to waste. Many of the important things that had to be taken care of, was making candles and soap of the fat from the slaughtered animals.  Then they had to bake and brew beer.  And in Norway an old law required the people to brew their own beer. At last the only thing left was to clean the house, because everything was to be clean and shiny for Christmas.

But the people did not forget the animals.  For the birds, oat sheaves were put out, and if they sang and chipped loudly, it would be a good year.  The animals in the barn were also given a little more hay and feed.

The Christmas dinner menus varied from farm to farm, but everywhere it was a rule that everybody who lived on the farm was to eat dinner together.   That included both servants, family and guests. On the morning of Christmas Day everybody went to church, and spent the rest of the day at home. Then, later during the holiday, people used to go "Julebukk."  It was a group of children and adults in costumes with a "bukk",  a billy goat in the lead.  They went from farm to farm, singing Christmas carols in exchange for goodies and treats.

On the 13th day of Christmas the holiday was over.  Then it was common to "drink Yule," and eat up all the leftovers.

Christmas food
Christmas food traditions vary from district to district in Norway. Years ago, people was to eat what nature gave them.  So in the north and the coastal areas it was, and still is, common to serve lutefisk, cod or halibut.  In the east pork ribs, pork patties, Christmas sausages and spiced cabbage are served, and in the west a traditional Christmas dinner consists of salted lamb's ribs and sausage.  Desserts vary just as much, from cloudberry cream, creme caramel and creamed rice to fruit. And it all tastes heavenly!

When eating the Christmas dinner, in old Norway, people used to leave the food out till the next day in case spirits, little people and the nisse should visit the farm during the night. If you forgot giving food to the nisse, ill fortune could befall the farm.

Baking - a part of the Christmas experience
A tradition in Norway, which dates back to the Middle Ages, is the baking of many different biscuits for Christmas.  We have a group of seven different biscuits, which is called the seven kinds.  They are; syrup snaps, serina cookies, Berlin wreaths, goro, sand tartlets, stag's antlers, and poor man.  These are just as popular today, as they were hundreds of years ago.  Many children find it great fun baking for Christmas.  Another thing, which is very popular, is the making of gingerbread houses.  You can even make whole villages!  It is all eaten on the 13th of Christmas (January 6th.)

Santa Claus
A very important part of the Norwegian Christmas traditions, is what we call a "Julenisse." You can recognise him by his red stockings, cap and long, white beard. He also  wears knee breeches, hand-knitted stockings, a Norwegian sweater and a homespun jacket, and with a heavy fur coat on top. The nisse is a jolly and happy fellow, and his job is to protect the land and buildings. He is the original settler of the land. But he is only helpful as long as the people give him Christmas porridge or beer and lefse on Christmas Eve.  If you remember that, he will not make any trouble. The Julenisse is real.  He comes every Christmas Eve to your house with a sack of presents.

At this site you can see more about Christmas in Norway
And on this site  from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry as well


THE SEVENTEENTH OF MAY

The 17th of May is Norway’s National Day. In the history of Norway, 17 May 1814 marks both the country’s declaration of independence and the triumph of constitutional government.

As early as in the 1820s people started to celebrate the 17th of May, and since then this day has been established as Norway’s National Day, Norway’s Liberation Day, even  though the celebrations have in the course of time changed their character and form. The history of the 17th of May celebrations in Norway reflects in many ways the main features of the country’s history from 1814 until today.

If the 17th of May celebrations in Norway are viewed in the long-term perspective, one is struck by the manner in which the annual celebrations have changed in character and content over the years. The 17th of May has been a day of strife, as well as a day when the people rallied around the Constitution, national independence and democratic rights.

The 17th of May has remained the great spring festival in Norway, in a country with a winter that is both long and cold. For this reason the 17th of May has more and more taken on the character of a children’s festival. The children’s procession has become the colourful focal point in the celebrations, from the most remote coastal settlements to the capital city where literally thousands of school children, marching along behind their school bands and banners, file past the Royal Palace in salute to the King.

On the 17th of May people in Norway dress up in their national costumes. The costumes are called «Bunads». Each place in  Norway has its own special  «Bunad» design. And if you are in a city in Norway on the 17th of May, you will probably see a lot of different types of «Bunads».

To a lot of children the 17th of May is a day you dress up, go to the town centre, and eat a great big ice-cream. And all the children that are going to school, use the beginning of the day marching in a «Children’s parade» behind their school bands and banners.

If you look up to the sky on the 17th of May, you will probably see Norwegian flags everywhere you look. The Norwegian flag is red, white and blue. And you will also notice that the children, and also adults are carrying Norwegian flags. And everybody is cheering the word: «HURRA!»

If you want to read some more about the 17th of May in the US, you can visit this page about  the celebrations.



Written by Ann-Karin and Ragnhild at the back
and Cecilie and Ingrid in front


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This page has been edited by Helga Hoel, e-mail: helhoel@online.no