Christmas in diaspora

In the just ended year, I got the privilege of celebrating Christmas away from home; but in the company of a loving family. I had to commemorate this phenomenal day in a far land; one that is full of memories worth clinging to. Well, I joined Kristian Lowzow’s family for this important festivity in Mortensrud, Oslo. Kristian is a third year student at NTNU pursuing Building engineering. He also doubles up as one of my amazing housemates; and we have truly had our moments (that’s a story for another day)! 🙂 Well, my journey began on 22nd when I had to take a train from Trondheim to Oslo; where I had a few difficulties that resulted in a two-hour delay (this meant arriving past 11pm in the night!). 🙂 I was really humbled to be warmly received by every member of the Lowzow family to their home (despite my lateness!). This was just the beginning of a great and memorable time… 😀

To best capture my julestemning (Christmas experience), I will elaborate on two main facts about Christmas in Norway as indicated below: 

Christmas is a time for family

The Lowzow family wasn’t left behind in this. They were all there; alive and happy! Both parents and the three children were present. This time, they had the holistic task of hosting me; their mormor (maternal grandma) and onkelsfamilie (uncle’s family). It was a time to blend and catch up on various happenings in each of their lives. To better capture this, every family usually does a julebrev (Christmas newsletter). In this newsletter, they enshrine all their highlights for the year; and then send them to other families and friends.

When together, we played various games which incorporated a good part of the family members. While some went for online chess, some took on actual chess. I loved watching men play this; but also attempting this game of the mind. 😉 With time on our side, we kept trying out new games; and it was an outstanding experience!!

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A game of chess to refresh minds

We had moments of talking; and my favorite was when I engaged with mormor on several issues. She kept reminding me of my grandma back in Kenya; both in her vastness of knowledge and willingness to share. And the fact that she could still speak good English despite her deteriorating hearing was duly inspiring.

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Having a talk with mormor

And did I mention my time with Liv Tone; a young 15 year-old Kristiansen daughter! She is an amazing girl with a keen eye on details. She kept engaging me with a high level of innocence on facts about Kenya. This made me upbeat; ready to answer as many questions as possible. And I loved it!!

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In the company of two amazing Livs

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With part of the Kristiansen family

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With the Lowzow family after Christmas

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Attempting journalism on Hanne

Christmas is a time to reminisce traditions

Norway has lots of traditions, just like any other place, on Christmas. With the help of the all-humorous uncle, Thor Kristiansen, we defined tradition as “anything one does for more than two times in the same way…”

1. The advent

This is the period that marks the beginning of Christmas in Norway. It lasts for approximately four weeks before the Christmas eve (juleaften). It is marked all over Norway by erecting Christmas trees in city centers, work places, and churches. There are lighting decorations that are set up in the cities just to indicate the arrival of the year’s most important celebration. In every home four candles are lit; one for every week in cumulative way. This is done in such a way that at the end of it all, the one lit in the first week is shortest and the one in the fourth week is longest. These candles are lit every time the families meet for meals at the dining tables. Furthermore, at the window of every home, there shall be a star (usually electrical) lit to indicate the star that led the wise men from the East to Jesus birthplace. What is remarkable is that this is marked all over Norway. Throughout the advent period, there is a gift calendar with a gift every day before the D-day. It is an unsaid rule that one should not open any of the calendar gifts before the day is due… 🙂

Shopping is done in massive amounts. Thus, people get to fill up their fridges and shopping baskets before the craze on the Christmas eve. Interestingly, the prices are not so bad!!! It is during the advent; or thereabout, that most people get to purchase Christmas gifts for their loved ones. The entire shopping malls, just like in most other places, are clothed in red…

2.  Pepperkaker

These are simply gingerbread cookies and are made in readiness for Christmas. These are prepared from a ready-made kind of dough; one that is bought awaiting being shaped and baked. Afterwards, various things can be made including houses, angels, animals… We couldn’t resist making some ginger breads; and here are some findings!! 🙂 

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The process of making pepperkake house

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The pepperkake house

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The curiosity of the cat

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With mormor and Marie

3. The Christmas tree

A Christmas tree is set up and well decorated. It is strategically placed for both decor and aesthetics.

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Final touches on the tree

And then there is the going round the tree with song, dance and any possible creative activity. It was really awesome to go for push-ups as part of the activities!!! 😉 I apparently enjoyed this especially the fact that everyone goes round regardless of age or size!! We sang lots of Christmas songs; most of which I simply hummed at (for lack of knowledge); but joined in on the moves…

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Going round the tree singing

4. Entertainment

It is interesting to note that the Norwegian national TV station (NRK) always plays some specific programs and movies during the Christmas period over and over the years. It is thus, common for most families (at least from what I have heard and seen) to gather in their living rooms and watch clips like “Dinner for one”; and for girls, to watch a Cinderella tale named “Tre nøtter til Askepott“. The movie is a poorly dubbed movie that is entirely in Czech with a singular voice translating it to English. It is said to be most loved as it brings the Christmas feeling… To appreciate this more is the fact that the dinner clip and Askepott movie are played at specific times (9pm on 23rd and 11am on 24th respectively).

5. Gifts

Who doesn’t love the sound of a gift? Just like everyone loves to have a gift; Norwegians are no exception. The gifts fully comprise Christmas. It is expected that every person buys a gift for the other. Thus, every family member gets a gift. No big deal with choice as people ultimately get to be asked what they would like for Christmas. What is notable is that the gifts are opened one at a time! And it is important that everyone knows what the other gets; unless it is strictly private!!!

Despite being a visitor, I got lots of gifts (ranging from books, to warm clothes, and to some edibles) for which I am really grateful. I was, however, utterly touched by mormor’s gift for me; she made me some woolen socks just to ensure that I keep warm throughout the winter. This took her over three weeks to make, despite her aching shoulder!! It was really humbling to note the amount of time that this 85-year-old set aside to make for me such a gift; despite the fact that I was estranged to her…

6. Meals

There are delicious meals that are specifically meant for Christmas. Each of these “delicacious” foods is cooked to accentuate the landmark feasting… The specific delicacies may differ from one region to another; but they are meals that most, if not all, people look forward to. They are, thus, prepared with the ingredients of due care, love and skill. I got the privilege of taking pinnekjøtt (literally means “stick meat”). But just before the sumptuous meal, I was then given an opportunity to read the Luke 2 text in English at dinner on 24th December; breaking the all-time tradition of the father reading the text in Norwegian… The meal is followed by dessert which comes with different cakes (up to 12 types or even more) implying the need for choice… 🙂

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Two families at the dinner table

7. A walk in the woods

It is common for some Norwegian families to take a stroll in the woods on Christmas day (25th December) for fresh air. With part of the Lowzows, we succumbed to this reality and took a brief walk of about 2 hours!! It was quite interesting to meet other people doing a similar thing. Of course the sight wasn’t that colorful for the absence of snow; but it was greatly refreshing.

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With Andreas and Hanne

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Going downhill with the Lowzows

8. Church service

Christmas in Norway is actually celebrated on the 24th December. On this day, the family goes to Church for a service; which could either be at 2pm or 3pm. And this timing is synchronized all over the country, at least from reliable sources…. 🙂 The service on this day doesn’t last more than one hour; to allow people to go enjoy the dinner, which at that time will be in the final moments of cooking…. The Church service is composed of Christmas songs in Norwegian, and a “traditionized” reading of the “Christmas story” from Luke chapter 2. This text is elaborated by the priest (or pastor) within a short time. The attendance is for this service is usually the largest for any year. The Christmas service attracts all people, believers and non-believers alike. Back at home, it is dinner time and we all sit at the table ready to eat!! The dress code is usually suits for men and something colorful for the ladies…

As I pen off, I must attest that despite not being with my family, I had a memorable time thanks to both the Lowzow and Kristiansen families. Takk for en flott tid! You all made me feel part of the family and I am really grateful!

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