Monday, 13 January 2014

The Christmas Diary

When you are an international students amongst a whole lot of other international students, from all over the place, one of the conversation subjects that comes up is Christmas. Every country celebrates differently and has their own little traditions. I thought I would write a bit about my Christmas and my traditions.

Before Christmas there is advent. In Norway advent is associated with the colour purple. My mum hangs up her purple curtains, decorates with her purple tablecloths and her purple candles.

At the 1st of December we put up our 'advent star' or 'christmas star' and our candlestick with seven candles. The star exists in many different variations with a varying number of points. The most common version of the star and candlestick are the ones below. In Norway in December you are bound to see at least one of these lighting up the windows in countless houses.

I haven't seen these here in Scotland, so I guess it is a Norwegian, but most likely Nordic phenomenon.

What is maybe more common for Europe is the tradition to light a candle every sunday the month leading up to Christmas. It is either on a wreath or it is just four candles in a row. The last one is what I am used to. My mum sent me the following picture the first advent Sunday last year. I'm not allowed to light candles in my university flat, so I was a bit sad.
Advent is also the time for advent calendars! We have the normal chocolate ones and variations thereupon. I always get a lottery calendar, hoping to win some money every day.
But the christmas calendars on tv are the best. Again, this is a Noridic phenomenon. All the main channels have a selection of christmas calendars suitable for their audience. It is not a new one every year, a Christmas calendar is replayed now and then over many years before they are outdated.

My favourite ones are The Julekalender, Jul i Blåfjell, Amalies Jul, Vazelina Bilopphøggers Hjulkalender and Olsenbanden Jr - Olsenbandens Første Kupp. Mainly because these are the ones I grew up with.
Jul i blåfjell features a special, Norwegian version of santas - the blue ones.

And then there is the Christmas soda. Many Norwegian breweries make their own version, thus different regions have different Christmas sodas. This is something I mainly discovered when I went to folk high school and met people from all over Norway. We were constantly quarreling over who had the best Christmas soda.

For me there is only one Christmas soda that matters. E. C. Dahls julebrus is my soda God. All kneel before it! (Okay, you probably need to have grown up with the taste to like it, but let's not talk about that.)
Christmas sodas along with various Christmas candy are sold from late October in Norway. I tend to wait until December to drink the soda, it is made more special by the fact it is only available for a short timespan each year. Last year I didn't get to drink my soda until the 21st of December, and that was no fun.

But enough about advent, it is time for Christmas proper. I will start with the 23rd of December, what we call 'little Christmas eve'. This is the day the Christmas tree is set up and decorated. This year my family went for a silver fir. It looks very pretty.

My dad puts the tree in its foot and attempts to make the trunk straight. This is often difficult to achieve,  nature doesn't grow straight trunks. But as my dad says, there is not a tree that doesn't look nice when it is covered in light, baubles and tinsel.
I help my dad put on the light before my sister and I take over.
We decorate the tree with baubles, bells, little santas and other christmassy stuff. Then my mum does the finishing touch, applying tinsel and flags. I think the flags is a Norwegian, maybe Noridic thing again. When the tree is finished we put presents underneath. We don't light it yet. That has to wait until Christmas.
My mum also decorates the rest of the house for Christmas this day. It is out with the purple and in with the red and all the little santas.

At 9 pm NRK, the main broadcasting channel, sends the sketch Dinner for One. This is a must see, it is not Christmas without it. It is more of a new year sketch really, but it's one of those traditions. I don't know how it started but I have to see it, every year.

And then the day is here, Christmas Eve! I wake up early, put on a dress and attempt to prettify myself. After I've failed making myself pretty I go turn on the TV. I watch some Disney, waiting for 11 am, when a very important film starts.

There is one film Christmas isn't complete without. The original title is Tri orísky pro Popelku, it translates to something like 'Three Nuts for Cinderella'. That is at least what the Norwegian and German title is (in our respective languages). I've seen the English title as Three Wishes/Gifts for Cinderella on the internet (by that I mean wikipedia, which by the way sports the Norwegian DVD cover as the only picture. Quite funny).
This is a Czechoslovakian movie, from when the Czech Republic and Slovakia were still called that. It was made 40 years ago last year actually. They speak Czech (I think) and the Norwegian version is dubbed by one male, in a way that you can still hear the Czech voices beneath. It is a bit strange how I almost don't notice it. I'm just used to it being that way. I just love the movie and the music and the costumes.

The rest of my family had woken up by now and my parents were making a nice breakfast we ate in front of the television. After Cinderella there is a Norwegian film called Reisen til Julestjernen (the journey to the Christmas star, directly translated), an almost 40 year old adaptation of a 90 year old play. For some this is also tradition to watch but I am unfortunately quite indifferent about it. I watch the first 10 minutes, until I have seen the king and queen's gorgeous red cloaks, then switch channels or do something else. This Christmas I played Playstation. Christmas for me is relaxing, after all.
All the snow that was left after it snowed quite a lot earlier that December. Christmas Eve itself was uncharacteristically warm. And stormy, some places.
The Christmas tree with presents, but not lit yet.
Christmas officially starts at 5 pm, that is when the light on the Christmas tree are lit. We also have dinner around this time.
The three most common things Norwegians eat on Christmas Eve is ribbe, pinnekjøtt and lutefisk. Although turkey have gained popularity in recent times. My family eats ribbe, that is, my mom and dad eat ribbe. My sister and I don't like it so we eat some nicely marinated steak. 

And for desert, there is something I would call caramel pudding if I translated directly from Norwegian, but I think it is called flan in English. My sister doesn't like it, so she eats some chocolate pudding (don't know the exact English word for that as I've been unable to find it down here).

After dinner is present time! My sister has let me play santa the last few years, something I greatly appreciate. I pick up the presents from under the tree, reads who they are to and from, and delivers it to the right person.
I don't wish for much for Christmas these days. Nowadays my biggest wish is for something knitted from my aunts. The rest I let be a surprise. Except for that awesome monopoly game I told my sister about last year, which I thankfully got.
Present haul.
Phineas and Ferb Monopoly, AWESOME!
When the presents are cleared away we have coffee and christmas cakes. We have that every day until we run out to be fair, but Christmas Eve is when we start digging into the supply.
We also start eating that yellow cake in the picture above, it is sort of our Christmas cake. It is called a success tart even though it is not technically a tart. It wasn't successful either this year, as I messed up the cream. It is supposed to be more bright yellow. And my mom spilled soda on it, the two brown dots you see. Up close the cake looked like it was covered in something a baby regurgitated. But it tasted fine!

We watch a movie, usually something on the telly, depends on what is airing. But this year my sister and I decided to watch Rise of the Guardians, because we have fallen utterly in love with it. It is actually an easter film, since that is when the movie takes place, but we'll probably end up seeing it at both Christmas and Easter. After all, there is a Norwegian song that goes 'Christmas lasts until Easter'.

And that is it for Christmas Eve.

For Christmas day, the 25th of December, I am raised into the peculiar tradition that I am not allowed to go outside Christmas day. I think many visits family on this day, but I stay inside. When I was little I usually stayed in my pajamas all day and read an entire book.

This Christmas day I tried out my new monopoly game with my sister. And I actually won! That never happens, as my sister has the luck of Gladstone Gander and wins every card and board game she plays.
Ironically, it was Isabella who did Phineas (my sister) inn.

The rest of the day I spent on my playstation and mac. And I watched The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix, another must see Christmas film. It is a Norwegian stop motion-animated film that I love very much.

The period between 2nd/3rd Christmas day and the new year we Norwegians call romjul, or sometimes mellomjul (in-between Christmas). In this period it is common to meet up with friends and family. It is also very common among the younger to go out partying. A lot of clubs host big 2nd and/or 3rd Christmas day parties.

For me there has long been a tradition to have a private party with my orchestra the 3rd Christmas Day. We have a Christmas concert at the local church, and afterwards the younger generation of members meet up and celebrate. We take it in turns amongst ourselves to host. In 2013 I took it upon myself to host the party, even though I'm not an active member this season due to my studies in Glasgow. 2013 was also a jubilee year, it was the 40th anniversary for the Christmas concert. My orchestra and the two local choirs celebrated with two concerts instead of one. I got to sit and listen for once, and it was lovely.

Due to the double performance we started the party a little later than usual. Time flew by and suddenly it was the middle of the night. Or morning. It was fantastic and lovely seeing my orchestra mates again. I'm used to seeing them at least once a week and now I had suddenly been without them for several months. I was almost sad when the last guests left, but then again it was close to 6 am so it was about time. I did some cleaning, went to bed around 7 am and slept for four or five hours. Then I got up to clean the floors properly before my parents came home. I had sent them away for the occasion, just so you know.

My parents came home to a clean house and were satisfied nothing was broken and all were in order. We went out to eat and watch The Desolation of Smaug, but first I stopped by the post office to pick up a Christmas present for myself. Look at my smashing LSP headphones! Thanks to the statue at Frati, the restaurant, for being my model.

I didn't get to meet all the friends I would like to have met, as some of them were in different parts of the country with their own families. I had an awesome evening catching up with my fellow Torucon organizers, though. The tough bunch you see below are the ones responsible for giving you a fabulous Torucon 2014.

The last exciting thing to happen in 2013 was that I bought myself a new camera! I was tired of seeing so much of Scotland and only have my outdated compact camera to document it with. I told my parents I wanted a single-lens reflex camera for Christmas, but didn't expect to get one. And I didn't. Get one, that is. But I did get some chocolate and a note saying they would sponsor half the camera. I am now the happy owner of a brand new camera. (Picture taken with photo booth, sorry about the quality. My mac is from the Iron age, (which is still better than my phone, which is from the Stone Age))
It's out with the old and in with the new, goodbye clouds of grey, hello skies of blue...
(No I did not watch High School Musical 2 this Christmas. More than once, that is.)
I ran around the house taking pictures when I got home, pretending I was a good photographer. Which I am not, I still need to learn how to use my new camera properly.

So, not the best photographer but the pictures are clear and crisp. Now I have to practice being creative and taking good shots. And perhaps learn to edit them properly and not just post them directly online like I do now.

And then we have New Year's Eve. Kids my age are supposed to go out partying or hang out with some friends, but I never really established any traditions in this regard. I eat turkey for dinner, and when the new year is approaching I go outside and watch the fireworks, and wish all my neighbours in my little neighbourhood a happy new year. That is pretty much it.

It was a nice opportunity to take pretty pictures of pretty fireworks, but I had been to busy playing Playstation to work out if my new camera had a fireworks function. It probably does, but I couldn't find it and tried out other settings instead.

At New Year's Day we have breakfast/lunch accompanied by the New Year's Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic.
This is very typical of my mom, watching the concert and winter sports on her ipad at the same time.
That is pretty much it for my holiday season. The start of january is equally relaxing as Christmas, because school and obligations haven't quite started yet. If you are in university, that is. The younger kids started school the 2nd of January this year. I don't envy them.

To finish off this rather long blog post, have a picture or two of my sister and me in our Marius jumpers. My mom just finished mine at the start of the new year. Thank you, mom! And thanks to everyone that has kept up with my ramblings.

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