Festivals of Western Europe, by Dorothy Gladys Spicer, , at sacred-texts.com
NYTTARSDAG (New Year's Day) January I
After attending morning church services many people spend the rest of the day quietly at home, or in afternoon visiting among relatives and friends.
A typical New Year's dinner starts with a table of cold appetizers, known as koldt bord, which includes such Norwegian delicacies as silde salat, herring salad, smoked salmon, and many other kinds of fish, as well as a great variety of meats, relishes and cheeses. The koldt bord is followed by the main course of roast pork or goose, accompanied by potatoes and other vegetables, and numerous fancy cakes and sweets for dessert. Strong holiday beer and hearty good wishes are passed from host to guest as each bids the other luck and cheer during the coming year.
Once New Year's Day passed without special celebration outside the homes. Gradually, however, the day grew increasingly festive when it became customary, on New Year's Eve, to give a full month's pay to servants who had hired themselves out for a year's service. With pockets full of money, lavish spending and celebration on the first day of the year became widespread among this group.
The second day of the New Year is generally characterized by family parties, dinners and dances. Many organizations hold their annual festivities at this time.
TRETTENDE DAG JUL (Twelfth Day) January 6
Trettende Dag Jul, sometimes called Hellig Tre Kongers Dag, the Three Holy Kings' Day, is the traditional anniversary of the Magi's visit to the Christ Child's manger. In many homes the three-pronged Yule candle still is lighted at night in honor of the Three Kings. Some years ago young students commemorated the festival by carrying a paper star lantern about the streets and singing ancient carols concerning the Wise Men.
One of the oldest songs of the season comes from the province of Telemark. The twelfth-century heroic ballad known as the Draumkvedet (Vision of Heaven and Hell), describes the dream of Olav Aastesoti, who felt asleep on Christmas Eve and did not waken until Epiphany, when people were going to church. During the twelve days of his sleep Olav had dramatic visions of souls in purgatory.
TYVENDEDAGEN (Twentieth Day, after Christmas) January 13
"Saint Knut drives Christmas away," is an old folk saying which explains why, in many country areas it was customary on this day to hold the traditional "Christmas race." People piled into their sleighs and sledges and drove madly across ice-bound lakes and frosty roads to the accompaniment of joyous shouts and merrily jingling bells; for, according to ancient superstition trolls, led by the troll woman herself, Kari-Tretten, or Karl the Thirteenth, raced over the frozen countryside on the night of January 13.
On Tyvendedagen, which marks the official end of Yuletide and is the last day the greeting "Glaedelig Jul," "Merry Christmas," is used, Christmas trees are dismantled and decorations carefully packed away until the following year. Generally the tree is chopped up and burned in the fireplace. The last Christmas parties are held, the final festivities attended on this day.
FASTELAVN (Shrovetide) The Sunday preceding Ash Wednesday
The Sunday' before Lent is a holiday which boys and girls await with great impatience. Following old tradition the children rise at daybreak, arm themselves with fastelavnsris, or decorated birch branches, and go about the house trying to switch all the "lazy" people they can catch lying abed. This curious custom of switching with branches doubtless originated in an ancient pagan rite of bringing into the village the fruitfulness of spring.
The fastelavnsris are made with great artistry. Sometimes the children tie the switches together and decorate them with sparkling tinsel and paper streamers of red, orange, yellow, or green. Sometimes they tie a small doll with stiff, outstanding skirts to the topmost branch, and sometimes they ornament the twigs with bright colored paper roses or other flowers.
The youngsters enter into the switching game with great zest, since custom decrees they shall receive a delicious hot cross bun for every victim they spank. Grown-ups, of course, feign sleep as the children slip into their rooms and start beating the bedclothes. Sometimes parents and grandparents seem to waken slowly, but even so, the coveted bun is always produced, and the boys and girls troop off happily, counting their spoils and seeking further conquests.
LANGFREDAG (Long Friday) The Friday preceding Easter 9
Langfredag, a "long day to the suffering Christ," is celebrated in all churches with religious services in memory of the Passion of Jesus.
Although Easter is a church holiday which many celebrate with religious observances, excursions to mountain resorts are increasingly popular among large groups of people. From Holy Thursday through Easter Monday towns and cities are deserted and every small mountain hotel and inn is packed to overflowing with those who come for skiing, tobogganing, skating and other winter sports. Ice carnivals, sports competitions, dances and concerts are popular features of the holiday festivities while many mountain centers hold special out-of-door Easter services.
In the homes Easter is always a festive event for the children. Weeks in advance the boys and girls start hoarding eggshells. They either bore holes in the shell ends and blow out the contents, or else carefully cut the shells in half. Often the empty shells are filled with small candies and then pasted together with strips of paper. The children ornament the fragile containers with gay paper cutouts or colorful painted designs.
Easter morning is egg hunting time. Dyed and decorated eggs are hidden in flower pots, doll beds and all sorts of odd places. The boys and girls, bursting with excitement, hide the offerings they themselves have prepared for other members of the family and shout with delight as they find the eggs concealed for them.
PINSE (Pentecost or Whitsun) The fiftieth day after Easter
Services are held in all churches. Pinse is the great spring holiday when everybody tries to get to the country. Everyone, that is, except members of the country glee clubs who like to hold conventions in the cities. Members of city glee clubs, on the other hand, customarily make trips to the country. Singing contests are held from village to village and town to town.
JONSOK (Saint John's Eve) June 23
Jonsok, Saint John's Eve, is celebrated in Norway, as in all Scandinavian countries, with bonfires, dancing, singing and other festivities. "As high as you jump over the Sankthansbil, or Saint John's bonfires, so high will the grain grow in the coming year," is an old folk saying which refers to the time-honored custom of dancing all night about the midsummer fires and then vaulting over the dying embers.
Built on every height and along beaches and on the shores of small islands, the fires, made from logs and tar-soaked barrels, burn long and fiercely and are seen for many miles. Young people dressed in colorful regional costume dance about the blazing piles to the merry tunes of valley fiddlers. As one fiddler "plays himself out" another takes over, so no break in music occurs the long night through.
Often the dancers, singing old folk songs of their valleys, go out on the water in flower-decked boats and watch the bonfires; often, also, young lovers wander hand and hand through the birch groves:
according to a Setesdal folk song.
Jonsok is as important to children as to their older brothers and sisters. In many regions a little village girl is chosen midsummer queen. Crowned either with flowers or with a traditional bridal crown, she is led through the community by a gay procession of boys and girls. The village fiddler, playing a native wedding march, precedes the children who wear flowers and are dressed in native costume.
The traditional aspect of the midsummer festival is preserved in all its beauty in the open air museum in Malhaugen, in the city of Lillehammer, and at the Norwegian Folk Museum at Bygdoy, near Oslo.
OLSOK (Saint Olaf's Day) July 29
The anniversary of the death of Olaf Haraldson, who fell at the Battle of Stiklestad, near Trondheim, in 1030, is celebrated throughout Norway. Olaf, a pagan prince, set forth from his native shores a Viking and returned a Christian. He ruled Ncrway as king from 1015 to 1028, converted his people to the Christian faith, consolidated the kingdom, and finally became his country's patron saint.
Annual vesper services in honor of Saint Olaf are held at Trondheim Cathedral, white special observances take place in Maihaugen in the city of Lillehammer, and at the Trondheim Folk Museum. During recent years, an open air pageant representing the Battle of Stiktestad and King Olaf's death, has been given at Stiklestad on this anniversary.
MIKKELSMESSE (Michaelmas) September 29
About this time of year herd girls drive the cows and goats back from the saeters, or mountain farms, to the valley homesteads. The return of both girls and animals is the occasion for great rejoicing--for dancing, singing and feasting.
Almost all farms of any importance have saeters. These summer camps, operated by the women, are important in rural economy. Cattle and other animals are put out to lush mountain pasturage, and the girls--generally the eldest daughters of the family--milk, tend the beasts and make the butter, goat's cheese and other dairy products for sale or for use on the farms throughout the winter.
When the girls return home in the autumn with fat, flower-decked animals and full butter tubs, the joy of the valley folk knows no bounds.
FLYTTEDAG or FAREDAG (Moving Day) October 14
In Bergen and other large towns servants in search of employment go about from place to place on this day, looking for new positions. Peasant girls and men from all parts of Norway come to town. Dressed In the colorful costumes of their respective valleys, they often ride in little carts or wagons, which are piled high with gaily-painted hope chests or bundles bulging with clothing and other worldly possessions.
Market places and streets are thronged with city folk and ants who meet to buy and sell animals, chickens, eggs, goat's milk and cheeses, as well as hand weavings, carvings, and other types of handiwork.
City-dwellers hold interviews and select help for the year from among the scores of rosy-cheeked country servants who crowd into the towns, hoping to find city employment.
April 14, as well as October 14, is a popular Flyttedag.
JULAFTEN (Christmas Eve) December 24
Christmas preparations start weeks in advance. The family pig and calf are slaughtered in November and the meat made into all sorts of delicacies, such as the pork and veal sausages which, when sliced, reveal various decorative patterns of stars, spirals or geometric designs. Then there is the pickled tongue which holds place of honor in the center of the table and has the legend God Jul, Merry Christmas, written on it in red. There are also the hams, the cutlets and the pickled pigs' feet--all important to two weeks of Yuletide hospitality.
The lutefisk, or Christmas cod, is slowly dried to give it strong flavor. Then the fish is soaked in a lye solution until it swells to a trembling jellylike mass. Among the seasonal baked delicacies are fancy gingerbreads and animal cookies for the Christmas tree, as well as many kinds of delicious coffee breads and small cakes to accompany steaming coffee or holiday pufch. In many places it is traditional to have fourteen different kinds of small cakes--one kind for each of the fourteen days of Christmas entertaining. In addition to the cooking, the semi-annual family washing is done, brasses and coppers are polished, curtains hung, and enough wood chopped to last for two weeks of holiday fires.
To Norwegian country people Jul is the season of peace on earth and good will to all of God's creatures. Nobody thinks of hunting or harming wild animals or birds during the Christmas season. A sheaf of wheat, attached to a pole and placed in the yard or on top of houses or outbuildings, furnishes plentiful cheer for birds. Generally the poles are made from spruce trees, with little tufts of branches left at the top, so that while eating the birds can have both firm foothold and protection against snow and winter winds.
Horses and cows have extra feedings of the best oats and barley on Julaften. In olden days the animals received their holiday rations with the traditional greeting, "It is Christmas Eve, good friend. Eat well."
There is a story from the valley of the river Driva about the careless farm girl who neglected to feed one of the cows on Christmas Eve and so brought dire misfortune upon herself. The girl, thinking she had given extra food to all the cattle, sat down on the gate. Suddenly she heard a voice from the barn:
The story states that the voice came from the cow the girl had forgotten to feed; and that, from then on, she was blind.
Christmas eve starts officially at four in the afternoon with the ringing of the village church bells. By then everything is in readiness for the holiday. Stores and shops are closed and the "Christmas peace" descends over every Norwegian town and hamlet. In homes the entire family, including the father, mother, children, guests and servants, gathers round to partake of the traditional molje, or rich broth in which the Christmas meats are cooked. Molje is served hot with fladbrod, the paper-thin Norwegian bread, which each one dips into the soup. In rural areas where country people still wear their regional costumes for this ancient Christmas Eve ceremony, the scene about the soup kettle is especially pictutesque. In cities, of course, formal clothes are customarily worn on this occasion.
For supper the usual hot and cold appetizers are served in stag- gering array. Then the lutefisk appears which, after its lye bath, has been boiled and is served with drawn butter and boiled potatoes. Then there are ribbensstek, pork ribs, accompanied by boiled potatoes and sauerkraut. Cakes and sweets and risengrynsgrot, or rice porridge, end the meal. The porridge is made with a single almond in it, and whoever finds it will either "have luck" throughout the coming year, or will be first to wed!
After supper the closed doors, which have been hiding the Christmas tree from the children, are thrown open and the glittering tree is revealed in all its breathless beauty. The tree is lighted with white tapers and decorated with all kinds of tempting cooky animals, gilded nuts, eggshell toys, red apples and gingerbread figures. The father of the family usually reads the Christmas story from the Bible. Old and young join hands and walk about the tree, singing well-loved Christmas carols.
Often the Julenisse, the gnome who wears a red pointed cap and has a long flowing beard, brings the children's Christmas presents. Traditionally, the little man dwells in attic or barn and is guardian of the family's welfare. It is wise to please the Julenisse because he is apt to mix up the milk tins, tangle the horse's manes, and even make the cows sick, if he doesn't like your household. Consequently, every family tries to keep things orderly and pleasant, without harsh words or needless bickering. The children are careful to do their share, too, and every Christmas Eve they remember the little man with a bowl of risengrynsgrot--which surely is appreciated, because by morning it always is gone.
JULEDAG (Christmas Day) December 25
Everybody attends Christmas morning church services. Generally the rest of the day is spent quietly at home. In the afternoon boys and girls try out new skis, skates, or sleds, but few parties are held until Second Christmas Day.
Throughout the Yuletide season breakfast is a gay and tremendous meal. Long tables, decorated in the holiday spirit, groan under sometimes as many as thirty or forty different kinds of delicious hot and cold dishes. Aquavit and other strong drinks accompany the food and make the holiday breakfasts really festive occasions.
ANNEN JULEDAG (Second Christmas Day) December 26
The Second Christmas Day is a time for parties and visiting. Factories, places of business, and civic organizations have parties for their employees on this day. Many children's parties are given in mid-afternoon while adult gatherings often start in the evening and continue throughout the night. In rural districts Christmas hospitality is at its height. In some places people adhere strictly to the old tradition that passers-by, regardless of age or social status, must stop in at every farm along the way and partake of food and drink.
In olden times the day after Christmas, known as Saint Stephen's Day, was devoted to the mad sport of horse racing over the icy roads. There is an old rhyme which says that:
NYTTARSAFTEN (New Year's Eve) December 31
In some places young people often dress in masks and fancy costumes on New Year's Eve and go visiting in groups of ten, fifteen or more. The visitors stop at every house for dancing and refreshments and finally wind up with breakfast at the house of some friend or neighbor.