In January we got our formal invite to our nephews Konfirmasjon. The ceremony and after-dinner were to be held in May so the whole family had good time to prepare to travel to Tromsø for the big day.
The Norwegian confirmation started during the Catholic era when youth would attend Sunday school to prepare for their spiritual entrance into a life committed to the church. This practice continued after the Reformation and the State Protestant Church became the administrator. Ceremonies were usually a part of church service. It was the first time that boys received their first suits and girls white dresses (and a party dress for celebrations after).
Confirmations were important for entrance into adult life. One had to have their confirmation to be able to work or get married. In the old Norwegian church books (which can be found online) the confirmation records have information about vaccinations, God Parents, and also the youth’s evaluation grades and comments from their priest if they behaved themselves in class or not.
Confirmation was compulsory in Norway up until 1912, however, the practice continued because of societal pressure. In 1951 Norway had its first Civil Confirmation in Oslo where the focus was on civil responsibility. (Denmark had made the move several years earlier (1915) with the organisation Association Against Church Confirmation.) Today in Norway it is the Human Ethics Society that administers non-religious confirmations. Most confirmation ceremonies happen in Spring, at the end of the school year, but some are held throughout the year.
Our nephew, Ziggy, was having a civil confirmation in Tromsø’s culture house. He had to have a course in ethics and independent thought before he could be confirmed. Such a course is meant to help participants on their way into adulthood and to be an upstanding citizen of Norway. The participants ‘graduate’ with their class – usually youth around the age of 15. So, off we went last week, back to our old stomping ground, to see Ziggy get confirmed.
The ceremony was only an hour. There were two classes being confirmed, about 15 students in each. Each youth had many of their family and family friends present so the culture house was full. This is a time to get dressed up and so many Norwegians wore their bunads. The rest of us wore formal attire. The ceremony opened with the classical piece, Salut d´Amour by Edward Elgar, as the youth marched up to the stage. They sat orderly on tiered seats facing the audience. The Welcome followed by the Human-etisk Forbund and then another musical item, Blomstervalsen by Peter Tsjajkovkij. The poem Det ene livet vi har by Kjell Kristensen (The Only Life We Have) was read and then the song Imagine by John Lennon was sung (operette style) with piano accompaniment. A speech was made by the Tromsø representative of the Human Ethics Society followed by an instrumental item of The Rose by Amanda McBoom. The Master of Ceremonies then declared ‘You are now confirmed’. The confirmation certificates were given out and then everyone sang Din tanke er fri (Your Thoughts Are Free). The newly confirmed marched out to Marsj by Joseph Haydn. Our ceremony was the last one for the weekend on the Sunday. There had been four more previously.
Afterwards we had a family gathering in the Tromsø library. We had a sit-down formal meal. The food was inspired by local produce and themed after ‘tapas’ – all Norwegian favourites spiced up:
Above, herbed pølse and below, fishcakes.
Above, spicy meatballs and below, garlic prawns.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Norwegian meal without potatoes.
During the dinner we had speeches, sang songs and Big Uncle entertained us with his energetic piano playing and singing. It is custom to have specially written lyrics to well known tunes that everyone sings to both celebrate the guest of honour (Ziggy) and give thanks for the food. And was there cake? Of course! In true Norwegian style we had several cakes to fill our plates with – Tante’s Oreo cake, kransekaker, carrot cake, cheese cake and the ‘World’s Best Cake’ – my favourite! We had moved out into the main floor of the library and so had to get creative with the cake table:
Above, Tante 1’s Oreo cake and below Tante 2’s merenges.
Above Tante 3’s cheese cake. It is usual to have a cake base and a jelly topping on Norwegian cheese cakes.
Below is The Best Cake in the World. No Joke, that is what it is called. Norway is one of the best cake makers and this cake with a vanilla base and meringue top with almond flavoured cream in between is an award winning cake and has become one of Norway’s icons.
I’ve heard a lot of talk about Norwegian confirmations, how they are just another excuse to spend hordes of money. For confirmations it is expected that youth receive an enormous amount of presents, similar to a wedding, and it is one of the times when money gifts are appropriate. Boys get snow mobiles and motorbikes, girls get mopeds and horses. But when Ziggy was asked why he wanted a confirmation he said ‘I saw it as an opportunity to bring the family together’.