Santa Parade: A Christmas Tradition

A special Christmas tradition for kindergarten children in Tromsø is the Nissetog (Santa Parade). Over 30 kindergartens in Tromsø gather together in the city’s torget (market square). The energy in the square could light a thousand Christmas trees.

All the children, family and friends, dress as Nisse (a Norwegian Elf). The Nisse come in two varieties Red Nisse and Blue Nisse – Blue Nisse wear blue hats, of course!

The children hold onto long ropes as they march through town singing Christmas songs. (The rope is a nifty idea to make sure that no Nisse get lost along the way – but you sure can’t miss them coming down the street with their reflector vests!) My friend Ola had the honour of leading the parade as he played Christmas songs on his saxophone – just like a Christmas pied-piper.

The Nissetog ends in the old Lutheran Cathedral, where Christmas is duly sung in for the year.


Dog Sledding


Dog sledding must be one of the must-do activities if you come to Norway in the winter. You get to ‘mush’ through some of the best winter landscapes and experience one of Norway’s top sports that have been used for hunting and travel before the Viking Age. The energy of the dogs is very infectious and you can’t help but be buzzing after your ride.

Dog Sled Racing

Dog sledding uses a special sled that can be pulled by one dog but is more often pulled by a team. For dog sled racing, dogs are carefully selected for endurance, strength and speed. They are placed in certain positions in the team to ensure the fastest and easiest race. The team consists of lead dogs who have the intellect, point dogs who follow well and can back up the lead, swing dogs who can move well and wheel dogs who have the power to pull the sled.

Lead dogs have a kind of ‘intuition’ about where they are going. The Musher develops a strong relationship of trust with their lead dog because sometimes trust is what gets them through certain races. A trainer needs to keep a close eye on their dogs, especially the lead. As the dogs are trained to run for 50+ kilometres a day, if left unattended the dogs have a habit of running for the hills. Some dogs are trained in more than one position just in case the team needs to be rotated during a race due to injury or fatigue.


It is well known that Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer, lead the expedition race to the South Pole. He cunningly used dog sleds and reached the South Pole first before Robert Falcon Scott, a Celebrated British explorer and Naval Officer.

Today Robert Sørlie is considered a national hero for his skill and dedication to dog sled racing. Sørlie has a long history of dog sled racing. Since 1991 he has won the Femundløpet four times and also Europe’s longest dog race, Finnmarksløpet (1985–1991, and 2001). He has also won the Norwegian long-distance championship twice (1993 and 1995), and the mid-distance championship once (1992).

However, it wasn’t until 2003 that Sørlie became a national hero and won the hearts of the Norwegian people through his love and dedication. To train a team takes an exhausting amount of time as the dogs need special attention every day. Even though Sørlie has a full time job as a fire fighter in a big city with a young family, he still managed to put a special dog team together to enter the Alaskan Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The ‘Iditarod’ is a high competitive dog sled race for teams of 16 dogs (plus musher) racing over a distance of 1,161 miles (1868 km) which takes between eight to fifteen days to complete. Entering for the first time in 2002, Sørlie came in 9th place winning the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award. In 2003 he was the first non-North American resident to win Iditarod coming in 9 days, 15 hours, 47 minutes, and 36 seconds. Sørlies was thinking of retirement, however, many challenged his 2003 win suggesting that the course was altered due to a lack of snow that year.


To prove he was a skilled musher with a great dog team, Sørlie decided to race again in 2005. The field was very competitive that year with five other previous Iditarod winners. The warmer weather also provided challenging conditions for the race. The race was very tight all the way but Sørlie won just 34 minutes in front of second place, proving that his first win was not beginner’s luck.

Dog Sledding Activities

Dog sledding is something that I have always wanted to do and last year I got my chance. I thoroughly recommend the experience!


We were in Alta at the time for the Easter holidays visiting family. Easter is a great time to enjoy winter sports in Norway. The sun is bright (wearing sunglasses is advised especially if you will be out in the snow a lot) and the light lasts all day. The snow is fluffy and thick and the weather is more stable at this time. We decided to take the dog sledding tour bus from the Rica Hotel in the city centre. When we arrived we suited up in warm jump-suits, hats and boots provided by the dog sled centre.


We were assigned a team of dogs (just five dogs – apparently the more you have the faster you will go). We were quickly trained in steering and stopping and instructed never to let go of the sled (remember that the dogs will run for the hills if they get the chance). And away we went, following each other along a scenic track through a forrest and along the Alta river (it was frozen over).


I sat in the sled (so I could take some pics) and Moose mushed. Halfway through we swapped. Even though everyone was following each other in a line, the dogs were very responsive to our steering. It was the best experience and quietly in my head I thought ‘I want to be able to do this every day for ever!’


Back at the ranch we got to thank our team with plenty of hugs and wagging tails. Us ‘mushers’ all piled into the lavvo (a Sami style teepee with an open fire right inside) for supper – cookies and warm berry drink. A trainer joined us and told us stories about the dogs training, famous Norwegian mushers and also about the world of racing.


The thing that impressed me most about this dog sledding ranch is that they cared for their dogs immensely. Dog sledding wasn’t just a business but a way of life. Dogs were chosen for their intellect and character, not for their coats. And if a dog isn’t quite up to the challenge of racing, they still get to enjoy what they love best – running in the snow – hence, the dog sledding tour. I was quite happy to find out that I was helping the dogs to get the exercise they need each day.

For Tourists

There are many dog sledding tours all over the country. You can get different tours, we went on a two hour tour, but there are also day tours, weekend tours and also whole week tours. It all depends on what part of the country you want to see and the time you have free (and your budget, of course). If you want to find out more go to a city tourist website. To do this simply type in ‘visit’ and the city you are looking for ‘Bergen’, ‘Trondheim’, ‘Tromsø’, ‘Alta’ etc in google search box, eg ‘Visit Tromso’. This will bring up specific tourist sites for that city which will have most of the tour guide operators in that area.


Nobel Peace Prize

alfred-nobel.jpgOn the 10th of December every year an award ceremony is held at the Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway, for the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize is awarded by the Nobel Committee and is given in the presence of the Norwegian King and other prominent world leaders.

The Nobel Peace Prize has always been shrouded in controversy. The fact that the Swedish Alfred Nobel assigned the Norwegian Parliament to be the awarding body of the Nobel Peace Prize was the start of a long list of conflicts. One reason Nobel chose Norway to be the administrator is because Norway was the only European country that hadn’t started a war since the industrial revolution – (since then Norway has joined with Nato in the Balkan and Afghanistan wars). The other reason that is known is that Norway and Sweden was in a union at the time and Nobel felt that there would be less political corruption if Norway handled the Peace Prize award. Some say the Nobel Peace prize was to make up for the destruction that he knew his invention of dynamite might cause the world. (He also turned his Bofors company into a successful Armament company.) Others say Nobel was the Bill Gates of his time and wanted to do something good with his money.

Alfred Nobel stated that the Peace Prize would be awarded by a committee appointed by the Norwegian parliament. Committee members are supposed to reflect the balance of the parliament at the time of appointment, but their decision on a Peace Prize winner is to be free of any government or parliamentary opinion or affect. Over the years this has put Norway in the hot seat as the members of the committee, Norwegian Politicians, have political interests that changes according to the make-up of the parliament. Parties entitled to choose members of the Nobel Committee are free to appoint who they like, as long as the person isn’t a current member of the parliament or the government. The Nobel Committee consists of only five people.


Photo: Alfred Nobel’s last will and testament

A person or organisation may be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by a prominent person, namely, former recipients, university professors, international leaders and members of national assemblies. In Nobel’s instructions the Peace Prize should be awarded ‘to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.’ This means that the Peace Prize isn’t just given to achievements only but also to ‘works in progress’ and current efforts.

brickwedde-plaque.jpgThe Nobel Committee has always been under fire because of their chosen recipients. Just last year Al Gore received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in work against global warming on the grounds that global warming and climate change can be a trigger for world conflicts. His Peace award is still fiercely discussed today world wide, including Norway. It is believed that Al Gore’s global warming ideas were not based on scientific fact and that his conclusions were a little premature in accordance with todays knowledge of global warming. As new technologies and science indicate that global warming is just a cycle of the earth, especially since scientists have been recording more solar flare activity by the sun in recent years and also the fact every planet of our solar system has gone through this cycle, many are wondering if Gore’s Nobel Prize can be retracted.

This year it was rumoured that Chinese human-rights activist Hu Jia was to win the Peace Prize. For the second time Chinese authorities warned against such a recognition to a ‘human-rights activist’. Two years ago Chinese authorities gave their first warning when Rebiya Kadeer of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region received the Rafto Prize in 2004, which is also awarded in Norway – they didn’t want to take any chances. Hu Jia has been harassed and imprisoned for years by the Chinese authorities, ‘for his ongoing efforts to further democracy, human rights, environmental protection and AIDS/HIV programs in China’. Chinese authorities stated in October this year that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident will hurt relations between China and Norway, and will offend the Chinese people. The Nobel Committee responded saying that ‘the Norwegian Nobel Committee worked independently of the Norwegian government, and makes it own choices, free of any government control’.

There have been many other controversial nominees for the Prize. A Swedish Parliamentarian nominated Adolf Hilter in 1939 but withdrew his nomination a few days later. Stalin and Mussolini have also been nominated and Yasser Arafat is a recipient. During the World Wars the award was put on hold except for 1917 and 1944. In both these years the Red Cross was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for their wartime efforts. In 1919 U.S. President Woodrow Wilson received the Peace Prize for founding of The League of Nations, an organisation created from the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919–1920. In 1939 this organisation failed its primary objective – to prevent future world wars. However, after World War II the United Nations was set up to replace The League of Nations.


Photo: Ceremony for the 1963 Peace Nobel Prize on December 10, 1963; King Olav of Norway (left), Leopold Boissier, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (center) and John A. MacAulay, Chairman of the League of Red Cross Societies (right)

However, there have been many well deserving people/organisations which have been nominated year after year but have never been selected by the Nobel Committee for the Peace Prize – the Salvation Army, Irena Sendler (Poland) who saved 2,500 Jewish children during World War II, Thich Quang Do, a Buddhist monk in Vietnam, Pope John Paul II, Oscar Romero, Steve Bikko and Abdul Sattar Edhi, just to name a few. This year the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize for 2008 to former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, ‘for his “important efforts” in helping solve international conflicts’. Ahtisaari is also believed to have been a candidate for several years.

One of the worlds most notable Peace activist has never been recognised. The failure to see the enormous efforts of Gandi in 1937, 1938, 1939 and 1947 is a great shame upon the Nobel Committee. In 1948, a few days before Gandi was murdered, he was nominated again. However, no Peace Prize was awarded that year as the Committee felt that there was ‘no suitable living candidate’. It is not clear as to why the Committee made this decision but lets hope that the Committee finally understood what Gandi meant to the peace of the world. In Nobel’s requirements the Prize must be given to a living person and so not awarding the Prize in 1948 would have been an honourable action to finally recognise the person who focused the world to peace.

Photo: Lech Wałęsa’s Nobel Prize for 1983

lech-walesa-nobel-prize.jpgAnyone who has been offered the Nobel Peace Prize has never declined – it certainly is a great career builder. In the last months leading up to the 2008 award the focus of the Nobel Committee has been challenged in Norway. Fredrik S. Heffermehl, a Norwegian peace activist and honorary president of the Norwegian Peace Council and Vice-President of the International Peace Bureau, has said that most of the Nobel Peace Prizes that have been given are in conflict with Alfred Nobel’s ‘will and testament’. Al Gore and the Panel on Climate Change, Muhammad Yunus, Wangari Maathai, Shirin Ebadi, Mohamed El-Baradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA are among the many awards which Heffermehl thinks conflict with Nobel’s wishes. Heffermehl believes that Nobel aimed to promote ‘disarmament and anti-militarism’ through the Peace Prize. He says that when the responsibility of the Peace Prize was given to Norway it was at a time when Norway was a world leader in peace and conflict resolution.

Heffermehl in an interview with the national newspaper Afterposten said:

Nobel didn’t start a peace prize but a prize for promoting peace in particular areas and ways. Nobel wanted the Prize to be given for promoting peaceful coexistence by reducing militarism and by building a framework of international law through peace congresses.

It goes without saying that the most important element of the Nobel Peace Prize award is not the prize itself but the focus on of peace. Even though the Nobel Committee selection has proven to be imperfect, the circus that is created around the nominees and recipients focuses the world on the issue at hand – who is working towards peace in the world, what countries and organisations are active in peace, what is the effect of this work, who is benefiting and how – and most importantly, what can we learn from the work so we can improve upon it and maybe one day have world peace.


Aftenposten --
Nobel Peace Prize goes to peace broker Ahtisaari 10.10.08
Peace Prize often controversial 10.10.08
Peace Prize misused claims activist 06.10.08
Norway’s Nobel Committee poised for renewal 02.10.08
China warns against Peace Prize to one of its dissidents 26.09.08
Russian or Chinese dissidents tipped for Nobel Peace Prize  25.09.08

Wikipedia -
Nobel Peace Prize 10.10.08
The League of Nations 10.10.08
Alfred Nobel 10.10.08
Rafto Prize 10.10.08

Photos: Wikicommons: Nobel Peace Prize

Tromsø in December


Tromsø city is on the east side of Tromsø island. The island is connected to the mainland via the Tromsø bridge and the Tromsøsund tunnel that goes under the sea.

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