Hosting Our First Norwegian Birthday Party


Our kids have been to many birthday parties over the year but yesterday was Lilu’s turn, and boy, was it a crazy ride.

I didn’t know where to start.  I hadn’t really been to any of the other kid’s parties throughout the year because of my work hours, so Moose had all the experience.  However, being Norwegian, Moose never thinks that Norwegian things are special, different, or that there is anything particular he should mention about normal Norwegian things – he is usually no help when he answers ‘same as everywhere else’.  It seems I am right to never believe him.

Catering for seven year olds can be tricky, even in my own culture.  There are certain expectations that must be fulfilled – cake is one of them!  I didn’t want to do anything weird or crazy (being an outlander), but I still wanted to put in a little of Lilu’s Australian heritage.  Pass-the-parcle is a regular party game in Australia but is not heard of in Norway so it was perfect for the party, and as it has no name in Norwegian, we decided to call it ‘send pakke‘ (send the package).  I wanted to call it ‘varm potet‘ – hot potato – but that would take too much explaining for little kids.  Moose and I often have to make up Norwegian names for things that are only found in English.  It is quite fun; one of the perks of living in a bilingual family.  We also decided to have fairy-bread (sprinkles on buttered bread), which, therefore having no name in Norwegian, we have dubbed ‘Tingelingbrød‘ (Tinkerbell bread).  Everything else I tried to do the Norwegian way (which basically means down-playing everything).  Well, I tried, at least.

Lilu loves crafts so we decided to make the invites ourselves.  We got very creative with glitter, cut outs and stickers.  They turned out lovely, like a little girl’s dream.  But apparently, making our own cards was a very elaborate thing to do, a little ‘over-the-top’.  Most are just bought at the store or are computer print outs, so when Lilu handed the cards out they were received with extra excitement.

We invited 20 boys and girls.  The school rule says that if we want to invite people from school then we have to invite the entire class or all the girls or all the boys in the class.  No one is allowed to be left out.  There was a big story in the news last year in Norway about passive bullying by exclusion and kids not turning up to parties because the birthday kid wasn’t popular.  Norwegians took it to heart and now social rules are set that everyone should be invited.  I have no problem with that.  But the school didn’t tell us they also changed a rule saying that cards weren’t allowed to be given out during school hours.  What?  Before or after school was the time to hand them out, they said.  (So that’s why we’ve had a number of people hand-delivering invites to our front door.  I thought it was strange; that maybe they had just forgotten to hand them out and now had to quickly race round to every house to get them out in time.)  So now we also found ourselves making a 20-stop trip around the neighbourhood hand-delivering invites.  (Probably another reason why the school hands out a class list of contacts to all families with kids in that class).  Lilu was graciously welcomed at every door as she handed over the invites, which action seemed to create even more excitement for the coming event.

One of the weird things about Norwegian birthday invites is the RSVP.  Rather than ‘tell me if you are coming or not’ cards say only ‘tell me if you are not coming’ as if everyone is expected to come unless otherwise stated.  This can be problematic because you don’t know if everyone is actually coming to the party or they have just forgot to reply back to say they aren’t.  We found we had to sms everyone to confirm they were all coming as we hadn’t heard anything from anyone.  I didn’t know how much food I needed to buy or make, and I had a fear that perhaps no one would show up and just forgot to cancel.  But the group-sms proofed valuable as everyone got back to us to say they were coming – all 20!!!

To gather info about what was expected for a Norwegian party today (Moose is a little out of date with his party-going-info) I asked around my dance students.  Pølse med brød, or hot dogs, were a must.  Lollies, potato chips and cookies, and of course, the birthday cake.  It seemed easy enough.  Lilu wanted a marzipan layer cake, but with so many kids there would likely be a nut allergy somewhere.  So I made a fondant layer cake instead.  I must of done well because the kids at the party couldn’t stop looking at it and ‘awwwing’.


We held the party at the SFO, the school’s After School Care room.  It is a big activity room with everything you need – kitchen, media equipment, tables and chairs, etc.  No hiring necessary, just a booking and the keys were handed over happily.  No rules or must-do’s, they knew we would look after the place and thoroughly clean up.  (It is rather nice to be immediately trusted.)

The party was after SFO on a Monday from 16.30 to 18.00.  This time was perfect, un-intrisive of people’s schedules, (as you need to choose days and times a little more wisely with a birthday in December) and short enough to not feel like we have to ‘entertain’.  Activities went as follows: welcomes (The other parents all took off and left us to it.  I was surprised at how trusting they were.  Some didn’t even come in to meet us.); pass-the-parcle game in which the kids thoroughly enjoyed with all the pulling faces, yelling cock-a-doodle-do and swapping places.  (I had to convince the girl who won that the gift was for her, not for Lilu.); pølser and a buffet of goodies for the meal; making balloon dogs; birthday cake – they wanted to sing happy birthday in English!; opening presents; and home-time with ‘thanks yous’ and giving of goodie bags.

The party was a success, I think.  It went so fast.  All I can remember is blowing up sausage balloons constantly (Moose was the star turning them into dogs), refilling up cups over and over for the boys (I felt guilty about all the liquid sugar I was giving them and was sure one kid was going to wet the bed, he had so much!), and trying to convince the boys that they will like their goodie bag even though there were no lollies in it. (We put a bunch of lego in and other toys we got cheap off ebay – couldn’t bring myself to give them any more sugar; I felt guilty enough with the soda and cake).  Even still, the boys were asking where all the lollies were (hehehe – I didn’t buy any – I thought the fairy bread, cheezles, pretzels, soda, cookies, hot dogs and cake was enough sugar – and I was right!).  The kids were a little psycho and we forgot that at seven, boys don’t want to play with girls, so keeping the party in one piece was not going to happen.  And I forgot one kid was Muslin and I had to check out everything she was eating – no hot dog for her!   And OMG! the birthday presents.  They were so expensive!  I felt so guilty.  For the whole year I’ve been sending Lilu to all the other parties with just a little gumball machine gift, thinking that Norwegians would prefer a cute, but un-intimidating gift.  Boy, was I wrong.

I’ve learnt so many lessons about holding a Norwegian birthday party yesterday.  I’m glad we made it easy on ourselves and just went with the flow.  The kids seemed to have a blast just running around and jumping on everything.  It was a wild 90 minutes, any longer and I think I would have needed some oxygen.  I have never seen Norwegian kids so excited and hypo.  The birthday girl had a great time, it seemed like the other kids did too.  (I felt a little sorry for the parents, giving them back a hypo-delic kid to settle down for the night.)

Next year – bring it on!

Julebord – Work Christmas Parties


Julebord is the adult version of Nisse parties; a work Christmas party to celebrate the year.  They begin as early as November and can be extravagant, in big hotels or conference centres, or low-key, in a local hall or even a mountain cabin.

Julebords are notorious for being a little risqué in Norway.  For a lot of people it is time to let loose, (a bigger deal in Norway than other countries as it is Norwegian character to be reserved in all other areas of life) and they are not afraid of a little, well, a lot, of party spirits.

There are many myths and legends about julebords floating around.  A lot of alcohol is consumed at julebords and where there are adults ready to make the most of it, all sorts of mischief is ripe.  Actually, the P4 radio said on their 27th Nov broadcast that julebord season is the peak for infidelity and that four out of five infidelities happen at julebord.  At one particular julebord one of us went to in Oslo with a big security company (we won’t mention names), two of the head-honchoes had taken their wedding rings off for the evening.  And we have just heard on the news about the first ‘julebord casualty’, which happened because of a full-on brawl involving four men in Norland (three of them now charged with second degree murder).  But stuff like this is very unusual, the exceptions.

But no julebord is the same.  We have been to many over the years in different cities – Oslo, Harstad, Tromsø, Alta – and all have their own traditions and customs (like Oslo tends not to allow partners but Alta encourages them to come).  All-in-all, it is Alta, way up in the cold North, where the julebords have been the best for us.  They are a mixture of local tradition, great comfort food and just plain good fun.

Last night we went to Moose’s julebord, which kicked-off the Advent season perfectly.  The party was at the Scandic (the most ‘luxurios hotel in Alta) and started at 7pm.  Parties at any hotel always take longer to progress than at private places, so Moose and I rocked up at 7.30pm and jep, everyone was still in at the foyer bar having their ‘introductory’ drinks.  By 8pm we were stamped and in the door.

Seating was arranged so we had to find our place names – harder than you think with 150 other people trying to do the same.  Once settled our MC for the night introduced himself.  He was a local comedian who was popular in traveling revys (a Norwegian form of cabaret).  In between dinner and speeches he provided entertainment with comedic sketches about local culture and people.  He was very entertaining and went all the way with costumes and audience participation.  He certainly earnt his money.

But, for the first of the night, we all had to sing!  It is tradition for every julebord (wedding, conference, actually, any gathering for party purposes) to make up their own songs using a familiar tune.  The songs are usually funny and relate to the working life or employees of the company.  Singing songs in public is a part of everyday life in Norway.  There are no party-poopers, everyone joins in to add spirit to the event.  Public singing is one of the lovely customs Norway has, everyone grows up with, so it is second nature to Norwegians to open their mouths and join in the chorus.

The director of the local branch, (Moose works for the biggest mining company in Norway), made his impressive statistical speech.  The company had done very well over the past year with a huge increase in profits.  An interesting  introduction was of the Scandic staff, standing and waiting to serve, even the apprentices were introduced to everyone.  Then there was a raffle to win two different gifts – a NOK600 gift voucher at the hotel and a weekend stay for two (which I though was a little odd as who stays in a hotel only 10minutes away from where you live?)

While all this was happening, our glasses were filled on the table – three of them – water, red wine or beer and a hard liquor, Aquvit.  I was very amused.  All this on an empty stomach, it seemed we were expected to get drunk.  But alas, Moose and I don’t drink, all our full glasses didn’t deter the waiters from setting more drinks in front of us during the night, another two aquavits and coffee.  Halfway through the night we went out to get cash for the babysitter and when we got back our drinks were empty.  Later, a man from our table apologized so elegantly for drinking them, or as he put “took care of them”, he thought we had gone home.

However, there was a good reason for the Aquavit.  This spirit accompanies the Christmas dish Lutefisk.  Julebord literally means Christmas table.  It is a spread of Christmas food, and Norwegian Christmas food in Alta is roast ribbe, pinnekjøtt and  That’s what was served on the warm buffet table with minted potatoes, mashed swede, sauerkraut and Christmas pølse.  Nothing special, in fact, it was exactly what you make at home – not ‘restaurant quality’ but the same ingredients that you’d buy at the local supermarket.  This is one of the reasons why not many eat out in Norway.  Usually you’d go out to a restaurant to eat food that you can’t make, or don’t make, at home.  However, I’ve found that most local restaurants serve food exactly they way you make at home (but costs ten times more because someone else has made it).  In bigger cities it is a little different, but all julebords that we have been to have ‘home-cooked’ food.

We also had a cold buffet (on the dance floor, which freaked me out, being a dancer and all).  It was what I would call an Aussie Christmas lunch, which I was very excited about.  Cold cuts, and ham off the bone, a cold turkey, and a selection of rustic bread that you carved yourself.  They also had a seafood table, (which I generally stay away from because I’m allergic) which had prawns, smoked fish and crab.  The salad, well, a Waldorf without the walnuts, coleslaw and a mixed green salad was over powered by the rest of the meat selection.  Interestingly, there were no cheeses or other gourmet foods such as paté or hummus, mainly flesh foods.  The platter decorations were gorgeous, make of fruit and vegetables, a tragic waste.  These foods that I’m used to eating in a summer Christmas.  After asking the chef I got to take back to my table some fresh fruit including passion fruit.  The Norwegians at my table thought it was very odd that I could eat a passion fruit on its own.  Passion fruit is only seen as a flavour or decoration for cakes in Norway.  It is not really a fruit to eat like an apple.  (Boy, they are missing out!)

After dinner there were more comedy sketches (about the bosses), more talks, and then the band started up – a four piece ‘dance band’ from Burfjord.  Dance band music is a typical North Norwegian style of swing music.  It is not Jazz Swing from America, but folkeswing music.  Folkeswing is a North Norwegain swing dance that has developed over the years.  It is the most popular dance form in the North and at one time or another, most Norwegians have taken lessons enough to do the basics on the floor.  As a teacher of ballroom dances for the last 25 years, I find the folkeswing is still very primitive.  The dance has organically evolved, which is what a good social dance must do, but the knowledge of the day, such as ergonomic movements for comfort and to protect the body, are not present in the dance.  The dance is very rough, puts strain on one arm and the knees and is very limited in styling.  The dance can fit to any 4/4 music, but not the waltzes, 3/4 and 6/8.  Danceband music for folkeswing can get a little boring because they keep the same tempo, rhythm and style for every song  With that said, if you are in Norway, you must go to a folkeswing lesson just for the experience because the atmosphere and the people are the best!  Though, on the floor with the folkeswingers, we were able to dance a few Rumbas, a Cha Cha and an East Coast Swing before dessert was served at 11.30pm.

Following the comfort food of the main course buffet, we had a dessert buffet of ‘soft sweets’.  Marzipan layer cake is always a must.  Restaurants always serve a gelled caramel pudding, sometimes chocolate.  Moltekrem, which is just whipped cream and cloudberries.  There were brownie squares and strawberry cheese cake squares, but the surprise of the night was trollkrem (troll cream).  This is a fun dessert that kids love.  It is uncooked meringue with a mix-in of lightly stewed berries, usually cowberries because they are very tangy.

After all the sugar we called it a night.  The rest of the party-people were just getting going, it seemed.  It was expected that the night would go until 2.30 in the morning.  We were home before we turned into pumpkins, we had a big First Advent Sunday planned with the kids, but we were very content with the night, from the good company, good entertainment and the comfort food in our bellies.

My work Christmas party is a little later in December.  We have the same food, play games and hear speeches, but because I work for a culture school, we generally have a mini concert with the teachers performing musical items or skits.

Anything goes at julebord.  But remember, anything that happens at julebord, does not stay at julebord!

Black Friday Whaaa?


There is a first for everything, and today it was a Black Friday sale at our local toy store with a promise of a vanvittige tilbud (insane sale).

The Black Friday sale is seen as an American thing, but just like Halloween and Valentines, Black Friday has finally hit the stores in Norway.  The ‘insane deal’ they are offering is just a ‘buy two, get one free’ (I’m guessing the bargin part of Black Friday sales was lost in translation).

It is a little disappointing to see this alien tradition start up in Norway.  There isn’t even a Norwegian translation for ‘Black Friday’.  There likely won’t be; it will be left as another reminder of how another American tradition has immigrated to Norway.






A Christmas Tree Gift for the United Kingdom


Every year Norway sends over a giant Norwegian spruce Christmas tree to their British friends. It is a symbol of Norwegian gratitude towards the United Kingdom for preserving Norwegian liberty. During the Second World War, King Haakon VII escaped to England as the Germans invaded Norway in 1940. This enabled the King to sustain the Norwegian government. The government headquarters was set up in London where the war news was broadcasted in Norwegian, along with messages and information that was vital to the resistance movement in Norway and gave the people hope and inspiration.

The Christmas tree is chosen with great care, usually many years before it is to be used. The foresters provide a lot of care for the tree, making sure it grows big and tall.  They often describe the tree as the ‘Queen of the Forest’.  After the tree has been carefully chopped and prepared, it makes its journey across the pond on a big barge and is eventually set in the middle of Trafalga Square.

A special Lighting of the Tree ceromony is held at the beginning of December. About 10,000 Londoners gather in Trafalga Square to participate in Christmas carols and to see the tree being lit. A nativity scene is placed on the west side of the square, which is dedicated at a special service on the Sunday after the lighting ceremony.

Throughout the Christmas Season Londoners visit Trafalga Square to participate in the celebrations, sing carols and donate to charities.

Norwegian Christmas trees are also given to the cities of Coventry, Newcastle, Sunderland and Edinburgh, and also the Orkney Islands.

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