Preparing the House for Advent

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Advent in Norway is the time to prepare for Christmas.  It starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas day, just after the last sunrise in the North.  At this time Norwegians bring out their lights to hang in the windows for the dark season.  Some lights are small triangle lamps that hang down, or large paper stars (below), others are five or seven stick candelabras that sit on the sill.  We quite like our snow stars, a new addition for our home this year (above).

The lovely and decadent things start appearing in the stores in November for Advent.  Purple is the colour of the season and it is usual for Norwegians to dress their homes with purple things – curtains, tablecloths and cushions.  Silver, gold and white always accompany the dressing of a house.

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With only a week left until Advent starts, we have already put up the kid’s Advent calendars.  There are many types of Advent calendars but we have the most typical ones – wall hangers with pockets.  They aren’t filled yet as this year is taking longer than normal to find little cheap surprises.  We have decided not to give our kids sweets or chocolates as presents, so have had to extend our small gift search.  It is tricky to find cheap gifts in Norway.  On average we spend kr30 on each item (about US$6).  Traditionally, calendars were filled with baked goods and hand-made crafts.  Today some of the most common non-food calendar gifts are pens, matchbox cars, bubbles, trolls, chap sticks, jewelry, ornaments, lego figures and cookie cutters.

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Advent season is traditionally celebrated with candles.  It is normal to have a few candle settings in different places in the house.  Our dining table setting is a four stick circular candelabra.  We place it inside a wreath that is decorated with tinsel, ornaments and pinecones.  We also have another candelabra, a row setting made of cast iron, in the TV-room.  Some Norwegians have extra settings in windows or a welcome set in the entry hall.  We light the first candle on Advent Sunday, two candles on the second Sunday, and so forth.  Some Norwegians use just one candle and burn it down to a marker on each Sunday.

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Advent Sunday marks the start of the Christmas concert season.  A lot of towns have their first Christmas concerts on this day.  Christmas concerts can happen as late as the 1st of January (because remember that the first day of Christmas in Norway starts on the 25th of December.  Traditionally Christmas lasts for 20 days (song) after, ending on the 13th of January.)

Advent Sunday is also the traditional day for Lighting the Christmas tree (video) in the town square.  This is a big event in many cities around the country as the community celebrates together the coming of Christmas.

If You’ve Ever Thought of Traveling to Norway, Next May is the Time to Do It!

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The 17th of May is Norway’s National Day where Norwegians celebrate the signing of their constitution in 1814.  Next year will be the 200th anniversary.  If you are looking for the best time to come to Norway, to experience Norwegian culture and heritage, and participate in Norway’s most important event, next year in May would be it.  There is sure to be a grand celebration as Norway reflects upon, as well as looks to the future, of being a country dedicated to peace and equality.

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Oslo would be the ultimate place to join in the festivities as it is the capital of Norway.  It is tradition for the 17th of May parade to pass through the main city street, up to the palace and to march past the Royal Family.  There will be special dinners at the Akershus fortress over the fjord, church and civil ceremonies, concerts in different parks around the city, traditional Norwegian folk dancing in the streets, military gun drill displays, not to mention an explosion of Norwegian foods and crafts.

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There are six months for you to start preparing for your trip.  Go to www.visitnorway.com to get the low-down on the activities closer to May so you can maximize your Norwegian experience.  We sure hope you take this opportunity to experience Norway during such a momentous National celebration.

Judging the Cold

I grew up not caring too much about the temperature.  If it was cold, you knew it was cold, because you could feel it, and then you’d just put on a jumper (sweater).

Living in Norway, I find myself dependent on thermometers.  I can’t judge how cold it is inside, or outside, without looking at some mercury first.  If it is cold inside the house it is natural to think that it’s because it is really cold outside but that isn’t necessarily the case.  It might just be that you and the family haven’t been in the house all day, which makes the air colder because there is no human activity.  It could just be that the neighbours next door haven’t used their fireplace in a while or have gone on holidays, (a lot of modern Norwegian homes are built close together with adjoining fireplaces or roofs to maximize heat conservation), and quite often, when you have small children, the heaters magically turn down.

In winter, basically, the wall heaters are on all the time in the house – 24/7.  We do have a fireplace but you can’t keep that going when you leave the house.  Fireplace heat is also inconsistent.  The amount of heat depends on the type of wood, amount of wood, wind outside, amount of ashes and if the neighbours have their fireplace going as well.  So to keep the house at a livable temperature, the wall heaters need to be on all the time. In the north, without heaters, it would be better to live in a lavvu as it takes a good effort to heat up a whole house with just fire (chopping trees, splitting the wood, packing it, lugging it back home, stacking it outside, and re-stacking inside  - enough every day for at least 9 months of the year is a lot of work).

I find that fireplaces in the house are better used to keep the edge off the cold.  We keep the heaters at a constant temperature throughout the season and when it is really cold, each day is different, we use fire heat to add that extra when needed.  The best way to tell if we need fire heat is by looking at the thermometer.  That means you can be sure it really is cold (and not just a fake coldness such as your metabolism drawing energy to your tummy after a big meal and therefore making you just feel cold).  Heating your home in Norway costs a lot of money so you want to make sure every hour is not wasted by over heating.

Outside, I just feel cold (all the time) so I can never really tell how cold it really is until I look at a thermometer.  After living here for eight years, I can, with no complaint, go to the shops in just jeans and a jumper in minus two celsius.  However, from about minus five to 10, it feels like minus two to me and so I always go out under dressed and pay for it later.  When it reaches minus 12 I feel the cold change but not until I get a whiff of outside first and then rug up a little more.  (Yes, I literally smell the air to judge if it is cold.)  One day, when I was on an ice stage theatre job, I spent a whole 8 hours with the lighting designer sitting in a scaffolding tower outside.  I was really cold in my double coated thermal underwear, balaclava and heat packs in my gloves and shoes.  I thought I was feeling extra cold because I was just sitting there all day in an open tower exposed to the wind.  It turned out the temperature for most of the day was minus 25 degrees celsius.  (No wonder my salad lunch froze a minute after I opened it.)  But seriously, I couldn’t tell it was that cold.  When you get to that point of being cold, everything else under is just cold too.  It is really hard to know that the temperature is going down (or up) when it is gradual.  I guess it is the same effect as cooking lobster.

I’ve found that the best thermometer to use is the one inside the car, it is true to its word.  However, by the time you get in the car, brushing off all the snow and scrapping off all the ice, it is a little too late to make the best decision on what to wear.  I often find myself misjudging how cold it is and end up having to go back into the house to rethink my clothing choices.  It’s not pretty when you leave the house in just a jumper and jeans to discover it’s really minus 10.

You’d think it would be better to look on www.yr.no, the Norwegian national meteorology service, to get the correct temperature outside.  That seems logical but it is never reliable.  The service judges temperatures from the airports, which are usually positioned down by the water.  Places by the water are a lot warmer than inland.  Valleys are much colder than hills and built up areas with high buildings and no trees are always colder.  Even when walking along the same street I have felt a dramatic drop or increase in temperature just by passing by a hedge fence.  There have been times I’ve looked on www.yr.no and it says bright sunny skies when there is actually a snow blizzard outside.

You can get thermometers for outside the house to stick in a window to see the temperature but they are at least a couple of degrees off.  This is because they are affected by the warmth of the house.  I have never found them reliable.

I wonder if there is such a thing as a keychain thermometers – they would certainly come in handy!

If I don’t have a thermometer, the only other way I can judge coldness is by the type of icy coating on the car.  If there is a dry layer of ice frozen on my windscreen, the weather was once warm but then suddenly it got cold.  If the ice chips off easily then the temperature hasn’t changed or has became a little warmer.  If the ice is hard to chip off then the temperature has become even colder.  If there is a nice layer of fluffy snow on the car then the weather has been warm (meaning between -2 to 2 degrees celsius).  If the snow is dry, the temperature has been consistently lower; if it is slushy, the weather has become warmer.  Of course, there are many different combinations of these symptoms.  I sometimes even get ice on the inside of my windscreen because the air inside the car was warmer than the air outside, and so the moisture inside freezes to the glass.

Most of the time, I just look out to the car to help decide what I’m going to wear.  If I see white snow I wear jeans and a jumper; for ice I get a little more rugged.  I have never had to look so much into the habits of nature to help me with basic living.  Reading the signs of the weather through snow and ice has proven to be effective for me.  Once you know what to look for, winter life becomes a little less cold.

“God morgen” School Song

God morgen is a Norwegian greeting song sung in schools.  The teacher and students sing together to welcome each other to the new learning day.  It has been around for at least 30 years (Moose sung it at school when he was a lad).  Different schools have different variations but here is the one Lilu is being taught now for Alta:

God morgen

God morgen,
god morgen,
her er vi igjen.
Vi kommer så glade til første klasse hen.

Vi synger,
vi synger,
vi har det så godt.
Vi vil ikke bytte, mot kongens store slott.

Translation:
Good morning, good morning, here we are again.  We come so happily to first class.
We sing, we sing, we have it so good.  We would not trade it for the king’s big castle.

The use of the word ‘hen’ is to make the song rhyme.  It is an old Norwegian word meaning ‘off to’ or ‘away to’.  The sentence ‘Vi kommer så glade til første klasse hen’ itself is grammatically incorrect because you cannot ‘come away to’ something.  (kommer…hen)

Here is Moose giving it a go with the guitar:

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