When my plans to tour Europe over Christmas season failed, thanks to the snowy weather, had no option but spend my whole time in Norway! I don´t even regret a minute of it, every bit has great memories to linger in my minds for the next many years, and many great lessons to carry back home.
Norwegians start planning for this day way before Christmas and make invitations to their families and friends. A chance to be with the larger family, this is the time where most Norwegians living abroad come back home to be with their families. So similar to Kenya where most people leave the city life for some family get-together in the upcountry.
As early as November, I started receiving Christmas invitations but was hesitant to accept any, simply because I had other personal plans. But as Christmas approached and realised I will end up spending my time in Norway alone, I continued to receive the invitations and they were many. Until 20th, I hadn´t confirmed my attendance to anyone. At the back of my mind, I knew this was surely going to be a purely family event and somehow was scared of the feeling of being odd one out especially if the whole family went into Norsk, which was bound to happen.
Unlike Kenya and many other countries, Norwegians celebrate their Christmas on the 24th and the main event is the Christmas Eve whereby at 5pm the church bell rings to mark the beginning of Christmas throughout the country! Most people attend church services and after that return to their homes for actual Christmas Celebrations.
I finally decided to make a decision based on, if I was to go to anyone, then it had to be a very close friend or a colleague. So I carefully picked up on my choices and finally decided to settle on visiting one of my office neighbour at NRK, Sigtor Kjetsa. He then went ahead to plan with his family on how I was going to be picked up from my apartment ready for celebrations.
Just as we agreed, on 24th at exactly 4.15pm, his sister was outside my apartment calling. Friendly face she had and we created an immediate bond together with her husband as we drove to Sigtor´s about 30 minutes from the city centre.
We picked Sigtor´s son along the way and we managed to talk a few things about Kenya. I am loving being a Kenyan ambassador now that Kenya is a country very dear to most Norwegians and so are Kenyans, therefore have an added advantage here.
We manage to get to Sigtor and we are met with smiley faces, while others join shortly thereafter. Sigtor makes an introduction about me to his family and I am happy to meet his larger family, about 11 people in total. His immediate family, sisters, brothers in law and his mother, a beautiful Norwegian woman, clocking 90 years in 4 months time. They all seem happy to host me and I feel very comfortable at home as I bond with my colleagues son and daughter, Sindre and Maria.
“Feel at home, dinner will be ready shortly, you are most welcome,” he said. I took time to admire the whole dinner set up, appreciating that people took their time to do all that. This I later realise will be the norm in all the Christmas parties I attend. As much as we spend to prepare and set up, honestly we don´ t do this much, credible and thumbs up I gave to the Norwegians. Everything looks so beautiful and cozy. Outdoor trees are lit and decorations all over, with the candles making it complete. Christmas Carols on the background, it is truly Christmas time.
The Christmas tree is lit already, decorated with candles, angels, red hearts, balls of glass, straw ornaments, Norwegian flags and of course tinsel. Almost all Norwegians not only decorate a tree, but they usually have real Christmas trees of spruce or pine, unlike other countries where some households have a fake tree. Though Christmas trees became common in Norway from around 1900, it is believed the custom originated from Germany.
Baking of biscuits, cookies and sweets is also a major event during this time. These are made and shared by family and friends. There are also a number of Christmas markets held, where these treats can be sold to others. Most people buy their gifts in advance and beautifully wrap them ready to be given out during Christmas time. So I gather a few biscuits as I settle down to have a little chat with my granny, (bestemor, as they call her) though we are unable to communicate much because of our language barrier. However we manage to communicate through sign language, and occasionally Sindre and Maria come in and do the translation.
A few minutes later, we are ushered into the dinning table, and Sigtor makes an official welcoming remark to all of us. All cutlery set up and the red table-cloth does magic. It looks so awesome. We manage to secure our sitting positions and we sing the grace ready for feasting. Typical Norwegian Christmas buffet which includes Pinnekjøtt- lamb ribs, which has either been salted and dried or salted, smoked and dried. I am told foods such as pork, lamb, cold meats, lutefisk, herring, trout, salmon, cheese and fruits will always be present during Christmas. On this table, apart from the Pinnekjøtt, there are also boiled potatoes, Kalrabi and soup. Having been attending a number of Norwegian Christmas parties, all these are not very new. So we all get down to business. In addition to this, there is also freshly made apple juice, Christmas soda and beer and more drinks, as the heart wishes. The family occasionally engages in heart laughter and Maria who is sitting next to me cares enough to do the translations.
Moments later, we are done. I reckon this is a heavy meal, as we all struggle to get to the sitting room for something different. I am reminded that we preserve our glasses and cups because we will come back thereafter.
The whole evening has a plan set down, after a little chat, we all sit down and the next process is the opening of the gifts. Thanks to my boss who earlier on gave me a warning on this,
“Kindly make sure you do not open your gifts until the Christmas eve, and wherever you will be that night, carry them with you. Opening the gifts is a very special event for the Norwegians, and a fun moment too. The surprise and we all love this moment, we receive so many gifts and send out so many gifts too,” said Pamela.
I am told in most cases, before the presents are opened, the family dances in a ring around the Christmas tree while singing traditional Norwegian Christmas carols. So on this particular day, I realise that people had taken their time to carry all their gifts with them and place them under the Christmas tree. So now, the babies of the family get down to business, picking up the gifts and calling the owners by their names as we watch in anticipation to see what gifts were in store for us. I am told at times you are allowed to make a wish list, though in most cases it is for the children. However, Sindre managed to make his, having moved into a new apartment he tells me he wanted cutlery and kitchen stuff. And many of these he received.
This moment becomes really fun and I end up laughing most of the time. Honestly, some of the gifts were crazy. And mark these, because all these are family members, then they all know each others likes and dislikes, interests and hobbies, so most gifts are given according to what people would love to have and use on their daily errands, and so are toilet papers. So when one receives a 9 pack roll of tissue papers, that is a great saving, am not sure though whether those who received them love to go to the loos most of their times, will surely find out. It has been a common joke across the continents to receive tissue papers as a gift even on birthdays. I don´t like it.
Other gifts included, money, wine and bottle openers, mini massager (I wish I received one), woolen clothing such as socks, scarfs, hat and cardigans. Chocolates, calendars, necklaces, bracelets and earings, surprise photo framed ready for putting on the wall or on the table, emergency car kit, pillows with photos of family kids printed on them, CD and DVD´s and many more. Special thanks to my colleague for reading my blog, he actually bought me non-stop snow grabbers.
“Been reading from your blog and I can tell you have a rough time walking on the snow, those will help you out,” he said. Have read the instructions, will put them into use soonest. So may it continue snowing!
This moment of laughter took us at least two hours, leaving the house all littered up before we finally managed to clear the mess. “We go home richer than we came,” said Ana, Maria´s aunt. I totally agreed to this. In Kenya, we open our gifts on the 26th which is normally called the boxing day.
Done with this session, we now went for another round at the table. Not to eat another meal, but for dessert. Cookies, biscuits, special christmas cakes, coffee, juice, rice porridge was in plenty. The rice porridge is very special in Norway and is served with red fruit sauce on top. It is mostly served with almond hidden in it. So we all take these hoping to be the lucky person who gets the almond. Minutes later, Maria is the luck winner, pinches me and shows it to me and winks, a sign for me to remain calm and not announce it to anyone.
When we are almost done, she shows it to the rest of the family and of course she gets a prize, usually a marzipan pig or a delicious Norwegian Chocolate which she later gives it to me. So basically, I was the winner at the end of the day, I carried the marzipan pig with me. Another important ritual done during this moment, we read the Gospel of Luke chapter 2, which is basically the story behind Christmas day. We all share on this and they later get into telling childhood stories of the two babies of the family, Sindre and Maria.
Members catch up before we finally disperse a few minutes towards midnight, all of us feeling very tired. It was a great experience to have a great family host me during the Christmas Eve, I am more than humbled, even the best gift will not do. Of course for those who sent me their invitations and turned them down, you understand I could only be at one time during the Christmas Eve, however I do appreciate your care and the thought to make me feel at home in a foreign land.
This did not end on the Christmas Eve as I still had more parties to attend on the 25th and 26th, I did try not to fail anyone. My 25th evening at Joe Crampa´s place (my Ghanaian family friends) was complete with International package as we all gathered at his place for another feast and moment of laughter.
And finally on Sunday, the 26th another party at Imri´s, my boss´s sister-in-law who cared enough to invite the larger family and to have a moment of festivity. Great family indeed and all happy to be together and of course most of them have been in Kenya for holiday. So they promise to visit once more and experience the Kenyan Christmas.
After this, you can be assured I am so tired but I still have to make it to church at 5pm, where I meet other International members as the service is dubbed, International Christmas party. Today by head count, the pastor confirms that more than 15 different countries are represented here. We sing a number of Christmas Carols and a sermon is done is English, again from the Gospel of Luke. We then sing the grace, an indication that there is another meal, and I really want to sneak out. I am so full and even before I strategize on how to do it,
“It´s self service, and most International people had volunteered to make various dishes. You can eat anything and as much as you want,” remarked Torbjorn who was sitting next to me.
I finally make it to the serving table, but with very little interest. I have been feasting for the past one whole week and there is no more room left to gather more. If only my kitchen could talk, I am sure it will ask “Hey, do you still reside in this house, I miss you”. I am always too full to even make breakfast, so I have no business with my kitchen, thanks to my housemate who travelled back to Uganda for Christmas. Cooking for myself, is extremely boring and not worthy the hustle.
In church, we also played some Christmas games, great time it was, meeting new people, more games and of course the winners were awarded with one tangerine fruit (mandarin frukt) and we also sung the carols around the Christmas tree.
As I finally headed home, I have a terrible flu and of course it has to be the extreme weather I have been exposing myself to. Here I am, down with flu and hoping that it clears before the New Year so that I can catch another moment of festivity.
I am grateful to God for such an opportunity in life, to have friends who care enough to be dear friends, memories are made of these. Even as I sit down to reflect on Christmas and what it means to me as an individual, I count myself extremely blessed.
As I kept in touch with my family back at home, I am happy that they are good and of sound health and of course they miss me and I miss them too, but my assurance to them has been, “Patience had a great Christmas and so will be her New Year.”
Do have a great Christmas and a blessed New year ahead.