My husband and I had up and left Australia to live in the UK in the 1990’s and during this time I desperately hoped that it would snow in London but alas no, it never did, so in the year 2000 we decided that to guarantee snow for Christmas we had to head north, much more north.
Norway seemed a perfect choice, we had friends there and it was only a few hours plane ride away. Arriving in Oslo was exactly how I thought it would be in winter; the houses had snow covered roofs making them look like little gingerbread houses, the streets were white washed and there was a distinct smell of Glühwein in the air.
It was perfect, just like I imagined as a child. Our accommodation for the week was an artist’s compound of sorts, where artists lived and worked. It was set in an attractive tree lined street nestled into a steep slope that overlooked a small park. It was gorgeous.
It was a short tram ride from the city but it seemed rural in its outlook. The house was painted in white weatherboards and surrounded by tall deciduous trees that were now sans leaves and looking tall and spindly. The entry to the house was from the high side of the road through a bright blue door festooned with fairy lights and a half wreath of gangly twigs.
It was very rustic in that 1970’s Scandinavian way and I loved it. It was tastefully decorated in blue and white (another gorgeous Scandinavian addition to interior design) with open beamed ceilings also painted in white. The house was adorned with sketches, paintings and sculptures (all from the neighbouring artists I suspect).
Across the front door landing were up to twenty pairs of cross country skis, all in varying stages of disrepair but totally serviceable and rather quaint I thought (not that I really knew what they were for, we leave flip flops at our front door).
It turns out that after an overnight snowfall, this is the only way to get around, on flat sticks. I had not been on a pair of skis since I was a child and even then it was hardly a pastime in Australia. It certainly wasn’t something that our family did on a regular basis. And if I remember rightly, the only direction I went on a pair of skis was backwards.
Christmas Eve dinner was a true Norwegian affair. No roast turkey here, we had roast reindeer (or some other game meat, I am not entirely sure now, but reindeer sounds appropriate) kipfler potatoes, cabbage, root vegetables and a lot of cheese. I have never seen so much cheese in my life. There were more than twenty varieties on the table.
Our companions for the night comprised mainly the family of our friends, we didn’t know them at all but we were welcomed into their clan for this special occasion. There is something quite reassuring and comforting about being welcomed by strangers. These people grew up in a different country, spoke a different language and lived most of the year in the dark but we shared so many things, love for Christmas amongst a lot of other things.
I found their customs strange; they dressed up in their traditional folk costumes for the celebratory occasions like Christmas. The outfit for women was a skirt, vest and shirt ensemble with elaborate ribbons circling the bottom of the skirt and a cascade of trimming in circles of gold, red, green and white. The vest was a kind of tartan (but I’m sure not Scottish) with a plain white shirt that had enormous puffy sleeves. It really was very quaint and something I was not used to seeing in Australia, our traditional dress on Christmas day is shorts, t-shirt and flip flops, this was another world altogether.