Five ways to embrace Christmas in Norway
My birthday happens to be exactly two weeks before Christmas. Being born in Australia, this means that I was a ‘summer baby’ and so my birthdays have traditionally involved beach BBQ’s, water parks or drinking in the sun.
Needless to say then, that when I received a surprise trip to Norway for my birthday this year I went to all lengths to fully embrace the Scandinavian wintry Christmas experience!
The freezing temperatures (minus 14C when we were there!), the long dark days and the frequent snow means Norwegians know how to amplify the warm glowing coziness of Christmas (called ‘jul’) to bring joy to their otherwise bleak December days.
If you’re ever in that part of the world during the festive season, here are some ideas of things to do to get that proper cozy and magical ‘Christmassy’ feeling.
Get lost in the Christmas markets
London, as I’m sure other cities, usually has a Winter Wonderland festival which in short is a Christmas-themed, theme park. I was pleasantly surprised to find a Winter Wonderland in the heart of Oslo, and that it was more along the lines of a traditional Christmas market. With just a Ferris Wheel and ice rink on offer for rides, it felt much less chaotic which suited me!
Situated in the main square of the city, the Wonderland had an array of stalls in wooden huts selling traditional sausage hot dogs, chocolates, Christmas ornaments, lots of wool and cashmere accessories, marzipan sweets (quite popular was the marzipan pig for some reason), toffee apples, cured meats and cheeses, to name a few.
The many market stalls were interspersed with open fires so shoppers could stop and warm their hands and which added a lovely smokey smell to the air, and of course refreshment areas to keep you merry and bright!
Sample the Glögg (pronounced ‘glurgg’) – mulled wine
One of my favorite things about a wintry Christmas is the mulled wine, and trust me – I’ve tried a lot of it! But none of it could compare to the ‘glögg’ I tasted in Norway. It was sensational, and moreish!
Perhaps it was the fact that for once, I was actually freezing cold when I had it and could truly experience the inner warmth that the ‘mulled’ spices offer.
Or it could have been the fun new custom I got to try of scooping spoonfuls of raisins and almonds into the drink, and the excitement of being rewarded at the end with mouthfuls of plump, wine-filled fruits bursting in my mouth.
Whatever it was, damn it was good, and I kept going back for more.
Take a turn on the ice
The open outdoor skating rink in Oslo would have been at least three times the size of those found in London. Whats more, it had less people, and less rules!
We had freedom to skate as long as we wanted in whatever direction we chose. A far cry from going around in dizzying circles for your allocated half hour on the ice. We only had to pay for renting our skates which was only about £10 to use as long as we wanted.
Growing up with ice and snow pretty much being a guaranteed every winter, Norwegians know how to skate. Quite a few locals brought their own skates and boy, did they know how to use them. Made me feel so awkward as they gracefully glided around me.
In addition, the children seemed to have a whole different attitude towards learning to skate then do the Brits. They were fearless, unafraid to fall and if they did they just laughed, torpedoed up again and shot off. You could tell the ice was their natural habitat.
It was so wonderful to skate at my own leisurely pace (and direction!) in the brisk air, breathing like a dragon, enjoying the smells of the birch-wood fires, and soaking up the laughter and smiles of people enjoying the festive season all around.
Visit Norway’s ‘Christmas Town’ – Lillehammer
Only a two hour train journey away from Oslo is a little ski town called Lillehammer. The name might sound familiar as it hosted the 1994 Winter Olympics.
Jumping off the train at Lillehammer expect to be plunged into even colder temperatures than Oslo, but wandering the main street is like being transported into one of those classical Christmas movies.
The atmosphere was perfect. Everything is covered in white snow, twinkle lights and open fires abound, all the stores have candle lanterns at the entrances enticing shoppers in from the cold, a choir is singing carols as the snow gently falls.
Piles of snow and ice lay all around on the streets, and at the park at the end of the high street children were sledding down the hill squealing in delight. Santa was even jingling up and down the street bellowing ‘ho ho ho’.
If you plan to stay longer you can even find yourself a horse drawn sleigh ride or a nearby dog sled to try. Again, be prepared to pay, but what an experience it would be! I didn’t have time or funds but would recommend it if you’re able.
The stores along the main street are all small and boutique and such fun to explore. I particularly liked all the craft stores and home made traditional toys. If I wasn’t restricted to hand luggage there is so much unique and lovely gifts I would have bought!
The train journey, like most things in Norway was a bit pricey at £75 return but it’s a very comfortable ride and the scenery on the way to the mountains is a fun little experience on its own. The trains even have a segregated enclosed play area for children and strictly enforced quiet carriages.
Embrace the coziness
Of course when the cold weather starts to get a bit much, do like the Scandinavians do and create happiness by embracing all things warm and cozy. This is what most of the locals are doing while you’re out and about trying to do your best at being a tourist in the cold and dark!
Scandinavians call the creation of coziness ‘hygge’.
If you’re staying in a local’s home through Airbnb you’ll see that everything in the interior design is created to bring this to life. Plenty of lamps, fluffy rugs, deep seated soft furniture, and candles everywhere are staples to any home in this part of the world.
At this time of the year the hygge goes on overload, with the warm glow of the Christmas tree, the ‘togetherness’ of friends and family, and all the warm, comforting foods and drinks.
Live like a local and pick up some traditional Christmas ‘Pepparkakor’ ginger biscuits at the local store, get under a rug on the couch and watch it snow outside with some warm milk or glögg.
Being in this part of the world during the festive season is the best Christmas present you could give yourself or a loved one. To begin planning your festive trip, start with Visit Norway or Visit Oslo. I’d recommend you put it on Santa’s list for next year!