Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas then and now... part two...

Tromso, Norway...

Way up in the cold frozen northern part of Norway, beyond the arctic circle, is where my Christmas traditions began, in the childhood home of my mother.

In her words, as she shared this story with women's conferences and church groups all through her life, and as I read them tonight on these now fragile sheets from her journal...

"Let me invite you to take a trip with me to the land of the midnight sun, to my country, Norway. We will fly over the top of the north pole, but you won't see much there, only snow and frozen land, and finally, after landing in the capitol city of Oslo, we board a small plane and fly much farther north to Tromso. Now I invite you into our large old home to share Christmas with us...

My father was the mayor of the town, and there were 7 of us children, and a constant flow of guests coming and going. Christmas came like a bright light every December, and we children were filled with expectation and excitement and we all pitched in to help shine the copper pieces that hung on the walls, and bake the never ending sheets of cookies that went in and out of the oven. All month the cookie baking continued and they began to fill the jars and tins, which were stored up in the attic.

"For days, leading up to Christmas Eve, friends and neighbors would drop in and visit each other in their homes, bringing their cookies and baked goodies, and their children. They would sing Christmas carols together and no one seemed to be in a hurry.

"We celebrated each day as 'tiny Christmas', until Christmas Eve finally arrived and all the planning and baking and cooking was almost finished. All the children were scrubbed in a hot steam bath in town, and our braids froze on the way home. The shoes were lined up to be polished, the goose was filled with apples and prunes and ready to bake, and the last excited secrets were whispered between us as we wondered with expectation what would be in the boxes. The gifts and the Christmas tree were decorated and kept in the large parlour where NO ONE was allowed to go until Christmas!

"I remember as a child hiding up in the attic about 3 or 4 in the afternoon and listenting to the church bells ringing in Christmas. I hadn't yet come to know Him, whose birth I was about to celebrate, but I stood by the window, looking out at the blinking lights and boats in the harbor, and I knew that God had sent Jesus to be born at Christmas, and I worshipped in a child's way, Him who I didn't yet know.

"And then suddenly, the bells started from one church, then from another, and soon together they joyously chimed all over the city as they rang in the news 'Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord"...

Now me...

When I visited Norway more than a year ago, we had to fly that same route from Oslo far to the north, into Tromso... There, on the main street of this most picturesque and beautiful city, was my mother's family dry goods store. When we were there, we saw the building, it has been modernized, and like many things that have changed, the new isn't nearly as wonderful as the original!

In northern Norway, during the winter months, it was not only cold and piled high with snow everywhere, it was also dark. One of the most cherished memories she shared were the lights, all around Tromso, in homes, in the windows, in the stores and on street lanterns, tiny dots of light made the whole scene like a dream. Candles and lights were always part of our growing up Christmases in California, and I still love them.

Side note on the attic in her home... During the winter, they hung their washed sheets in the attic to dry and they were as stiff as boards from the cold frozen temperatures. My mother did confess to playing among those sheets and if I know her... there was probably some peeking and snooping along the way as Christmas came closer!

At her dad's store in town, each window was decorated with a different Christmas scene. She said they covered all the windows with paper while they went to work and created a picture for the people of the town. When the windows were unveiled, people came from all around excited to see what this year would bring. One window depicted a cozy warm home with a fireplace and Christmas tree and candles glowing everywhere, one might be a candy store scene or a church choir... it was magical to the children to be part of such a tradition.

Then Christmas Eve finally arrived...

The whole family bundled up and headed out into the snow to their large 'state church', for the Christmas Eve service where by candlelight they joined together singing Silent Night and heard the familiar scriptures read. Finally they all headed back home for the feast ahead and 'the gifts'...

As the final preparations were put together and the goose was browning for the last few minutes, my mother would take a quick walk through the empty snow piled streets with her father, and pass by the lovely homes where they could often watch through the windows at the people singing and walking around their Christmas trees, hands joined, in a circle, babies to grandparents.

After the feast had been devoured, her father read the Christmas story one more time from Luke, and prayed. Then they all shook hands, wishing each other a Merry Christmas, she said their was a lot of handshaking with 7 kids and all the relatives. Then they each sat in one place until every gift tag was read by her father and distributed, before anyone could open a gift. And then, the papers and ribbons flew!

I can't sing or hear Silent Night, without thinking of Norway. It's a funny thing, but I have tears in my eyes, good tears, as I write this and remember Christmas in Norway, even though I was never there. The memories and stories and the twinkle in my mother's eyes as she shared her December dreams of long ago, are as real to me as if I had been there myself. When she met and married my dad, and followed him to America to begin life as a preacher's wife, all that was familiar and dear to her was left behind in her beloved country, but she instilled it in each of her 3 children with great joy. She kept her traditions going in our home as I grew up.

I am keeping that love for Norway alive in my heart and in our home...




21 comments:

Mrs. Mac said...

Such a beautiful heritage. I'm sure you are glad to have your mother's journals to recall all that she noted. Have a wonderful Christmas!

Felisol said...

Dear Sonja,
What a wonderful and true Christmas Carol you have depicted to us. I guarantee that's how the Holiday must have been in Storgata (main street of Tromsø). I'm amazed that the house is still standing in almost former splendour. It's called Swiss Style and probably had even more dragons and wood work on the roof. Nevertheless, it's rarely seen nowadays.
Everybody who lived along our winding filigree coast line,( it has just been measured to reach twice the size of the Equator),had to dry wash in the attic winter time. Our attic was rented out in my childhood after the war. We dried the wet cloths under the veranda and then placed the stiff frozen cloths on a panel oven to dry.

My mother always says, "How wonderful that the Lord in his infinite wisdom let the white snow fall in the dark winter months." You know I can hear it, if the snow has fallen during the night. All sounds are mellowed and the grey and withered scenery is packed into glowing white.
Dusk and dawn are blue and the northern light is dancing over the sky. It's a fairytale come true.

You know Tromsø is called Paris of the North. It's the largest town north of Trondheim, and people from the thee northern counties gather there. You should feel proud that your grandfather was a mayor in this important town. That sure was quite an honour.

Even so, your mother chose to leave her beloved fatherland to follow the man she loved. That must have taken one strong and devoted heart. I'm so glad to learn that she shared her folk's traditions with her children, that you might have the Christmas magic in your hearts forever.

As for the Christmas exhibitions in the store windows, they were (at least in my childhood) unveiled the first Sunday of advent. Also the day when the Christmas tree in front of the City hall was lit and the Christmas streets were decorated with garlands of pine and light. The Salvation Army would play the old carols and children walk around the tree singing along. Come to think of it, this is how it's done today as well. The mayor with his heavy chain welcoming young and old for Advent celebration.
Sadly the stores are starting selling Christmas decorations at the end of October,and that is so unnecessary and sad.

Maybe you should come home once to experience the Arctic Christmas? You're always welcome in our home as well. Even if we have less snow here south. Many choose to sail along the coast with Hurtigruta. It's an event even in winter storms,snow and ice.
You get to see the other side of the Norwegian coin.
It's beautiful too.
From felisol

Felisol said...

P.S. See the blue sky and snow on your first picture? That's the magic blue hour.

Melanie said...

What lovely and heartwarming memories. I could picture this Christmas in Norway!

Sassy Granny ... said...

Here you've shared both story & tears, and now my own eyes have welled up at the telling. Silent & holy nights - even in places I do not know & that are far, far away - are still that: holy.

I thank God for the godly & noble parents that etched your heart & mine with the true treasures in this life. May our children tell it likewise when it's their turn.

Love,
Kathleen

Angela said...

A lovely post! I have a book, Papa's Wife by Thyra Ferre Bjorn, that is about a real Swedish pastor's family that comes to America in the early 1900s. It has the most wonderful mother in that book. Your memories remind me of it. Merry Christmas to you!

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

When we arrive home to Jesus, I imagine the view from his perspective will be breath-taking. From above, we'll look down and see the lights and know that somewhere, many "wheres" on earth, lights shine in honor of the King. Carols sing in honor of the King, and scenes mirror relationships with the King. I wouldn't be surprise if it all looked a bit like your Norway looks to me today.

You come from good people, Sonja, and your remembrances are important to this generation and beyond. Keep writing them and reminding us about the Light that guides us home to Jesus.

I love you, friend, and appreciate your kindness to me.

peace~elaine

Vee said...

Precious to have the memories recorded, precious to have been able to visit for yourself, and precious to have the heritage you enjoy. Thank you for sharing with us. I can "see" it all so clearly. Have you ever considered writing your mother's story in book form? I think it would make a delightful read.

Sandy said...

So beautiful, the story, your heritage and these pictures. Thank you for taking time to share your wonderful memories. And I agree with Vee that a book would be delightful.
Blessings~

Debbie said...

I had been looking forward to this, and it was as wonderful as I thought it would be. You created a picture of Norway for people like me who have never been there. (I have always imagined it to be an enchanted kind of place.)

My favorite part aside from that church bell part was the way they covered the store windows and revealed Christmas scenes. That's such a great memory to pass down.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

It must be a beautiful place dearest. I live in Minnesota where there is a large Norwegian and Swedish population. LOVELY PEOPLE, LOVELY CULTURE. BLessings to you sweet Sonja! Anita

Farm Girl said...

What a wonderful story and what wonderful memories you have.I love the picture of how it looks now. You have been so blessed.
I love looking in the window of your memories just like the people looked in at your Grandfathers store windows. It is always such a nice surprise. I have been looking forward to this story. I love that they baked so may cookies.

Debbie said...

Oh Sonja, I have tears of joy as I read your words. How wonderful that your mom shared the stories and traditions with you and it seems many groups of women she spoke to at conferences. And how wonderful to have her journal with its fragile sheets of paper. What a treasure!

I can picture each scene as you describe it. Many similar traditions were practiced by my grandparents in Norway. I am so glad that my family has continued many of the Norwegian traditions. My mother was so good to do that and since she died my sister has continued with a few variations. I only wish I lived closer to the rest of my family to be included but Greg has learned to adopt a few of them too. :)

I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my friendship with you Sonja. I am so glad the Lord brought us together for such a time as this. I will be off work for two weeks beginning next week so I think you've stimulated me to write a post about our family's Norwegian traditions at Christmas too. Thank you for that.

Much love to you,
Debbie

PS I am so glad you are blogging!

myletterstoemily said...

such beautiful memories from your precious childhood!
i pulled a few of your delicious Christmas cookies from
the freezer and announced proudly that they were from
my norwegian friend! everyone devoured them and
were a tiny bit jealous that i HAD a norwegian friend!

merry Christmas, sweet friend,
lea

Janette@Janette's Sage said...

Oh wow!!!!!!!! It is like watching a wonderful movie...how precious. First that you have her writings, second the beauty of the story...she just takes you there...and then she passed down a love for her heritage and country to her children...no wonder her spiritual heritage was also passed down.

Just beautiful...thanks so much for sharing

LisaShaw said...

Sonja,

I have missed visiting you and have so enjoyed reading the heart of your Mother and yours. Beautiful and treasured Christmas memories and how beautiful! I felt like I was there...

Christmas has always been the best time of the year for me. I didn't have the joyous childhood you did but I had those precious moments whenever I was with my Grandparents and they made Christmas come alive for me in Christ. I'm grateful...

Merry Christmas dear friend. I pray a beautiful one for you and your family. I hope to be more consistent in my blogging in 2012. Miss our connecting. Time just has not allowed it but know that I love you and pray for you often!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Yes, Jesus is captivating, indeed. I hope you caught my metaphor dearest. Love to you on this most wonderful of celebrations! Anita

NanaNor's said...

Dear Sonja, Thank you dear one for sharing your memories with us-oh what sweet ones they are. I haven't been to that part of the world but your post came alive for me. I didn't grow up with stories of Christmas from my parents but made sure to make our own memories with my daughters. What a true blessing you are to so many and I count you as one of the Father's precious gifts to us.
Blessings to you and yours today and in the coming year.
Hugs and love, Noreen

Just Be Real said...

Hugs to you always dear one. Blessings.

ch said...

Mom, you definitely got MorMor's gift of storytelling! Thank you for more of her memories! You have always made Christmas magical for us too! Love you!

Sharon said...

Pass the Kleenex, please.

Sonja, this was so touching. I just love your mother's memories. I miss the quaintness of Christmas in other countries, don't you? I think America has lost a lot of those wonderful traditions. I'm so glad that you treasure them, and are carrying on the legacy.

GOD BLESS!