Even if our Christmas tree is still standing, it’s all over once again. We had a great time. We pulled off the blend of Norwegian celebration on Christmas Eve or julaften and then Santa coming in the middle of the night but I think next year, we will stop dangling our legs as we sit on the fence between both traditions and embrace the Norwegian way. So that will be Santa making an early present drop on Christmas Eve and then sleep on Christmas morning. The prospect gladdens my heart, all of it, particularly the sleep bit.
We had a great time on Christmas Eve, celebrating Christmas the Norwegian way. We went to friends in the late afternoon and were met with total impressive calm in a Norwegian household, with warm greeting and introductions, a beautiful tree, presents piled high, kids running around, a fabulous table set for 12 people and the smell of pine and pinnekjøtt. And did I mention the calm. And that everyone was looking great, all dressed up. Thankfully we had followed last minute advice and my husband had worn a business suit, minus the much debated tie which he rued afterwards but we nearly got it right. We started with champagne and moved through wine or beer and aquavit throughout the meal. We had also been very unsure about what presents to bring but we knew this one would be a stab in the dark until we learned what is appropriate here. I was really impressed by the tradition of the meal in particular. For example, there was no broccoli on the table just because someone didn’t eat swede or turnip. And my dream table, there was no ketchup in evidence anywhere even if kids (ok, yes, our kids) won’t normally eat julepølse or Christmas sausages without it. This was a special traditional meal with a proper way to do it, that needed to be respected and everybody did just that.
After the lovely meal came gift-opening time with one person opening at a time so that they had the full focus of everyone and then they nominated the next person to open a gift and so on. There was huge suspense and very impressive restraint shown by the kids in particular. It was great fun. Perhaps we can learn from this, I said to my husband mid-way through, thinking about our normal chaotic simultaneous opening of presents where we all go a bit nuts and then spend the rest of the day revisiting random items that we hadn’t really looked at properly in our race to open everything. It’s that all-pervasive calm I keep telling you about. Well, we had absolutely none of it the following morning but there is always next year to re-write the rules a little bit.
After Christmas we went to Ireland, the first time I had been on a Ryan Air flight in a while. I was curious about their much-touted improved customer service. I saw it in action alright. They didn’t hassle me once with any announcements or information when we were parked on the runway, belted and buckled and going nowhere for 45 minutes. The stillness was deafening. All in all, it was a pleasant flight and attendants were more personable, happier even, than I remember.
And then there was Ireland, the homeland. As ever, people were very friendly and chatty, and it takes a bit of getting used to again in terms of easing of facial muscles to just smile and acknowledge niceties. My niece was waiting for us and there was a joyous reunion with the kids screaming her name and lots of hugging. There was the nice driver of the Hertz shuttle van to the hire car who kindly waited for us as he saw us come flailingly down the path in his direction. And then I bet he wished he hadn’t because Nora threw up all over herself, the seat and the floor just before we reached the Hertz car depot. I cleaned up as best I could and apologised of course, lying weakly, “It was mainly liquid, it doesn’t smell too bad really…” It was the best I could offer, given the circumstances.
We arrived in my home town later that evening and as always, it was great to see family. Alexander, my son, bolted up a tree to a treehouse as soon as he got out of the car when we reached the farm. He promptly started to scream indignantly, firstly because this was clearly the new local cat restaurant, with 6 bowls left there at a safe height so that they couldn’t be bothered by pesky dogs down on planet earth. This bothered the boy greatly. He is more of a dog man. Secondly, he couldn’t get down again and needed urgent rescuing. It was good to be home.
I couldn’t believe how wet it was at home. You see, for years I have been calling home and my mother tells me “The weather is shocking, it never stops raining” . We Irish like to talk about the weather a lot. And particularly the rain, how much of it there is, how long it has been here and how it never goes away anymore. So let’s just say that I don’t take too much notice when my mother tells me that the whole place is underwater, as I figured that at that rate, the West of Ireland would be no more, with fish swimming on top of it. Well, what did I know, it turned out that she was right. Storm Desmond had brought rain and flooding in early December. We were there for Storm Frank, an onslaught of relentless rain and wind and cold, oh such cold. There was flooding in roads and areas that I hadn’t seen flooded since I was a kid. My brother’s farm was like I had never seen it before, water and flooding everywhere, eroded paths, mud or as we say, muck, everywhere. Mom 1, doubting daughter 0. And here’s hoping that Desmond and Frank have neither siblings nor distant cousins.
We were back in Oslo for New Year’s Eve with good friends visiting from Ireland. 2016 started literally with enormous banging, with fireworks, rockets and other noisy dangerous weapons you could shoot in to the sky to make sparkle. This year, instead of sitting on the balcony toasting the new year with the kids safely in bed, we went out and joined others from the neighbourhood at midnight in some open space near the local school. It was mainly immigrants who were out with their kids to set off the fireworks or just spectate. Norwegians probably have more sense and stay in the warmth with kids tucked up in bed. It started off calm but then due to sheer volume of people with fireworks, it turned into a crazy melee that seemed one step away from chaos at some point. It was time for a toast at home and bed at that stage.
So keen for snow and sledging were we that we went out on January 2nd to sledge when there had been less than 2 inches of snow. Spot the immigrants and tourists, any self-respecting local here would know that that you can’t sledge in that little snow but we carried on regardless, part-sledging, and part-rolling down a hill a few times. All kids and one adventurous Irish teenage boy went home happy.
With another 2 inches of snow overnight, we were out again on a bigger stony slope the next day. Ignoring the grating sound from under the sledges due to a totally inadequate amount of snow, the boys in particular went helter skelter down a big hill more than a few times. Again, for some very obvious reasons, nobody came out to join us. We got some strange looks alright but we decided to ignore them.
And so that was the Christmas season. As for the tree, the record I am not looking to break this year is taking the Christmas tree down just before St Patrick’s day on March 17th which is what happened in our house once when we were kids. It was of course a real tree and it was less than a shadow of itself by the time my father walked it out the door in March. Why we left it there, I am not sure, maybe it was some mad form of rebellion against the pressure to take down the much loved tree on January 6th, Little Christmas. Wild, crazy stuff. Pine needles everywhere and layers of dust on the decorations. Again, wild crazy stuff. Not this year, it is coming down tomorrow with the help of 2 little people.