Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas on the farm vs Mauritius

Christmas traditions from my Norwegian culture.

I have wonderful memories of Christmas celebrations at my farm. I can still get the smell of "surkål" (cabbage a la norvegienne) and roasted pork ribs..., not to talk about all the preparations on a farm before Christmas, which I'm going to tell you now.

Each part of the country, each tiny village, each farm, have had - still have - its own traditional dishes during Christmas; different dishes from meat (pork, lamb, reindeer) and fish (cod, halibut). Turkey has become quite popular too, but I still believe that is more a New Year's Eve dish.

The first preparation began already in spring, when we bought three piglets to be fattened and slaughtered for Christmas. When I was a kid, I became very friends with the pigs, but I knew they were food, so that was never a problem. At the end of November the pigs were slaughtered. For a kid that was always an exciting time. Dad was never able to kill animals - not even a mouse - we always had 2-3 men helping, one of them was my grandfather. It was not only the meat from the pigs that were used; we made brawn, hashed lungs, salted and boiled pig's trotters, black (blood) pudding, sausages etc. What I remember the most are the boiled pig heads (!) and the mess in the kitchen! But that was part of the preparations! :)

Making beer for Christmas is an old tradition in Norway, and on the farm it was no exception! Some weeks before Christmas mom made beer, and the fun part of it was when the corks flew off the bottles and made a "BOOM" in the cupboard where the bottles were stored. :)

I have already talked about Christmas cookies in previous posts. We always used to make at least seven different cookies. I believe the most traditional cookies from the area I grew up, are krumkaker (coneshaped, wafer-like sweet biscuits made in a special iron; krumkakejern). Goro is another kind of wafer baked in a patterned, rectangular iron. Then we have smultringer (doughnuts), fattigmann (fried cruller), pepperkaker (gingerbread cookies), sandkaker (cup-shaped shortbread biscuits), serina (small tea cakes) etc. Another goodie is Delfia Cake, which is made of coconut fat (oil) and chocolate - veeery heavy!

Another important task to do, was to hang out sheaf of oats for the birds to feed. We grew oats and barley, and always saved a couple of sheafs for the birds at Christmas; one on the bridge to the barn and another in an oak tree next to the house.

A few days before Christmas Eve, my father & I went to our forest looking for the most beautiful spruce (fir) tree. When it was very cold (frost) we used to keep it in the hall to "defrost" it, so it was ready to be decorated on the 24th.

BTW - did you know Norway introduced "friendship trees"? The Municipality of Oslo has since 1947 sent trees to Trafalgar Square in London, as a "thank you" for all the help that was given during WW2. Trees are sent to Rotterdam and Reykjavik too - as far as I know.

The night before Christmas Eve mom made rice pudding (porridge), for the creamed rice to be prepared the next day. I believed so much in Santa Claus when I was a kid, that I insisted porridge with a lump of butter had to be given to him at the barn! :) Santa Claus was believed to be an invisible, little man who always helped out. As a gratitude for that, he had to be pleased with a plate of rice porridge! :) This was done at most farms in the country, but I have no idea if it is still done... My mom told us (Johnny & me) about the devil himself who was supposed to live in the room under the barn (I don't know the english word for this room...). We were scared to death of course, and behaved very well the days before Christmas! :)

The photo below shows "Kattås" (Cat Hill) - the hilltop next to our farm. I always believed Santa Claus lived there - and at dusk I saw him too! LOL! :) For some years I wasn't quite sure... One Eve Santa brought me a pair of skiis, and that Santa's hands looked exactly like daddy's hands!!! How come??!! :))

Coming from the county of "Østlandet" at the Southeastern part of Norway (not far from Oslo), pork is - and still is - the main dish on Christmas Eve. It is said as many as 90% of the population in Østlandet County eat pork on Christmas Eve! :)

Our menu consisted of roasted pork ribs, pork meat balls and pork sausages, red cabbage, cabbage à la norvègienne (surkål), gravy made of fat from the rib, and cranberry jam (whortleberry jam?). To drink there was homemade beer, other stronger beer and the famous Norwegian akevitt (akvavit). For dessert; creamed rice with red fruit sauce.

When the dinner was done, we let our bellies relax a little bit, then there was coffee, cookies, chocolates, different nuts, dried dates and figs, liqueur and cognac. There were gift swaps, we were playing some board games or watching TV. :)

My first Christmas in Mauritius was a disaster! DH's family (Hindus) don't celebrate Christmas, except giving gifts mainly to the kids in the family on Christmas Day morning. Since I had freshly moved in, I had no idea where to buy different ingredients. It didn't make it better it was heavy rain and leaking from the roof several places. I was terrible homesick and cried my heart out! But that was 6 years ago, and the last 2-3 Christmases have been wonderful! :)

In many ways there isn't a big difference in celebrating Christmas here - or other places. My traditions are deep rooted of course, and I try to make them as "live" as possible here in the tropics. Well, trying to catch the Christmas spirit or stay in the kitchen making cookies for hours when the thermometer shows +30C (86F), isn't always easy! But recalling mom's kitchen, where we had a wood burning stove - doesn't make a big difference! It was often so hot in the kitchen that I had to go outside airing myself! :))

Christmas trees (mainly filaos and pines) are sold several places, and as everywhere else there are chaos in the shops, on the roads etc. I try my best to avoid shopping these days! As I mentioned above, having our own forest where we could choose the most beautiful tree, has made me very fastidious! I can't get myself to buy one of those filaos or pines, because in my eyes they are not "my perfect Christmas tree"! :) I have always detested plastic trees, but I rather prefer the plastic ones to the trees sold here. We have two artificial trees we decorate; the biggest one in the dining room and the smaller one in the TV-room. I have brought some Christmas decorations from Norway; some Santas I've made and other decorations.

I'm very fortunate to have my dear childhood friend Johnny in Norway, who sends me a few Christmas items each year; "surkål", (cabbage à la norvègienne), "rødkål" (red cabbage) and cranberry jam. Oh, and my beloved Nidar marzipan! :) The only items for a "Norwegian" Christmas dinner I don't get here, are pork meatballs and the Norwegian Christmas beer (beer made specially for Christmas). For dessert; creamed rice with fruit sauce. While preparing the dinner, I always listen to Norwegian Christmas song, and recently I got a German CD, which is very nice too.

I love Christmas - have always done. I have begun to love Christmases in the tropics too - but it had been nicer if it hadn't been that hot! :) It is all about adaption to another culture, and make the best out of it.

DH doesn't say much, but I know he's getting used to and loves my traditions too, especially since there is not much celebrations or gatherings in within the family. He doesn't eat pork, but likes to taste the other items. :) We had a wonderful Christmas this year too - just the two of us. :)

~ CHRISTMAS 2009 ~

I've not been to Norway during Christmas - and there's no snow in Mauritius!! Photos are taken by Johnny at Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2009. His mom lives next to my ex-farm.

I have not seen anything about copy right on the Christmas cards I've added. If there is, please let me know!

Sorry the links (recipes) are in Norwegian only, but if you'd like any of the recipes, I'll gladly translate! :)


karenfae said...

Astrid what an interesting post!! I love how you told us about your Norwegian Christmas and then how you now celebrate in the tropics. Do you ever think one day you will go back to Norway for Christmas and show you husband how Christmas is there? It must be so different in the tropics compared to a northern country - how you adjusted is beyond me :)

zarina said...

I love this post. Very interesting except for those parts tied with your meat (which we do not eat). I also saw that you are putting your 'signature' on your photos (only saw this so not sure if your previous posts have those too).

ShannyK-L said...

Hey there Astrid! You know, your memories of Christmas as a kid reminds me so much of Chinese New Year when I was a kid back home. The 1st time I celebrated Chinese New Year here in Switzerland, I wanted to cry as it falls on my 1st day of final exams for university!!! Then it gets better the next and the next... I guess when we live in a new environment, we just have to make our own celebration traditions eh?

The next Chinese New Year falls on Valentines day! LOL! This gives me the excuses to decorate in RED! :D

Tine said...

Hej Astrid, Tak for en levende beskrivelse af dine norske jule-traditioner, som er meget lig de danske. Fantastisk at du orker bage i tropevarmen!
Tine i København

Sigrun said...

Så hyggelig å lese om dine tradisjoner rundt julefeiring. Imponerende at du klarer å opprettholde dem der på den andre siden av kloden. Ønsker deg et godt nytt år!

Shelley said...

Astrid, this is beautiful!!! Thank you for sharing your memories. I could well imagine my father having some of those same meories of Norway!! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas!!

*~*~*~~*~love, Shelley