Christmas and Scandinavia are two things that seem to be best friends. We often think of Scandinavia towards Christmas with it's beautiful snowy regions, vast pine forests and cosy, warm attitude towards the winter. Nordic living, cosy knitted goods and the "hygge" way of seeing things are more often cherished in the colder months and especially around Christmas. Even though we can all welcome some Nordic living into our lives at any time, somehow it seems easier to gently introduce a Scandi style of living at Christmas time.
So let's look at some easy and gentle ways that you can introduce a truly authentic Nordic Christmas into your holiday season wherever you are in the world. And I promise you, you don't need snow and minus degrees to enjoy all of this!
Decorate some pepperkaker (gingerbread cookies)
No self-respecting Scandinavian would be without pepperkaker at Christmas time. The shops are full of them and everyone loves to have pepperkaker to serve to guests with a nice cup of coffee. Pepperkaker are not just a gingerbread. They contain a delicious mix of fragrant winter spices such as ground black pepper (hence the name), ginger and nutmeg. In Norway many people like to have a seasonal event of pepperkaker making. There are lots of organised events centred around decorating pepperkaker, but the best and most fun events are the ones we organise at home.
Pepperkaker can either made at home, or bought ready made, and then decorated. It's the decorating that's the fun part and great to do with kids. You can let your imagination run wild. And for a truly Nordic event, serve some warm risgrøt (rice pudding) and a cup of hot, non-alcoholic gløgg.
Eat some grøt
Talking of grøt! Grøt or porridge is a big thing here in Scandinavia at Christmas, in fact at any special event, even in the summer. The most popular is risgrøt (rice pudding) which is eaten warm, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and usually eaten outside with a glass of red, fruity cordial around a warm fire after the town or city tree lighting. Julegrøt is a cosy and healthy food to enjoy in the colder months and is fun to share with friends and family. It might seem like a strange dish to enjoy in the middle of the day, but imagine a cold snowy day when you need something warm and nourishing to eat and grøt will become your go-to snack. Just breathing in those fragrant smells of cinnamon and warm rice pudding will transport you to a winters day in the Nordics.
Spend some time at a Christmas market
The Christmas market is something that has come to us all from Germany, but some of Europe's most beautiful and popular Chritmas markets are now in Scandinavia. Some of that might be in part that we are usually guaranteed snow and a Christmas market without snow is missing something. But over December many small towns have their own Christmas markets and they might not be as big or extravangalty decorated as the big city markets, but they are still beautiful.
A Christmas market is everything about Christmas condensed into one place - the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas and quickly puts even the biggest Grinch in any of us in the mood for festivity.
Let's not forget too, that Christmas markets are lovely places to finish some Christmas shopping and if you can do as we do in the Nordics and support some local craftspeople that is even better.
Put up real tree
I never really had the chance to get a decent real tree before moving to Norway and although artificial trees can look amazingly real, there is nothing to beat the smell and texture of a real tree.
Admittedly you do have to trim them a little and keep them watered, but that pine smell and the feel of real pine needles is wonderful.
If you can't get hold of a real tree, try bringing some pine fronds inside, or buy a wreath of moss, pine and ivy to bring a little of the Nordic Christmas feel into your home.
Go to a juleverksted (Christmas workshop)
Local organisations and museums in Scandinavia often host juleverksted around Christmas time where kids and adults can make traditional Nordic Christmas crafts. They could be anything from nisser making (Christmas gnomes) to baking. Why not host your own juleverksted? My family and I like to make cute pinecone crafts at Christmas time and drink some hot chocolate and eat cookies while we do it. It's become a special tradition of our's, but we also jump at the chance to go to a hosted juleverksted too as it's lovely to learn a new and special craft.
Need I say more! You hear me talking about this all the time (sorry, not sorry!). The whole concept of "Velvære" (wellbeing) in Scandinavia comes from getting out into nature and taking deep breaths of fresh air. With so much indulgence over the Christmas period we need to remember to take care of our wellbeing in other ways too and being out in nature is a wonderful and gentle way to freshen up our bodies and calm our minds. If you need a little push to get outside, take a look at my book "Friluftsliv: The Nordic Art of Loving the Outdoors", or join my fabulous course "Loving Winter Like You're Nordic". I promise you that you will never look at winter the same way again.
Decorate with natural products
You've probably already guessed from the part above about natural trees, that in the Nordics we like to decorate with natural products. That doesn't mean that you won't find some plastic and man-made materials, but most Christmas decorations are made from products like wood, pine cones and wool. Scandinavians like colours such as red, white and browns in their decorations too. We also head out into the outdoors to find beautiful items in nature that we can use in our decor. Think lovely shaped twigs that you can hang baubles from, pine branches decorated with natural ribbons and homemade crafts from sewn products. To bring a little more authenticity and fun into your decor, try making some decorations yourself.
Enjoy Lille Julaften
Christmas in Norway especially starts earlier than Christmas Day. Lille Julaften (little Christmas Eve) is 23 December and is the start of festivities here. It's a time to relax and wind down and finish the final preparations before the big event. Traditionally this was a time to clean the house, washing walls, floors and even ceilings ready for the next day. I am sure many people still hold true to these traditions and work will often end at lunchtime on 23 December. For lots of us though it is a time to relax and chill out, finish wrapping presents before delivering them to everyone and maybe stopping for a hot chocolate or coffee (and pepperkaker of course).
Make Christmas Eve the main event
In Scandinavia the main Christmas event takes place not on Christmas Day but on the evening of Christmas Eve. Families and extended families get together in the late afternoon for a celebratory meal of roast pork rib, lutefisk (a traditional cod dish which is always controversial) or pinnekjøtt (lamb), depending on the region in which you live. After dinner present giving takes place at a very relaxed pace and the evening doesn't usually end before 11pm.
And don't forget to feed your fjøsnisse!!
I am sure that most people are familiar with the little Scandinavian gnomes that appear at Christmas. These nisser (as they are called in Norway) hold special significance here. It is said that they live in barns and outbuildings on farms and oversee the health and safety of the animals. Usually they are shy and gentle but if you upset them they can be very mischievous or even harm the animals. So on Christmas Eve we must remember to thank them for their work by giving them their favourite treat of grøt (porridge). The warm grøt should be served with a knob of butter (they especially love butter!) and a generous sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon then left outside the barn for them. We never see our nisser because they are so shy and secretive, but we do find the empty bowls the following day.
Are any these Nordic traditions that you already enjoy? Or maybe I've inspired you to embrace some new ones. It's always fun to try new traditions and make our own and no-one says that it has be the way you've always done it - try something new!
Are you longing for some Nordic living in your life? Why not join us in the Living a Nordic Life Facebook Group where we are talking all things Nordic..