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A Nordic Christmas is an experience for the senses. It really is everything you read about. In fact, so much so that it even has its own special Christmas version of hygge. It’s called førjulshygge. Førjulshygge is that cosy warm feeling you get from the enjoyment of the run up to Christmas. It can be anything from wandering around a Christmas market to putting the first decorations up.
In Norway førjulshygge usually starts at the beginning of December with a special Christmas tree lighting. Nearly every town and village has its own Christmas tree, often donated by people who have a large pine tree growing that they no longer want or is in the way. Everyone gathers in one part of the town or village, and it starts with a torchlit procession. Candles are such a key part of autumn and winter life in Scandinavia – shining a light through the darkness of those long, cold evenings. For this fun event people cosy up in their warmest sweaters, scarves and a hat called a nisselue which is like a long, knitted Santa hat that hangs over the shoulder or down the back. Candles are carried and the procession weaves its way through the town to the Christmas tree, going at the pace of the slowest person, usually the oldest or the youngest, until it reaches the tree. The lights are turned on and there is a celebration with a delicious hot snack called julegrøt. Julegrøt is a warm, creamy rice pudding sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and the perfect thing to warm up with after a cold evening walk.
Christmas in the Nordics is full of wonderful sights and smells. It’s the warm smell of cinnamon, ginger and gløgg (mulled wine), pine, candles and open fires. It seems like everyone is doing their best to make it as cosy as possible, with shops putting candles outside to welcome shoppers, houses with candles in the windows and the scent of Christmas spices filling the air.
Most people in Norway will put up a real tree for Christmas and why not, when the country is famous for pine forests? Did you know that the tree that is put up in Trafalgar Square in London is a yearly gift from Norway to the UK? For those few weeks that the tree is up, the house has a wonderful smell of fresh pine. In typical Nordic style buying a Christmas tree has been elevated to something cosy and memorable. Christmas tree farms host events where families take a saw and cut down their tree, usually followed by a freshly baked waffle or a hotdog cooked over an open fire and enjoyed out in the crisp, fresh, winter air. It’s a full day event that really makes the most of førjulshygge and the mindfulness of simple luxuries.
We can’t possibly talk about a Nordic Christmas without talking about pepperkaker, or gingerbread. At this time of year, all the shops fill their shelves with different types of pepperkaker. In fact, many put out a welcoming table of pepperkaker with hot fruit tea or freshly brewed coffee for their customers to enjoy as they are strolling around the shop. It’s easy to go and buy pepperkaker but making them and having a pepperkaker verksted (gingerbread workshop) is a way many people choose to slow down, enjoy a few hours with family or friends and have fun making gingerbread hearts and figures, and then decorating them. Hot chocolate and coffee are served, and some well needed breaks are taken for a bowl of hot julegrøt.
So if you are imagining a Nordic Christmas covered in snow, with warm woolly gloves and a hot drink in your hand whilst you amble around a Christmas market you would be right! But it’s also special treats like a favourite sweet, warm gingerbread and a seasonal tea. It’s a time filled with candlelight, open air cooking with friends and family, the smell of pine and relaxing by the fire in a pair of fluffy socks. Now THAT is Nordic førjulshygge!
I absolutely love this article. I want to start adding this way of celebrating the holidays to my life. Simple, yet filled we with cozy contentment.