Christmas the European way

Take a Christmas Markets tour to find seasonal spirit

Emily C. Skaftun
The Norwegian American

Christmas lights in Innsbruck's Christmas market, with impressive Alpine peaks in the background
Photo: Freddy Alexander Bugueño / Wikimedia Commons
Innsbruck is a fairy-tale town dominated by the Alps on all sides.

Nobody does Christmas like Europe. I learned that just a couple weeks ago while taking a badly timed—but magical—tour of “Christmas Markets of Europe.” A number of companies offer these kinds of tours, with varying itineraries through northern Europe and even Scandinavia, but the one I took, offered by Trafalgar, started in Vienna, Austria, and finished up in Lucerne, Switzerland, by way of Salzburg, Austria; Munich and Oberammergau, Germany; Innsbruck, Austria; and Lichtenstein. In the end I chose this one because it was a good value, while also seeming the most classically “Christmassy.” I mean, what’s more Christmassy than the Alps?

(Technically, I suppose the Middle East is more Christmassy, but that’s a whole ’nother article.)

Continue reading “Christmas the European way”

It’s not jul without karamellpudding

Emily C. Skaftun
The Norwegian American

A caramel custard with three portions served into glass bowls
Photo: Daytona Strong
For me (Emily), karamellpudding is one element of Christmas that never disappoints.

Growing up, I didn’t always love Christmas. Shopping for a family of Norwegians was an annual challenge, Dad was a little bit Grinchy about the whole holiday, and sometimes our family gathering on Julaften felt so unchanging that it may as well have been scripted. Plus, I never liked lutefisk (I know, I’m sorry!), so I’d usually end up eating some ravioli or something for the main course. Bah humbug!

But there was always at least one thing I could count on: dessert. At the end of the evening, after opening all our presents from the family and julenissen, Tante Lise would brew some coffee, and we’d sit down around the most important part of the meal—karamellpudding (caramel custard).

Continue reading “It’s not jul without karamellpudding”

Think globally; gift locally

Editor’s Notes: A message from Editor-in-chief Emily C. Skaftun

Cross-stitch in a Nordic pattern that reads "hygge as fuck" (though part of the word "fuck" has been blurred
Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
One of my craft projects that may or may not end up a Christmas gift and a pretty good expression of how I feel heading into the holidays—cozy but also grumpy and sometimes foul-mouthed.

Sitting here in my office, a week into into November, it’s hard for me to believe that the holiday season is upon us again. It is, though. In my local Safeway, Halloween candy was shunted aside on Nov. 1, with candy canes taking its place. Starbucks holiday cups are out.

And so, the holiday onslaught begins, at least corporately.

I mean, here I am producing a large issue full of things you can buy, things you can wrap them with, ways to decorate the tree you’ll buy (or cut?) to put them under. They’re available online! They ship right to you!

And yet, there’s a part of me that wonders whether buying and shipping objects to give to everyone on our list is the ideal way to celebrate the holiday that is the very essence of hygge. It’s not a radical thought. Many have bemoaned the commercialization of the holiday. But what can we do?

Continue reading “Think globally; gift locally”

Fiction and empathy

fiction and empathy - Dexter Morgan
Photo: Christian Weber / Showtime
Dexter Morgan, sympathetic serial killer of books and television fame. Fiction shows us the inner workings of characters different from us, possibly increasing empathy.

A message from Editor-in-chief Emily C. Skaftun

To me, summer is for fiction. It’s a habit deeply ingrained by summer reading lists and reading of my own that, without school, I finally had time for. What are days at the beach or pool for, if not reading? Reading for pleasure, which for me means reading fiction. Continue reading “Fiction and empathy”

On shitholes* and immigration

Symbol of immigration: Statue of Liberty
Photo: Pixabay
According to our country’s most iconic monument, we are a refuge for “The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” Taking in immigrants from “shithole” countries is central to America’s identity.

Emily C. Skaftun The Norwegian American As is I’m sure old news by the time you’re reading this, the world having moved on to another outrageous scandal in the two weeks between my writing this and this issue of The Norwegian American arriving in your mailbox, the President of the United States may or may not have asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” about countries in Africa, Haiti, and El Salvador. Instead, he suggested that we could use more people from countries like Norway.

Sigh. Continue reading “On shitholes* and immigration”

A tale of two Vigelands

See both artist brothers’ work in Oslo

Emanuel Vigeland
Photo: Kjartan Hauglid / © BONO / Emanuel Vigeland Museum
Emanuel Vigeland’s vision for his museum, built on the property where he lived with his wife, was as a showcase for his paintings and sculptures.

You’ve heard of Gustav Vigeland. One of Norway’s most famous artists, he’s the one behind the intriguing, bizarre sculptures in Oslo’s Frogner Park. The sculpture park is an absolute must-see on any visit to Norway’s capital, no matter how brief or, in my opinion, how many times you’ve been there before.

But you may not be aware of the other artistic Vigeland: Emanuel, Gustav’s younger brother. His mausoleum, tucked away in a residential neighborhood in Oslo’s northwest suburbs, is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Continue reading “A tale of two Vigelands”

The white elephant in the room

How to make gift-giving fun

A white elephant with a santa hat on.
Image: Pixabay

Emily C. Skaftun
The Norwegian American

For many years I thought the only way to make gifting possible for large groups was the Secret Santa approach. You know the drill: Everyone’s name goes into a hat and whichever name you pull out is who you buy a gift for. You hope your name got pulled by someone who has at least a vague sense of who you are and not that one coworker or family member who always gives bath salts. You know the one.

Then a few years ago I suddenly found myself in two groups whose holiday traditions included “white elephant” gift exchanges, and it blew my mind.

Continue reading “The white elephant in the room”

Crossing words with a crossword EDitor

Filling in the method and madness behind Ed Egerdahl’s Norsk-Engelsk Kryssord Puzzles

Ed Egerdahl filling in his crossword puzzle.
Photo courtesy of Ed Egerdahl
All the EDs that are fit to print! To say there are themes Egerdahl returns to repeatedly in his puzzles would be an understatement.

Those who’ve been solving the crosswords a long time know a few tricks. First, look for a two-letter blank. In pencil, go ahead and write in the letters E and D. Now check the clue. Odds are it says something like “Norsk klasse skolebusssjåfør!”1 or “kryssord mester i sitt eget hode.”2 Continue reading “Crossing words with a crossword EDitor”

Is hate a Norwegian (-American) value?

Emily C. Skaftun
The Norwegian American

I want nothing more than to let this subject go for once and all, but I’m afraid I can’t resist getting in the last word on it first. We have received an unusual amount of angry messages about a recent article entitled “Today’s Islamophobia challenge,” an opinion article that I thought was pretty innocuous. It argues that the fear and hatred of our Muslim neighbors is overblown.

But over on Facebook I had people telling me that “Islam just wants to rule the world, but they still live in the Middle Ages so it won’t happen [camel emoji],” and “If they could stop killing people, that’d be great;” telling me to “Find better writers;” and asking whether the article was a paid advertisement. Continue reading “Is hate a Norwegian (-American) value?”

Pride of country and journalistic integrity

Photo: Kay Skaftun
Yep, that’s the steely-eyed gaze of your editor bringing you a very serious “gratulerer med dagen.”

Emily C. Skaftun
The Norwegian American

Another year has gone by, as measured in Syttende Mais. In this issue in particular we celebrate Norway, country of our ancestry. Hipp hipp hurra for deg, Norge!

But then, this paper celebrates Norway in pretty much every issue, doesn’t it? It’s no secret that our position is pro-Norway, but in what’s being called the “post-truth” era, when “fake news” and “alternate facts” abound, I’ve been thinking a lot about when a newspaper’s attempt to remain primarily positive crosses the line into propaganda. Continue reading “Pride of country and journalistic integrity”

A Viking tour of Waterford, Ireland

From fancy glass to rugged stone, this Irish city has a long and surprisingly Nordic history

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
Reginald’s Tower with Waterford’s replica longship looming in the foreground.

If the name of Waterford, Ireland, brings anything to mind, it’s most likely to evoke the high-end crystal that bears the name.

But an old Norse history lurks in the name Waterford, or Vadrarfjordr (Veðrafjǫrðr), which probably means “windy fjord,” or, as a plaque in the city proclaims, “haven from the windy sea.” Waterford is the only Irish city to retain its Viking place name. Continue reading “A Viking tour of Waterford, Ireland”

How to be proud of your heritage (even if you’re white)

Nate Beeler / Cagle Cartoons

Touchy subject alert!

Let’s face it: people of color have been treated badly in the United States since before it was a country. African slaves and Native Americans were literally treated as subhuman, and their forced labor and forced removal paved the way for the (until sometime very soon) predominantly white country that we currently live in. That’s just history.

But is it history? Continue reading “How to be proud of your heritage (even if you’re white)”

Education isn’t one-size-fits-all

Photo: Daniel Lee / Flickr
Those burgers aren’t going to flip themselves. Not yet, anyway. When they do, another big chunk of workers will find themselves needing training for new jobs.

In my mind, as a teenager, there was never a backup plan: I was going to a four-year college, and I was going right away. Anything else would have felt like abject failure.

I’ll admit that my views were a bit extreme, but they weren’t created in a vacuum. Our society is constantly telling us that the only way to get ahead is to go to a university and get a bachelor’s degree, then perhaps a master’s or even a PhD. Continue reading “Education isn’t one-size-fits-all”

Peer Gynt at Gålå mixes fantasy with reality

High in the Norwegian mountains is a legendary theatrical experience worth the journey

Photo: Bård Gundersen / courtesy of Peer Gynt Festival
The natural setting is as much a part of the play as the actors and musicians. Characters enter and leave on boats and wade into the water, they chop trees apart, and of course they do it all no matter the weather.

The curtain cannot rise because there is no curtain, no proscenium arch, nothing but grass and a beach flanked by two shaggy hillocks between us and Lake Gålåvatnet. We are gathered here in the Norwegian wilds outside Vinstra to go on a journey with a character called Peer Gynt. Continue reading “Peer Gynt at Gålå mixes fantasy with reality”

Two ways to rush through Oslo

You can see more than you think on a short trip to Norway’s capital—even while smelling the roses

Photo: Nancy Bundt / Visitnorway.com / Vigeland-museet / BONO Frogner Park, a must-see in any Oslo trip.
Photo: Nancy Bundt / Visitnorway.com / Vigeland-museet / BONO
Frogner Park, a must-see in any Oslo trip.

With so much to see in a fascinating place like Oslo, you may think it best to budget a week or more in Norway’s capital city. I can’t argue with that thinking, of course, but the reality of traveling is that we can usually not spend as much time anywhere as we’d like (except for airports. We spend far too much time in those).

The first time I visited Oslo it was for one day, an afterthought squeezed in between uncooperative train and flight schedules. The second time I hoped would be more leisurely, but I ended up with just over two days! Still, one can see a lot in a short visit if properly armed and motivated. Continue reading “Two ways to rush through Oslo”

Ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær?

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun As it turns out, I really don’t take a lot of photos when it’s raining. So here’s a shot from the relatively “nice” weather before the rain started at the Peer Gynt performance. I was concerned that that woman on the left was going to die, since she was wearing at least four fewer layers than I had on and was already shivering. Hanne Maren, right, is fully bundled up, and she spent most of the evening inside a tent.
Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
As it turns out, I really don’t take a lot of photos when it’s raining. So here’s a shot from the relatively “nice” weather before the rain started at the Peer Gynt performance. I was concerned that that woman on the left was going to die, since she was wearing at least four fewer layers than I had on and was already shivering. Hanne Maren, right, is fully bundled up, and she spent most of the evening inside a tent.

I knew right away when I stepped off the plane that I’d made a mistake. Skirts and tank tops had no place in my luggage for this trip to Oslo and the Gudbrandsdalen valley in August.

I thought I had planned so carefully. The weather forecast showed some rain for my trip, but temperatures in the 60s—not my preferred beach weather, but not so dissimilar from the old school “summer” Seattle had been experiencing. I packed the sort of clothes I’d been wearing. I very carefully prepared a special clothing plan for an outdoor event in the mountains: long underwear, a wool sweater to be acquired in Norway, and waterproof outer layers. It’s the mountains, yes, but it’s still summer, I thought. How cold could it be? Continue reading “Ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær?”

Worlds collide

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How incredible are these postcards?

The dayjob does keep me from writing as much fiction as I’d like, but sometimes it’s awesome too. Like when one of my AMAZING readers/writers who happens to be an expert on postcards (like, an actual book-writing expert) sends me some samples of exaggerated postcards. Imagine the stories . . .

 

On the “untranslatable”

Photo courtesy of Maren Eline Nord, Nittedal, Norway Three grads take part in Norway’s russefeiring, the traditional high school graduate celebration that coincides with the national day, in 2014. There is no corresponding thing in America, so we have no word for it.
Photo courtesy of Maren Eline Nord, Nittedal, Norway
Three grads take part in Norway’s russefeiring, the traditional high school graduate celebration that coincides with the national day, in 2014. There is no corresponding thing in America, so we have no word for it.

Last fall an article started to go around, written almost exactly a year ago for Matador Network, called “10 untranslatable Norwegian terms” (matadornetwork.com/notebook/10-untranslatable-norwegian-terms). A quick search will turn up many such lists, all with different words and terms, in basically every language you can think of.

It’s true, of course, that translation is an imperfect art. Continue reading “On the “untranslatable””

Have we been there yet?

Photo: Amy Lietz We spent about five minutes at Gullfoss in Iceland. Does it count?
Photo: Amy Lietz
We spent about five minutes at Gullfoss in Iceland. Does it count?

Lately a thing has been going around social media: a map of the U.S. called “States I’ve Visited.” Visited states turn a vibrant pink, bragging to all Facebook friends how well traveled one is. It’s a digital, national version of a gift we recommended last Christmas, a map of the world you can scratch off to show where you’ve been.

I think these things are fun, and I’ve even given the physical versions to a couple of people as gifts. But I must confess I have a hard time filling them out for myself. My hesitation comes from an uncertainty about what it means to have been to a place. Continue reading “Have we been there yet?”

A summer tour in the Holy Land

Ancient yet modern, safe yet violent, Israel is a land of contradictions

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun An example of the ancient ruins of Roman aquaduct outside Caesarea, a port city built by Herod the Great.
Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
An example of the ancient ruins of Roman aquaduct outside Caesarea, a port city built by Herod the Great.

Since returning from a hastily planned trip to Israel this summer, everyone’s been asking me how it was. Did I have fun? And I don’t entirely know how to answer. Many of the experiences one has in Israel can’t be filed neatly under the heading of “fun,” but it is definitely a trip worth taking.

The most prominent feature of the region is religion; therefore your experience with Israel will vary depending on your religious beliefs. Continue reading “A summer tour in the Holy Land”

Are you feeling independent today?

Photo: Pixabay Sparklers are okay, but I always crave big fireworks on Independence Day. Photo: Pixabay
Sparklers are okay, but I always crave big fireworks on Independence Day.

I have high expectations for the Fourth of July, which were instilled in me before I can even remember properly by perfect celebrations at my childhood best friend’s farmor’s.

Farmor lived next door to them in a beautiful house on a lily-pad-choked pond almost entirely encircled by houses in Seattle’s north end. Together with my friend’s three siblings, I spent many a summer day in that pond called a lake, swimming and diving off farmor’s dock and even fishing, but for some reason the Fourth was special. I suspect that reason was FIREWORKS. Continue reading “Are you feeling independent today?”

Following the king for a day: eight observations in no particular order

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun Press passes make me feel so official!
Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
Press passes make me feel so official!

1. The king is super punctual. I don’t know if the trains run on time in Norway, but the king certainly does. I was given a fairly detailed press schedule ahead of time, with some non-standard times (7:29 p.m.?). I was thinking of it as more of an estimate, but I’ll be darned if it wasn’t dead accurate.

2. Covering an event as official “press” is boring. Continue reading “Following the king for a day: eight observations in no particular order”

Kvikk Lunsj v. Kit Kat: A comparative analysis

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun I decided to see how Kvikk Lunsj and Kit Kat stacked up, literally and figuratively.
Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
I decided to see how Kvikk Lunsj and Kit Kat stacked up, literally and figuratively.

Emily C. Skaftun
Norwegian American Weekly

Around this time last year I learned of the Norwegian Easter phenomenon that is Kvikk Lunsj. It seemed that the country went wild, yearly, for this… what was it? I’d never heard of it.

The name threw me at first. It’s a lunch thing? Like maybe an energy bar?

Coworkers scoffed at me. I did more research, turning up photos. Oh, it’s a Kit Kat! Continue reading “Kvikk Lunsj v. Kit Kat: A comparative analysis”

Tomato, tomat, tómatar

Photo: Henrik Omma / Wikimedia Commons You say “tomato,” I say tómatar.
Photo: Henrik Omma / Wikimedia Commons
You say “tomato,” I say tómatar.

It’s been a while since I worked in education (teaching composition to mostly indifferent first-year college students), and even longer since I was a student in the full-time sense, so today when I think about education I think about language. You see, about a year ago, having begun work at something called the Norwegian American Weekly, I started learning Norwegian.

I never picked up much beyond “tusen takk” and “klem” from my Norwegian family Continue reading “Tomato, tomat, tómatar”

Fire & ice: winter tours in Iceland

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun Bárðarbunga from the air
Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
Bárðarbunga from the air.

I recently took a week off to visit Iceland. Iceland in winter. We’d been to the country before, right around the summer solstice, and loved it. So part of the impetus for this trip was to see how we felt about the place when it wasn’t summer—when it was covered in ice, and when the sun barely made an appearance. Continue reading “Fire & ice: winter tours in Iceland”

Blame Loki for your bad luck

Photo: Wikimedia Commons “Loki taunts Bragi” (1908) by W. G. Collingwood, used as an illustration to Lokasenna in Olive Bray’s English translation of the Poetic Edda. This sort of behavior does lend credibility to the idea that Loki makes a lousy dinner guest, but in my opinion it’s a big stretch from there to “any 13th guest means someone will die in the next year,” and an even bigger leap from there to demonizing an entire number.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
“Loki taunts Bragi” (1908) by W. G. Collingwood, used as an illustration to Lokasenna in Olive Bray’s English translation of the Poetic Edda. This sort of behavior does lend credibility to the idea that Loki makes a lousy dinner guest, but in my opinion it’s a big stretch from there to “any 13th guest means someone will die in the next year,” and an even bigger leap from there to demonizing an entire number.

Today is Friday the 13th, a day for bad luck and fear. Does anyone know why? Continue reading “Blame Loki for your bad luck”

You have one week to live

How’s that for a sensational headline? But according to some, Ragnarok, the “Viking apocalypse” is due on Feb. 22. The countdown began when the horn of Heimdallr was blown on Nov. 14th in York. According to legend the god himself would have blown the horn to warn that the end was a mere 100 days away. At which point, theoretically, the Vikings would have thrown the biggest party the world had ever seen.

Putting aside the question of who decided it was a good idea to blow Gjallarhorn, I have a few problems with this.

Photo: Wikimedia Heimdallr with Gjallarhorn. Artwork by Lorenz Frølich. Published in Gjellerup’s Edda in 1895.
Photo: Wikimedia Heimdallr with Gjallarhorn. Artwork by Lorenz Frølich. Published in Gjellerup’s Edda in 1895.

Continue reading “You have one week to live”