On Christmas Eve in Norway, Norwegians work, shop, and hurry to finish their last errands until 4 pm when the church bells ring throughout the city signaling that Christmas has officially begun. The city is lit with ice-white lights sparkling in the darkness and the scene is magical.
On Christmas Eve, mamma has set the dinner table with roasted pork ribs and mutton, Christmas sausage, lutefisk, sauerkraut, meatballs and gravy, and cranberry sauce. Pappa raises a Christmas toast made with a glass of Gløgg, a delicious mix of mulled wine with spices, nuts and fruit. For desert, Mamma and Grandmamma have made all sorts of pies and even a special bread called ‘Julekake’ that has raisins, candied peel and cardamom with hints of lemon, mint and smoke.
After dinner the family gathers ’round the Christmas tree. Santa or as he is called in Norway, ‘Julenisse’ arrives with a helper gnome called ‘Nisse’. They are sung a carol before the giving of presents and treats. Then much like families around the world, they play games and sing carols the night long, and celebrate the blessings of the year.
If there is only one song sung each Christmas Eve it is the hauntingly beautiful, Mitt hjerte alltid vanker, (My heart always lingers), whose words in English translate as:
My heart always lingers in the birthplace of Jesus
My thoughts gather there as their main sum
There my longing has its home, my faith its treasure
I can never forget you, blessed Christmas night…