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Christmas in Norway

Norway

Norwegians celebrate St. Lucia Day on December 13, when candle-bearing girls bring light to church concerts, and candles flicker in cemeteries to remember loved ones. Seasonal treats are saffron buns, rice porridge, and marzipan cake. Children set out food for gift-bearing elves.

Complete Video Script

Here in small-town Norway, Christmas is celebrated with a unique intimacy and a Scandinavian flair for community. We're in Drobak, about an hour south of Oslo.

While its Norway's self-proclaimed capital of Christmas, Drobak feels like any idyllic town on a fjord.

It's Santa Lucia Day… December 13th — one of the darkest days of winter — and an important part of the Scandinavian Christmas season. All over Nordic Europe little candle bearing Santa Lucias are bringing light to the middle of winter and the promise of the return of summer. These processions are led by a young Lucia wearing a crown of lights.

(Children singing.)

This home has housed widows and seniors for over 200 years and today the kindergarteners are bringing on the light in more ways than one.

The children have baked the traditional Santa Lucia saffron buns - the same ones these seniors baked when they were kindergarteners.

Taking their cue from Santa Lucia, Norwegians — cozy in their homes — brighten their long dark winters with lots of candles, white lights — you'll never see a colored one — and lots of greenery.

In Norway, as in the rest of Europe, pagan symbols - like the evergreen tree - survive disguised as Christmas traditions. The same is true with this sprig of mistletoe. In Scandinavia, it's associated with the Viking goddess of love. For Celtic people, it was a sacred plant. They used it to heal the sick and enhance fertility.

For most of us, it's just a handy excuse to steal a little Christmas kiss.

The Norwegian spirit of Christmas extends even to the departed. Candles flicker in grave yards as families remember lost loved ones. And all over Norway, communities gather together in churches just like this as choirs cap Santa Lucia day with a concert.

(Choir singing.)

And as the congregation follows the Santa Lucias out — more light of Christmas spills into this little fjord-side community.

(Choir singing.)

Christmases everywhere come with special meals. Here in Norway, families treat children to a rice porridge… and it comes with a hidden almond…

… The child who discovers it wins a… marzipan pig. It's reminiscent of the old days when a peasant family's wealth was tied up in its precious pig.

Jule Ol or Christmas beer also goes back to medieval times when the Vikings liked to celebrate the winter solstice with a particularly stout brew.

And holiday desserts are a big part of Norway's Christmas season: the local Christmas fruitcake called Julekaca and a towering marzipan krenzikaka.

A common theme across cultures is a legendary gift giver - not always fat and jolly — who kids butter up with treats. While I grew up leaving Santa Claus milk and cookies by the fire place, the kids here leave a bowl of porridge out by the barn… for the Julenisse.

These mischievous elves-from-the-forest visit each Christmas not on reindeer… but with a horse, pig and mouse entourage… and a bag of gifts. Every good child knows the Julenisse is coming with an exciting reward.

Just up the fjord, Norway's capital, Oslo, celebrates Christmas with a more urban charm. Streets are decorated, locals not ready to rely on the Julenisse are out shopping, and good cheer is abundant …

Christmas in Oslo feels low key. You'll find it best not on the streets or in the malls, but in the homes, with friends… and in music.

Youthful voices fill the city's oldest church. The old Aker church, which dates back to the 12th century, hosts the Norwegian Girls Choir for an Advent concert.

(Choir singing.)

We'll check back with the Santa Lucias and Julenisse later. And while Norway awaits the return of the sun, further south, Paris creates its own light.