Our Scandinavian Holiday Traditions

The holiday season is upon us.  A time when family traditions come to life. Customs and beliefs are passed down from one generation to the next and celebrated each year.  In our home, the traditions of Scandinavia are most evident. Today, I share with you our Scandinavian holiday traditions.  Perhaps you will wish to add a few new traditions to your own.

The Advent Calendar is common in Norwegian homes during the holiday season. Typically, these calendars give you a tasty chocolate surprise for each 24 days leading up to Christmas.

In our home, rather than a confection, the doors conceal a little note on which a favorite holiday activity is noted.  To create our customized Advent Calendar, I used simple Advent Action Cards designed by Ali Edwards.  The activity noted on the card can be simple (read a favorite holiday children’s book) or more elaborate (take a drive to enjoy the holiday lights).  This takes a little pre-planning as the notes are coordinated with our calendar in advance.

In Scandinavia, hand-made ornaments are traditional and our family tree is adorned in a similar style with paper flag garlands, straw ornaments, crocheted snowflakes, and woven paper hearts.  The woven heart baskets are a great project for all ages and a great decoration for the tree.

It is quite common in Norway to get your julestrømper – Christmas stockings on Christmas Eve morning.  The stockings are packed with candy and small toys.  Children like to enjoy them while watching the traditional Christmas movies and TV shows played for the holiday season. The entire day is spent with the family getting ready for the Christmas Eve meal and relaxing at home with the family.   

Christmas cookies are a must-have for any Christmas celebration and baking them at home is a great way to bring the family together. Some of the popular cookies in Norway that you can try your hand at are: pepperkaker or gingerbread, krumkaker (waffle cookie curved in a cone shape), sandkake or sand cakes that are simple short cake baked in molds and filled with jelly, and fattigmann (poor man), a recipe that dates backs to over 100 years ago.

For more delicious cookie recipes, check out my series 5 Favorite Nordic Christmas Recipes

Another annual tradition in many Scandinavian homes (at least in the United States) is to make Lefse.  My mother and my grandmother before her would make lefse every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We now continue this tradition on our own as well as with our extended, lodge family. 

Try mixing up your Christmas meal with a different recipe. Different parts of Norway indulge in their own traditional Christmas Eve meal. In Østlandet (Eastern Norway) it is common to have ribs and pork sausages with potatoes. In Vestlandet (Western Norway), pinnkjøtt lamb with rutabagas and potatoes are the dishes of choice. While in Nord Norge (Northern Norway) lutefisk, peas, bacon, and potatoes are prepared.

Try mixing some of these foods into your holiday meal. A few years ago, I came upon an article in Sunset magazine, Christmas in the Rockies, have since began to adapt many of these recipes for our own tastes.

Follow up your Christmas meal with a delicious, traditional dessert! The popular riskrem (rice pudding) is eaten in almost every Norwegian home on Christmas Eve for dessert. The simple yet tasty dessert contains rice, in almost pudding like texture with cream or milk and sugar added. Top it off with raspberry sauce and it is ready to eat. Try it the Norwegian way by hiding an almond in the recipe before dishing out each serving. Whoever uncovers the almond in their rice pudding wins a marzipan pig, another popular holiday treat in Norway.

These are just a few of the Scandinavian traditions we honor in our family. How do you your do Christmas in your homeschool?

Barnesklubb Fair Booth 2012

Our beloved Sons of Norway Lodge in Central Oregon had an active youth group.  Our lodge here in Northern California does not.  This is one of the hardest things about moving – adjusting oneself to the changes and finding a new niche.  Not disheartened, over the past few months the kids and I have been working to establish a community of young families interested in learning about Scandinavia.  We started a Barnesklubb or youth group that meets one afternoon each month.  Our hope is that they will become members of the lodge – but ultimately, we just want to share our love of our heritage with others.

We thereby chose to take part in our local county fair – putting together a Youth Feature Booth to share with the public a little about our activities.  An added incentive was the premium offered per class – $100 for 1st, $80 for 2nd, $60 for 3rd, and ribbons for 4th and 5th.  As our new lodge is small and has no source of income (our former lodge owned their own building that they rented out for weddings, classes, etc.) – there is no funding for the club activities we desire to do.  I’ve had to pay for everything out of pocket.  Winning a premium would be awesome!

sons of norway

Sadly, the group here is so new … we didn’t have much help in constructing our booth. Those who have taken part in our activities were unable to help.  True to their Viking ancestry, my two didn’t let this deter them.  They said they would do it alone.  When Grandma was in town last month, we brainstormed ideas and they settled upon a Viking ship to represent our focus on our heritage.  The kids painted the mast, unique shields with the flags of Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland for the ship, the Sons of Norway logo for the mast, and drew out a dragon hull onto cardboard.  I cut it out for them as it required the use of an Exacto-knife.  I then helped them to tape the cardboard pieces together with shipping tape.

When we set it up, one of the fair coordinators came up to us with some misgivings and concern, “You realize,” she said, “the feature booths are for youth groups?”   “Yes,” I replied. “This is a youth group.”  “Where are the kids?  The kids are supposed to put the booth together.”  “These are are the only two active members,” I replied.  “Oh!” she exclaimed in surprise and walked away.

With that, my husband cautioned us not to expect much.  “Don’t get your heart broken if you don’t win,” he said to us.  I assured him that winning was not our primary goal.  Most of all, we want others to simply have knowledge of us – perhaps to take part if they are so inclined.  I should have realized he was foretelling the future.

sons of norway vikingWe then walked over to see our other entries – the kiddos had each entered a few “Arts and Crafts” as well.  They were again disappointed.  Those that know me personally, know that I do all I can to teach good sportsmanship and humbleness in my kiddos.  We have been taking part in the fair since the kids were toddlers.  We use it as a means of learning from others and to seek new inspiration for creative projects and handcrafts.  We look at individual entries carefully and evaluate what was done well.We attended the fair on opening day – eager to see the other exhibits as well as to see how we fared.  

We allowed the anticipation to build by first walking through the commercial exhibits.  We then browsed all the exhibits and entries en route to where our booth was located near the rear of the building.  By the time we arrived at our booth, we knew there was only one other booth in our division – Junior Feature Booth.  While we were in the “Activity” class – the other was in the “Fair Theme” class.  Knowing therefore that we had no other competition – or perhaps only one other competitor if they judged the division as a whole rather than by class – we expected to do pretty well.  We were heartbroken to see that we didn’t receive any recognition whatsoever.   

I honestly believe that I am NOT one of those moms that feels my children are entitled to accolades.  I don’t give them false hope or praise.  I am the first to admit when they don’t put in their best effort or when I can see areas of needed improvement.  The focus of this blog entry, however, was on the Barnesklubb Youth Feature Booth.  Regardless of how the kids fared in the Junior Still Exhibits “Arts & Crafts” division, the lack of any ribbon whatsoever for our Youth Feature Booth perplexed us.  If there were other entries with whom we could compare – we perhaps could have come up with some theories.

I inquired with a volunteer on hand who led us over to one of the judges – the same woman who had questioned us earlier about the lack of other youth.  As she spoke, she gave me the impression that someone else judged the booths but I can not be certain.  She stated that the judge had felt our booth didn’t have a clear message.  That we failed to utilize the 10′ x 10′ space effectively.  They don’t like people to walk into a booth and thereby the pictures on the back wall were too small.  There was no lighting.  “The judge thereby decided not to award it at all.”  Essentially we took this to mean we had been disqualified.

viking boat fair boothAccording to the County Fair Exhibitor Guidebook, Junior Feature Booths are judged using the American System of Judging and use the following score card:

      • Title  10
      • Subject  10
      • Conveys Message  30
      • Holds Interest  15
      • Appearance  10
      • Workmanship  15
      • Lighting  10

 100 possible points

So what does American System of Judging  mean?  I did a little online research and came upon the following clarification:

A rank-order scoring system which awards the top exhibitor 1st, another 2nd, 3rd, etc. based on a score is called the “American System” or the “Peer System.” There may also be special categories such as “Top of Class”, “Best of Show”, etc. While the American system uses standards and requirements, it primarily uses the idea of competition between exhibitors, pitting one competitor against another to establish the rankings. In the Olympics, there can be only one gold, silver, and bronze. That is the “American system” of awards.

In the “Danish System” sometimes called the “Group Method”, exhibitors are measured against standards, not ranked against other exhibitors.  In 4-H, and in many junior classes of events in state and county fairs, most judging involves the Danish system of judging. In this system, the judges do not judge one person’s work by comparing it to another’s. Instead, a judge determines whether the exhibitors meet or exceed standards. Often a score sheet, available from the county 4-H office, is used to help the judge group exhibitors consistently.

Wow!  So based upon this information, we should have been compared to other exhibits in the same class (there were none) or perhaps the same division (there was only 1 other).  The woman I spoke with this afternoon said,  “The judge thereby decided not to award it at all.”  She further added that she would give me the score sheet the judge used to score our booth when we picked it up at the end of the week.   Score sheet? Sounds to me like they were using the Danish System of Judging.

I am so frustrated.  If there were other booths that had better met the qualifications or received a higher score, I could understand why we had not fared well.  But this was not the case.  There was no competition.   I thereby do not understand.  How then, do I explain the results to the kids??


Lefse Day

Every year, we gather with our lodge family to make lefse.  It is an all-day affair.  It is a great social time, allowing everyone to chit chat as we work collaboratively.  This year, the lodge here in Northern California used 140 lbs of potatoes and we yielded 75 dozen lefse!

Lefse is a traditional soft, Norwegian flatbread. Lefse is essentially made from riced potatoes, flour, and milk or cream, and cooked on a griddle – however, the recipes vary with each family.


Growing up, lefse was prepared as a special treat for the holidays. We still make it every holiday season and prefer to eat ours with butter and cinnamon sugar. You can also spread them with jam and peanut butter, cream cheese, or nutella, or you can go the savory route and roll up your Thanksgiving Day leftovers.

Every year, Sons of Norway lodges around the country gather to make lefse for their members or for annual bake sales. My kids have always loved to help in the kitchen and have thereby made lefse since they were toddlers. My daughter has become quite adept at rolling and my son prefers to man the grilling stations.

Historically, the first lefse in Norway didn’t contain potatoes, it was made only from flour. Women would travel from house to house, village to village to make lefse to last the winter months. The flour lefse would cook up like a cracker and be able to last through the season.Many households stored their lefse is wooden boxes covered in cloth or just stacked on shelves. When you were ready to enjoy some lefse it was dipped in water and soaked between damp cloth until softened.

Potatoes were introduced some 250 years ago which were easy to grow and soon abundant. The potato was thereby  incorporated into many Norwegian foods, even lefse!

Like Ireland, Norway suffered from the effects of the potato famine in the mid-1800′s, which is about the time that many Norwegians came to the United States. They brought their knowledge and rolling pins. The result is a Norwegian potato bread delicacy that’s part of a special tradition replicated in many Norwegian-American homes for more than 150 years.

A tradition that you can be part of once again. For everything you need to know about making lefse, visit my Squidoo lens, How to Make Lefse.

The Benefits of Service Learning from an Early Age

I have always loved learning and believe that education is a community effort.  As an elementary teacher, I continually sought out service learning projects that enabled my students to become involved in the community while simultaneously complementing our classroom lessons and skills.  As a parent, I want my children to grow up with volunteering as an integral part of their lives.

My children and I began volunteering together in the spring of 2006 when my daughter was 3 ½ years old and my son was 15 months.   We volunteered as Living History Interpreters.  We dressed as homesteaders near Prineville, Oregon in 1880 and interacted with the public as they visited our homestead.  In this role, we utilized our knowledge of the region’s history to educate the public about the past.  With the exception of the winter months, we typically volunteered one day a week for approximately 5 hours.

We also worked with the Adopt-An-Animal program, whereby donors provided financial support for the care of the animals at the museum.  In turn, we sent the donor a thank you letter and a packet of information specific to the animal they selected which included an animal fact sheet, a certificate with a color photograph of the animal, a decal, and an activity sheet.

The children helped me by finding the necessary photographs and thereby learned to identify the names of our native wildlife.  They also learned about why the animals are in our care — all were unable to survive in the wild, typically because they were injured or became dependent on humans for food. Specific needs of the animals such as diet, habitat, and medical care provided great learning opportunities as well.  We typically worked 1-3 hours a week throughout the year.

While we no longer volunteer at the museum, I continue to involve the children in a variety of activities around our community.  We collect trash and pull non-native, invasive weeds along the river when we go for walks.  We donate canned food for the local food banks.  During the holiday season, we donate gifts for children in need.  Last spring, we began a garden to grow a few organic vegetables for our table.

Each service learning endeavor helps the children to think about what it means to take care of our community, animals, and the environment.

Service-learning is a teaching method that enriches learning by engaging students in meaningful service to their communities. Young people apply academic skills to solving real-world issues, linking established learning objectives with genuine needs. They lead the process, with adults as partners, applying critical thinking and problem-solving skills to concerns such as hunger, pollution, and diversity.

In the beginning, I wasn’t sure what sort of volunteering made sense for young children. In selecting activities, I take into consideration the interests and concerns that each of my children have developed.

One of the least expected outcomes was recognizing how the children have discovered themselves.  When we started, my daughter was a little timid and slow to talk with adults. In a short time, she learned to interact with the staff and other volunteers as individuals, carrying on conversations and discussing her thoughts openly.  On the homestead, she was always eager to show visitors how to pump water for the garden and can easily identify the vegetables we grow.

It is already clear that their life experiences and these service learning opportunities have helped to ensure that they will be self-assured and outgoing.

Scandinavian Heritage Camp :: Day 1

This year I again coordinated a Scandinavian Heritage Camp for our local lodge however, this year I teamed up with another member.  As a result, I felt much more relaxed and comfortable knowing that I had assistance.  Another positive this year was the fact that we had several adult volunteers.

Upon arrival, the children gathered around tables to color illustrations of trolls.  This allowed me to complete registrations and for parents to ask any questions.  It also helped set the stage and provided an opportunity to prepare mentally for the day.

We then gathered the kids outside to make plaster troll masks.  The kids lay down on the picnic table bench and then an adult brushes aside the child’s hair and applies Vaseline to their face.  Plaster gauze is cut into small strips or squares, is dipped in water, and laid gently on the child’s face, covering their eyes and mouth only if they are comfortable.  When it has dried just a little, the mask can be carefully lifted off the child’s face and additional troll features can be added (pointy ears, horns, warts, etc.).  The masks are then set aside to dry over-night.

After cleaning up, the kids gathered around a table where toothpicks and vegetables were distributed.  The kids were instructed to create a veggie troll … and were allowed to eat whatever appealed to them.  I don’t think I’ve seen kids eat so many fresh veggies!  It was great.  Surprisingly, too, this was one of their favorite activities all week.

Interspersed this first day, we also read The Three Billy Goats Gruff and compared the illustrations of two additional versions.  Additionally, we read through the script for Three Trolls Gruff (a variation) and divided up the parts so everyone had a role to perform come the final day of camp.

Scandinavian Heritage Camp ~ Day 4

Another successful day! As the children arrived, I asked that they each put a white base coat on a small square, wooden frame. We set these up to dry and then I gathered everyone on the floor for a lesson on the Vikings.

I read aloud Vikings by Denise Ryan (a Top Readers book by Weldon Owen Publishing). I then shared the pictures from two other titles, Who Were the Vikings by Jane Chisholm & Struan Reid (Usborne Starting Point History) and The Vikings by Robert Nicholson & Claire Watts (Scholastic). We also enjoyed looking over a 3-dimensional model of a Viking village that a student had made years ago and donated to the lodge.

The children then returned to their tables and I led them through a simple stitching activity to create their own Viking longboats. Most had never sewn before and I was impressed with how quickly they picked it up. Only the youngest required assistance to finish. The boats were made from sheets of craft foam (rather than the corrugated craft paper as suggested – the foam was less expensive and I thought the kids would enjoy choosing their own color).

When everyone was finished, we set the boats aside and practiced the steps to the folk dance we learned yesterday. We nailed it on the second try and I was confidant we would be able to show their moms at least a glimpse of Norwegian folk dancing.

We then gathered around a table where Barb, a member of the lodge skilled at Rosemaling, was seated. She showed the children the tools she uses and demonstrated how to make a basic S and C stroke. She showed how she uses her opposite hand to rest her painting hand upon. She showed how she load her brush up with paint and how to blend the colors. I was again very pleased with how attentive the children were as she spoke. Once Barb had finished the sample frame, the children returned to their table and practiced the stroke on a piece of scratch paper. When they showed they could do a basic S and C, we distributed their frames and allowed them to give Rosemaling a try along the border of the frame.

I was very impressed with the work of the students. The three youngest gave it a try – but thereafter asked, “Can I paint the whole thing?” Their frames, in the end, looked more Modern or Matisse inspired but at least they gave it a go.

We cleaned up, enjoyed watermelon and another traditional pastry, and signed a ‘thank you’ card. Moms began to linger in and when everyone arrived and were seated, we presented them with our quickie version of a folk dance. I was quite impressed with how well we pulled it off considering how little preparation we had. Kudos to the kids! 😀