Glory of Green
Stories from the Great Outdoors
God jul / Merry Christmas
It’s the 23rd of December, which means that this family can be found at our cottage in Trysil. The date also implies that small humans of Norwegian cultural heritage go a little crazy, knowing that Christmas eve is tomorrow and that tomorrow, tomorrow – they will be opening their presents (in Norway we celebrate on the evening of the 24th of December). We decided to blow off some steam, go cross-country skiing and take a last-minute Christmas-card photo. Nature did its part – kids and photographer failed. Everybody’s still happy. It’s Christmas! Or “jul”, as we say in Norway.
The nature of Christmas dreams
We’ve stopped sending actual Christmas cards around by post – now we're down to the electronic version. Sorry, but it’s so very hassle-free – and probably more climate-friendly given that we’ve already got the needed devices in diligent use. But we still like to take that extra nice photo – the photo that gives the perfect Christmas feeling and shows how the kids have turned out after one more year of life on earth.
Outside snow has fallen in the exact right amount to make Walt Disney happy and trails to be made, passing right behind our cottage. I’ll write more about the abundant ski trails in Bittermarka, Trysil, later – for now you’ll have to make do with the following information: Bittermarka is a mountain area north of the small village of Trysil. Lots of lakes, small streams, wetlands and large mountain plateaus are common. Temperatures can reach below -40 degrees Celsius in winter (I still remember peeing in a ditch by the road on New Year’s Eve the first winter after having met my husband – 42 degrees below zero breezing my bare behind – I bet the pee turned to ice the moment it left me). The cottages are far apart. We are only allowed to use solar panels and must get our water from a small creek in one corner of our land – when it freezes over, there’s a natural spring up the road – then we’ll have to drag our water home on an orange sledge. And we love it!
Our cottage lies at about 800 meters above sea level, close to the tree line – at the edge where trees are just capable of growing. The views are impeccable. Up here, many of the trees are shaped in sculptural formations by the wind and the harsh conditions – especially the pines. Snow is normally plentiful, but this year it came late, and vegetation sticks out some places. The trees are however covered to look like Michelin men – and we’ve got the trails almost to ourselves. It’s for us and the wild hares to break the clean cover. Perfect conditions for a Christmas card!
Photos of me are by my dear Erla Byre-Hjorthol
The Christmas tradition of alcohol – and sending cards
What do you do when you’re sir Henry Cole – a busy businessman of the 19 th century – with too many friends, no smart phone and no time to write lengthy Christmas letters to each and every one? You get an artist named John Calcott Horsley to draw one and have it printed in a couple of thousand copies. And thus, the first commercial Christmas card was created.
And here’s where the drama and the unintentional advertising started: On the card, the artist included a young girl being served red wine from an adult family member. Oh ho ho no! A sufficient portion of the public was not so happy… In Norway we’re quite puritan when it comes to children and alcohol, but on the 23 rd of December the whole nation watches an old German English-speaking short film, showing an old butler getting terribly drunk and then ending off the evening with a not very subtle hint at having sex with the just as old countess – same procedure every year. No Christmas spirit without it!
Hand-painted Christmas cards existed in Cole's time, but they were expensive – or Cole was stingy, depending on how you see it. He also owned an interior-decoration store, and I guess the idea of the printed Christmas card wasn’t entirely unprofitable for him in this context. So – to find the first known Christmas card ever – we have to go back to the beginning of the 17th century, when James I of England and his son received a card with the following text of it’s time:
“A greeting on the birthday of the Sacred King, to the most worshipful and energetic lord and most eminent James, King of Great Britain and Ireland, and Defender of the true faith, with a gesture of joyful celebration of the Birthday of the Lord, in most joy and fortune, we enter into the next auspicious year 1612”.
I especially like the description of the energetic lord – and the complete lack of punctuations. Change the names and the dates and you'll have next years message right there!
Winter wonder pine
Winter themes weren’t typical on the first Christmas cards. But as we all know, they just didn’t know better. After all, we’ve now established that Santa lives on the North Pole and that the modern Christmas is supposed to be white until climate change has it otherwise and we need to reinvent our ideals again. Luckily, we can still enjoy snow in Norway. We put on our skis, brought chocolate and went to look for a beautiful pine to frame the 2018-version of the Byre-Hjorthol kids – and found it.
From then we just didn’t cut it – and as having two kids smiling nicely at the same moment turned out to be impossible this year, we gave up and went for the reality of it all. One falling flat on her back and the other one laughing her head off at her sister’s misfortune. Afterwards we witnessed a not so graceful raising from the white powder – which finally cracked up the rest of us too. That’s the spirit we’re going for. God jul!
PS: Did you know that "pine" means agony in Norwegian?
Questions? Wanting to share? Duke of Edinburgh or plain Jane? Feel free to contact me.