In a telephone conversation with my older sister, Krissie, two weeks ago, she asked me if I had ever read Sigrid Undset’s Happy Times in Norway.
“No, I don’t think so,” I said.
“Well, if you haven’t, you must. It’s kind of a memoir, and she tells all about Christmas, the 17th of May, and summer in the mountains.”
As if Krissie were talking food, I drooled. Then I took action. Quick to Amazon.com. I found an old copy for $10. When it came in the mail, I tore open the padded mailer.
That night I read the first section–Merry Christmas. Oh, oh, oh, the old Norwegian Christmases Mom used to tell us about: The nipping white snow right outside the front door offset by cozy interiors featuring weeks baking to serve drop-by guests, preparing special cured meats for the early morning family feast after Christmas Eve, the beckoning glamour and warmth of the candle-lit table. In a country with so many mountains, a long cold dark winter, and few people, the Christmas gathering and rejoicing created sparks of nourishing “light,” pointing the human spirit towards spring.
And in spring came the next holiday, the celebration of the creation of Norway’s independence from Denmark and Sweden, which occurred on May 17, 1814. On this day, in the town of Eidsvold, a constitution was signed to protect “the rights and justice, the dignity and honor of the Norwegian people….to live under laws ‘sewn’ to meet their own requirements.” Celebrated with fireworks, parades, speeches, and song, Undset’s book recounts Norway’s pride in freedom.
And, lastly, Summer Vacation, Undset’s third section in Happy Times in Norway, which is a descriptive piece about life lived simply and richly at a saeter (cabin) in the mountains during the brief Norwegian summer when Unsets tells of the goats and cows who eat grass from the meadows in the valleys and produce milk for butter and cheeses, where hikes give the eyes a visual bath of moss and lichen, heather and huckleberry bushes, monkshood, and “flats of juicy grass,” blueberries, and cloudberries.
Ah, some of the wonders of three important Norwegian traditions in one little red book.