NOT QUITE DEAD YET
I remember the first time my father came to visit us in Norway. It was wintertime. My wife had created a lovely homely atmosphere by lighting up an especially large number of candles in the kitchen and living room area. She wanted to give my father a warm, cosy welcome. I remember thinking that all the candles reminded me of the 1983 Police video for “Wrapped Around Your Finger” . When my father walked in to the living room and saw all the candles, he turned to me and whispered, “Tell your lovely wife that I am not quite dead yet!”
While candles for Norwegians and other Nordic cultures are used frequently in homes to create a feeling of cosiness, for Catholic cultures, as well as many African religions, candles also symbolise the souls of the dearly departed, which is why my father made that comment. I must admit that I have always been a little ambivalent ambivalent towards candles.
FROM SPICE TO NICE
However, as I sit in the departure lounge of Mumbai International Airport enjoying a lovely vegetable samosa before I travel back to Norway, all I can think of are the cosy candles of my home. For the past week here in India, my taste buds have been tantalised and teased by a myriad of Indian flavours. but as I swallow the last piece of samosa before I head for the gate, all I can think to myself is that not all the spices of the Eastern world could beat the sweet taste of homeliness I know will be waiting for me when I land at Oslo Airport tomorrow morning, especially at this time of year. Yes, it’s Christmas, or “JUL” as the Norwegians call it, and jul is something Norwegians really know how to do well.
The Christmas month of December is the time of year when Norway at its cosiest. Norwegian houses with their big windows with their redundant curtains drawn all the way back to reveal all their lovely inner cosiness of log fires, candles, and, of course, the “julestjerne” (Christmas Star) which you will see hanging in practically every house in Norway.
The Christmas Star is such an important part of Christmas that people often buy more than one star. In my neighbourhood in Bærum, I often wonder if there is some kind of competition as to who has the most Christmas Stars hanging in their windows. One house in my street now has 5 of them, one more than last year.
A TAX-FREE NORWEGIAN IS A HAPPY NORWEGIAN
Christmas is the time of year when you will see Norwegians at their most family-oriented, their most warm-hearted, and their most happy. And there is nothing more delightful on this earth than a genuinely happy, warm, and people-loving Norwegian.
I know that at Oslo airport tomorrow, even before I get past customs, I will get to see a very particular kind of happy Norwegian, arguably one of the most happy of all Norwegians; namely, the Tax-Free Norwegian! The Tax Free shop at Oslo Airport must be THE happiest place in Norway, a place where Norwegians spend their hard-earned cash on wines and spirits at “bargain prices”, or at least they are a bargain by Norwegian standards.
And while Tax-Free Norwegian pays for his bargain alcohol at any one of the 28 cash registers waiting for him at the end of Norway’s most efficient and fastest-moving queue, he can feel good about himself in the knowledge that his money will go towards subsidising one of the many remote and less profitable Norwegian airports dotted around this vast country. This also means that his fellow Norwegians can still get to fly home and see their families rather than have to tackle all those perilous winter roads and railway tracks. Now if that doesn’t make you feel happy, I don’t know what will.
I don’t think I have seen a happier Norwegian than Tax-Free Norwegian as he briskly makes his way through arrivals with his overloaded tax-free bags full of bottles clinking and clanking at his sides as he hurries for the Airport Express Train. Perhaps just a tiny bit happier than Tax-Free Norwegian is Tax-Free Norwegian who realises as the Airport Express Train is pulling away from the platform that nobody has sat down beside him. Bonus!
SAME PROCEDURE AS LAST YEAR
Nobody quite does Christmas like the Norwegians, which is why for the past 20 years I have been living in Norway, I am glad to say that I have spent every single Christmas in Norway drinking my tax-free wine, lighting my candles for both the dearly-departed and to create that feeling of cosiness, while secretly wishing next time I get on to the Airport Express Train that nobody sits next to me.