Are you dreaming of a Norwegian Christmas? Come to the Vesterheim in Decorah this weekend and get your fill of music, food, crafts, folklore, and more as the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum this upcoming weekend December 7-8, starting at 11 a.m. Each year the Norwegian Christmas Weekend gives you and your family the opportunity to see folk-art demonstrations, hands-on crafts, and Scandinavian food and holiday traditions. You can even join in! Several Decorah-area musicians and vocal groups perform to get you in the holiday spirit, so check their schedule. You won't want to miss any of the fun!
Personally, I think you can't go wrong taking in this event no matter what your nationality or tradition. The kids will love story time under the tree, and a fun activity called "Juletrefest" or Christmas Tree Party, which is probably the most favorite activity of most of the kids. Saturday story time is right at eleven, following the tree party at 11:30. On Sunday there is an 11:30 story time and it's noon for the tree party, so plan accordingly. On Saturday, you won't want to miss the Decorah Chorale at eleven, while the kids do story time. They are amazing. The museum website explains how it works: "The children hold hands and sing around the Norwegian Christmas tree and if their singing is sincere, a Julenisse may visit with his bag of presents. A Julenisse is a little elf who protects the home or farm where he lives. But beware, he likes to play tricks too, and during the holiday event there are more than one Julenisse to watch out for!"
And it's always fun when your family is discovering the museum it the characters from the Norwegian folklore (don't worry kids, they are just people dressed up like the characters), like Julebukker roaming throughout the museum. But don’t be afraid. They are only scaring away evil spirits so you can have a good Christmas! A couple little Christmas elves called "Julenisse" will tease you with a plastic spider when you are not looking.
Some of the folk art demonstrators have come for many years and their work is for sale there at the event and would make great additions to your own tree and also put a little "Norwegian tradition" in your holiday home, like the beautiful straw ornaments by Bev Schrandt of Ossian, or Norma Wangsness’s painted costume doll ornaments that adorn a tree in the Westby Ship Gallery and each year she adds another ornament from different areas of Norway on it plus check out the wonderful work of Figure Carver, Harley Refsal in the main floor building.
The museum website also gives insight to some of the traditions at Christmas besides their schedule of events, "Straw dominated Christmas decorations until about one hundred years ago. The straw was strewn on the floor during the major holidays. All members slept together on it, leaving the beds to the returning spirits of the dead. When the holidays were over, the straw was formed into animals, crosses, or figures that were thought to have protective power or to increase fertility. The tradition continued into the 1800’s. Though many of the customs associated with Christmas in Norway did not originate for the celebration of Christ’s birth, the Christian message became associated with them. Sleeping on the straw became symbolic of Christ’s manger bed and equality of men. Candlelight, originally associated with the return of the sun, became the symbol of Christ’s light. A special Three Kings candle burned every evening from Christmas Eve to January 6. One superstition that surrounded the candle was that its wax drippings could reveal the future to those skilled in interpreting them. The Christmas gospel was read before the meal on Christmas Eve, and songs conveying the Christian message were sung while marching around the Christmas tree before the presents were distributed. Christmas Day was spent in church and in the quiet contemplation of the season’s meaning in the home."
Each year the event is held on the first weekend in December, so mark your calendars to attend next year also and spend a fun family time to get you in the holiday mood, you just may want to make this a tradition! For more information, visit www.vesterheim.org to get their schedule of weekend activities. See you there!