Thursday, December 23, 2010


   In Norway,  Christmas festivities start on the last Sunday in November, or the last Sunday that ends up the 4th Sunday before the 24th.
   Almost everyone has a four armed chandelier with 4 candles in it.  Every Sunday a candle is lit, while they say a little verse as they light it.  This is what really gets Norwegians into the Christmas spirit early.
   From December 1st to the 24th, there are Christmas calendars on the t.v.  These shows have 24 episodes, and there are shows for both children and adults.  Every day leading up to Christmas, another space in the calendar is opened as another episode airs.  The finale happens on December 24th, Christmas day.
    On the 23rd, the Christmas tree is brought in and gets decorated.  The presents are then put in front of the tree for opening the following day.  A stocking is hung up for the kids as they wake up on the 24th, and usually they also get one small present on Christmas morning.

   Many people go to church early on the 24th, and there are children's choirs and schools singing and playing instruments.  Then lunch is usually served, the menu varies as to where in Norway you are from.
   Some people have porridge with an almond in it; whoever gets the almond in their portion gets a marzipan pig as a prize.  Others have a traditional dish called "Molje", served only at this time of the year.  As the meat is cooked and prepared for Christmas, all the broth is kept.  When the 24th comes, this broth is salted and added with allspice.  It's always served with traditional flat bread, a very thin, crispy bread that gets crumbled in the plate before adding the "Molje" over it.  Additional allspice is added for taste.
  A must, is the Norwegian liquor, Aquavit.  This liquor is extremely strong.  Christmas wouldn't be the same without it.  A couple of shots of Aquavit are a necessity for every meal on Christmas (it's not shot straight down, only sipped during the meals).


    In between lunch and dinner, the table gets filled with cookies.  Norwegians usually make 7 different sorts of cookies and pastries for the holidays, so there are plenty of sweets to go around.  Most of these cookies are very traditional, such as the "poor man", a cookie that is very cheap to make and has a history of being the only cake poor people could afford in the old days.  The recipes of these traditional pastries are well kept until this day.

  Around 6 p.m., dinner is served.  On the menu is pork,  with lots of crispy fat on the top, potatoes, sausages and meatballs.  This dinner usually takes a few hours, and of course more drinking of Aquavit.
   After dinner,  it's time to open presents. Most children have gone the whole day, just waiting for this moment.  It's time for happiness for the whole family, or possibly stress for those not so interested in what someone receives.  After presents, it's time for coffee and more cookies, and the evening lasts long into the night.

   The next morning, on December 25th, there's a big Christmas breakfst.  There will be large amount of food, and leftovers from the night before.  Since the 25th and 26th are national holidays in Norway, families usually gather together to celebrate and rejoice for the holiday.
   Christmas ends on the 13th day after Christmas, that is also when the tree is taken down.  By that time most people are more than happy to see the tree and Santas go.  And are well fed with all of the cookies and the Aquavit that they had to drink!


   Why is Rudolph's nose red???
    It's no wonder Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer is the most famous member of Santa's team...on top of being a skilled flyer, his nose, as his name suggests, glows bright red.  This unusual variation on the reindeer nasal prominence could have all kinds of benefits, the most important of which would involve guiding Santa's sleigh.
   According to folklore, if the weather's ever bad on Christmas Eve, Santa's cleared for flight by the FAA, for that matter...thanks to the brightness of Rudolph's nose.
   But how does Rudolph's nose actually work?  How could one reindeer create a light bright enough to lead a sleigh through darkness and inclement weather?  And how could a reindeer actually develop a red nose?
   Although no one may ever know for sure just how Rudolph got his unusual nose, I have what could be the most logical explanation for how the doe-eyed deer guides Santa's sleigh: science.

Rudolph's Bioluminescence

  Rudolph could use something many organisms use on Earth in order to create natural light...a neat little scientific trick call bioluminescence.  Animals can make their own light by mixing certain chemical compounds together to produce a glow.  The reasons vary...fireflies, for instance, flash light at each other in order to attract mates, while some fish that live very deep in the ocean use light to locate prey.
   There would be three parts to his nasal beacon.  The first would be just like any other reindeer nose (so playmates technically shouldn't have shunned him from any reindeer games in the first place).  He would breathe oxygen through it, and it would be made up of two layers...the dermis, the thick, inner layer of skin that contains blood vessels and hair follicles, and the epidermis, the thin, outer layer that you can see and touch.  The other two parts, however, would set Rudolph apart from all the other reindeer.
   The second part is a thin, enclosed layer of a light-producing organ between the dermis and epidermis.  Inside this layer is luciferin, a light-producing substance, and luciferase, an enzyme that catalyzes the light-producing reaction.

   The third part is where the "red nosed reindeer" part comes in.  Most bioluminecent life forms, like fireflies, produce green light.  The outermost part of Rudolph's nose, however, would be a red phosphorescent layer...once the light-producing organs, providing enough reactions for long, intensely shiny bursts of light.
   But why is Rudolph the only reindeer with a nose that glows?

Rudolph and Evolution

   So we know that Rudolph stands out a bit from other reindeer, but how could something like this have happened??...Could Santa be some kind of a mad scientist, tweaking reindeer DNA for his own benefit, or could Rudolph's nose be a biological accident?
   It's possible that Rudolph's bright honker could be a reindeer atavism, But what's an atavism???
   An atavism is a trait of distant ancestors that randomly pops up in modern-day organisms...a whale with legs or a human with a tail are two examples.  These traits may have served a purpose for the animal way back when, but for whatever reason the trait was "silenced" over time, every once in awhile making a rare triumphant return in modern times.  Could distant reindeer ancestors of Rudolph have needed to produce light in order to survive in the wild?  You'll find most reindeer in Scandinavia, and it does get pretty dark there during the winter...so could Rudolph's ancestors have needed a better way to get around at night?

   But that doesn't explain why only Rudolph has a bioluminescent nose.  When we look closer at Rudolph's childhood, however, it could be that his bright nose was a rapid evolutionary adaptation.  It's possible that the real reason Rudolph couldn't play in all those reindeer games was due to his poor eyesight...he developed the red nose in order to compensate, and it just happened to save Christmas when Santa really needed it.
   Although his playmates treated him like a misfit in the beginning, Rudolph actually proved himself to be the stronger specimen.  Determined to excel, he could have adapted out of necessity.  The question now is whether or not future generations of reindeer could also take on Rudolph's unique traits.


   Imagine a white robed angel whose face is delicately hidden by a veil, held in place by a jeweled crown, walking into your families Christmas gift exchange.  The glow of the candles on the tree enshroud his form with a beautiful orange glow, as he enters and hands out presents from the basket held by his child helpers.  A bit different from a traditional American Santa stories, this Swiss traditional story of the Christkindli is a well-known tradition in Switzerland.  Most Swiss children eagerly await the arrival of the Christ Child in his reindeer drawn sleigh to come bearing gifts for everyone.

   For the week preceding Christmas, kids in Switzerland dress up and visit others bearing small gifts.  Bell ringing competitions between villages to call people to midnight mass have become common traditions, as have the gathering after the service for families to share giant homemade donuts (ringli) and hot chocolate.
   Because Switzerland's traditions stem mainly from 4 different cultures, Switzerland offers a wide variety of traditions and celebrations at Christmas time.  Aside from native Swiss influences, Swiss Christmas times are also influenced by German, Italian, and French customs and traditions.  Gifts are given by some on Christmas Eve, and by others on New Year's Day.  Though many celebrate gifts brought by Christkindli, others believe the generous spirits of St. Nicholas or Father Christmas and his wife Lucy to be responsible for the gifts.  The manger scene still holds significant symbolism and importance in heralding the arrival of Christ, but the Christmas tree is also an icon.  Carols are sung by Sternsingers dressed as the Three Kings in 4 languages.  It seems that Switzerland has remained neutral even in holiday spirit.

   Other holiday celebrations in Switzerland include the Chlaujagen Festival or the Feast of St. Nicholas, it is celebrated on December 6th.  A procession of lifetrager parade down the street wearing huge illuminated lanterns shaped like Bishop's mitres on their heads.   Regardless of which tradition a Swiss family follows, it would seem that Switzerland has the Christmas spirit.  I imagine, Christmas in Switzerland must be quite romantic and fairy tale like.  As the German speaking Swiss say, "Frohliche Weihnachten"!, or "Merry Christmas"!