While the international world hears of “Midsummer” celebrations in Sweden, Norwegians have a similar celebration around the same time referred to as “Sankthansaften”, also sometimes called “Jonsok”. This was thought to be the birthday of Johannes the Baptist. “Jon” comes from “Johannes” and the ending “ok” is a derivative of “Jonsvaka”, meaning the church would lie awake the night before, awaiting Jon’s birth. The midsummer day has, however…
Culture & History
This post is sure to be the first of many parts where I dive into Norwegian food culture, and what makes it different, special and unique. Having lived in multiple countries, I am fascinated with both differences and similarities among countries, which is what inspired me to write a few words on this topic.
I can’t imagine a world without bread. Perhaps it’s the Scandinavian in me, but I feel tremendous happiness in enjoying a big hunk of bread, slathered with butter or some other topping, paired with a nice glass of wine. Give me that, and that’s all I knead (pun intended).
Jonsok, or Sankthansaften, is a midsummer marker traditionally celebrated on June 24th and historically a Catholic holiday. Jonsok / Sankthans is named after the baptist Johannes, whose Danish saint name is St. Hans. Religious history describes how Johannes baptized Jesus in the Jordan river, and was the first one who recognized him as the Messiah. The word Jonsok is an Old Norse word which translates to “waking night for Jon” (short for Johannes).
Fastelavn is celebrated the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and evolved from the Roman Catholic tradition of celebrating the days before Lent. Often referred to as the Nordic Halloween, children will dress up in costumes and gather treats for the fastelavnfeast. Although we don’t see as much of this tradition in Norway, it’s still practiced in Denmark, who I think are the masters of fastelavn and are known for parades and festivities across the country.
Who has heard of kringle? The kringle is a popular Scandinavian pastry here in the U.S. among those familiar with Nordic cuisine. Often times referred to as the Nordic pretzel because of its similarity in shape, it is said to have arrived in Scandinavian in the 13th century with the Roman Catholic monks. Denmark might be better known for its kringler, and although I’m Norwegian must admit the Danes perhaps have a slight upper hand on coming up with creative varieties of this delicious knot-shaped pastry. The Danish are thought to be the ones who brought kringle to the United States too, so kudos to them for that!
No Christmas is complete without a hot, spicy cup of gløgg (mulled wine) which warms up your body all the way through to the root of your hair! Sitting down with a glass of gløgg is wonderfully relaxing and tasty in between the stressful pre-holiday chores like cleaning, shopping, and cooking.
The first Christmas cookies I typically eat, are pepperkaker. These crispy, flavorful gingerbread cookies are seen everywhere across Norway from early December on to the end of the year, and a clear favorite among many kids and grown-ups alike. Nothing creates the feeling of Christmas quite like the smell of these aromatic cookies baking in the oven. Gingerbread houses are also common to make, particularly in households with small children. In fact, the world’s largest gingerbread city is located in Bergen, Norway and opens every year during this time of year.
The French have cognac. Italians have grappa. The English have their gins, Mexicans have tequila, and the United States their bourbon. But what about Norway? Our national spirit is of course... aquavit! This "water of life" is not only limited to Norway but also...
Cider production has a long history and tradition in Norway, especially in the regions of Hardanger and Sogn. Documentation of growing fruit has been found dating back to the 13th century. It was the Cistercian monks who first planted apple trees in the region. In...