Monday, December 12, 2011
Do you love all of your Christmas traditions, or are there any you keep around for who-knows-what reason? Christmas in Norway is filled with all sorts of traditions, most of them absolutely lovely, and some of them slightly... well...
One of those traditions is julevask, or Christmas cleaning. Basically, Norwegians do all of their spring cleaning in the month before Christmas. And then they do it all again in the spring. On top of Christmas shopping, decorating, Christmas parties, baking and all of the other things that happen in December, Norwegians also feel the need to scrub every inch of their homes before settling in to celebrate Christmas. Literally. It's not just a little bit of vacuuming up after bringing in the tree, or dusting before putting up the decorations. No. In my family (usually spearheaded by my very traditional father) we would empty out closets, vacuum behind the couch and scrub down the walls. I may or may not have memories of sorting my Barbie shoes. And it all has to be finished by Christmas Eve at the very very latest. Needless to say, this results in a lot of stressed out Norwegians!
There is an upside or two, of course. At the top of the list is the glowy, virtuous, exhausted feeling you have as you sit down to enjoy your Christmas in an absolutely spotless house. And Norwegians traditionally spend the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve visiting each other, so at least it's good to know that no fastidious old aunty is going to catch you with dusty baseboards!
It has to be said that I'm probably remembering this in a slightly unfair light. My mum is English, and still views a lot of Norwegian traditions from an outsider's perspective, maybe especially this one, which she sees as slightly mad. Why not enjoy the pre-Christmas season, rather than scrub it from existence? My dad, however, talks disdainfully about how the English decorate around the dirt, rather than go that extra mile to make things nice for the holiday. And I think I fall somewhere in between.
I've always thought Norwegian Christmas cleaning bordered on slightly hysterical. As my cousin just said on Facebook today, if you're not planning on celebrating Christmas inside your cupboards, don't waste December cleaning them. And yet I found myself yesterday morning, writing a check-list of everything I wanted to clean in our kitchen before I could consider it properly done. Rest assured that the top of our fridge has been scrubbed, and the inside of the freezer has been wiped. The light fixture is about to be dusted and the floors mopped.
And the absolutely bonkers thing to me is that nothing we have done so far this holiday has filled me with as much Christmas spirit as blasting Christmas music and giving my kitchen a really good scrub. I've never felt so connected to my ancestors in my life! It must be in my DNA.
Image borrowed here.