I’m not Norwegian. Not one iota of Norwegian blood is in my family roots. And yet by sheer serendipity, I’ve grown up surrounded by Norwegian tradition and history. My birthplace of Hettinger, North Dakota was 68% German (mostly Catholic) and 11% Norwegian (mostly Lutheran). A fellow Hettingerite and blogger at The Prairie Blog recalls the saga of the “mixed marriage” in his family, one similar to my own family history . Despite the minority status of the Hettinger Norwegian community, my German Catholic grandmother and parents played their weekly pinochle games with Norwegians and owned businesses with them so I grew up eating lefse (only at Christmas and only with butter, sugar and cinnamon), making krumkake and going as a guest to the far better events for children over at the Lutheran church than the staid Catholic Church offered.
In both high school and graduate school, the school mascot was a Viking meaning that five years of my educational path was imprinted by fierce looking Scandinavian men in horned helmets. At Western Washington University, in order to humanize the image, they gave him a name, Victor E. Viking and a webpage.
So it was with some familiarity and a sense of comfort that I moved with my young son to Poulsbo, Washington in 1990 for a job. Originally settled by Ole Stubb (formerly Ole Anderson Stubbhaug) from Fordefjord, Norway, (who incidentally briefly settled in South Dakota before heading west) the town is steeped in Scandinavian tradition. Norwegian was the primary language in the community until World War II. In fact, all the elderly neighbors on the street where I lived after first moving to Poulsbo, spoke Norwegian and would regale the neighborhood gatherings with stories of Poulsbo back in the day. The Norwegians largely settled around the bay of water now known as Liberty Bay (formerly called Dogfish Bay) because it reminded them of the fjords back home. The Swedish immigrants congregated in an area still known as Swede Hill and the Finnish immigrants in an area still known as Finn Hill.
The month of December is always a glorious reminder of the town’s Scandinavian holiday heritage. The main street’s Christmas lights go up at the end of November. The downtown stores outdo themselves with decorations giving the entire street a magical feeling, particularly after dark. The three story Sons of Norway Hall which occupies a prime main street location overlooking the park and Liberty Bay begins its preparations for the Jule Fest which occurred on December 5th this year. All day on the building is open to the public for a Norwegian crafts and food bazaar serving pea soup and rommegrot, a traditional sour cream porridge.
At dusk everyone convenes below the hall at the town’s large Norwegian themed outdoor pavilion for hot cider and hot chocolate to watch the Lucia Bride arrive by boat accompanied by…..yes…Vikings…to light the Yule Log.
There’s dancing by the Norwegian folk dance group, singing by a Norwegian choir and story-telling about the history of the yule log.
Throughout the month Santa greets children at his house located on the main street and horse drawn carriages promenade downtown carrying locals and visitors.
While not Scandinavian by heritage, I like to think of myself as Scandinavian by culture. December in Poulsbo brings out the kvinne in me.