Poulsbo: A Norwegian Christmas at Home

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. OleStubbOriginally 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.

Participants in Julefest hold hands and sing around the Christmas tree in Poulsbo on Saturday, December 5, 2015. (MEEGAN M. REID / KITSAP SUN)

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.


The Travels Familia

It was frigid and flakes of snow were falling but my son,  Zach and I still posed on a tiny traffic median strip in downtown Portland, Oregon as evidence that we’d been to the Guinness Book of Records certified tiniest park in the world. Mill Ends Park, also known as the only leprechaun colony west of Ireland, is a landscaped concrete circle two feet across in the middle of a busy street in downtown Portland. On that cold November day we were its only visitors though Zach’s research indicated that the park had at various times hosted a swimming pool for butterflies, a miniature ferris wheel and a flash mob of plastic army figures during the 2011 Occupy Portland movement.

Samsung Pics 2616Portland, the setting for the quirky television series Portlandia, is a city proud of its unconventional reputation and so it was no surprise when my unconventional son, Zach, suggested a Portlandia themed trip to Portland for his 26th birthday and assigned 10 episodes to watch before catching the train from Seattle to Portland.

We have traveled many Zach-inspired and researched trips over the years and in doing so, I have discovered that setting aside my adult driven trip itinerary to see the sights he wanted to see has resulted in some of my most memorable travel experiences.

Our first such adventure was the result of a bribe to get him to finish his 5th grade report on the state of Iowa. “If you research and plan a trip to Iowa” I promised, “we’ll go there over spring break and do the trip.” Travelling to and through Iowa the first week of April when everyone else was fleeing to beaches or ski hills for spring break was a cheap road trip in turned out. And who knew the state has the world’s largest popcorn factory and ice cream capitol? It’s also the home of the president of the International Fainting Goat Association (we went to her farm….fainting goats are real), the site of Field of Dreams, Bridges of Madison County and Music Man, the home state of John Wayne and Herbert Hoover and where the only member lost during the Lewis and Clark Expedition died.

Now that Zach is a well-traveled, fully launched adult, we still find time for an occasional joint adventure and while much has changed since he was 10 years old (he can drive, he can pay for his own expenses and we can explore a place independently as two adult traveling companions would), his choices of what to see are still some of my favorites. This spring because he had vacation time from work to burn up and I was doing a meandering road trip to a conference in Las Vegas, he offered to be the co-pilot and joint planner. We alternated who decided the itinerary each day. He’s an archaeologist by profession and avid outdoorsman and wanted to see national parks (Mazanar, Crater Lake and Zion in particular) and archaeology sites enroute as well as a friend in Salt Lake City. I wanted to visit places where I grew up and went to school (Idaho Falls, Idaho), an artsy community in NE Oregon (Joseph) and attend the conference. We did it all. 

One of its many highlights was a night in Salt Lake City’s speakeasy bars (the next blog post).