Monthly Archives: December 2013

Out Of Focus

A couple of days ago we got some of the ‘fluffy’ snow which seems to fall when temperatures are just a little above freezing. When it settles on the trees, the whole landscape begins to take on a slightly ‘out of focus’, monochromatic feel, especially when there is low cloud too. These pictures were taken yesterday in the early afternoon at Sandbakken Kapell on Senja.

Today (New Years Eve), the sky had the rich blue colour, but just on the horizon south there were a few clouds which seemed to combine with the mountains making it difficult to tell the difference.

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A Whale Of A Time

After an almost day off on Friday, Saturday brought the last wedding of 2013 and the annual Finnsnes church Juletrefest (Christmas tree festival / party).

The wedding went off without a hitch (well only the one ‘hitch’ between the bride and groom).

The Christmas party was fun, with lots more people than last year, so dancing around the Christmas tree (in a non-pagan way, singing about Jesus), required 3 concentric circles. Then there were soloists, a children’s nativity / pageant, food and a santa / nissen who was so exhausted from his Christmas ministrations that he had to be carried in!

And the whales? At Christmas some Fin whales appeared locally, following shoals of fish so plentiful they make the water appear to ‘boil’, so today we jumped straight in the car after church and drove out to try to see them. They were quite some way out and it was nearly dark so it was difficult getting good pictures, but here is what we saw.

Christmas Catch-up

Here is a quick catch up of some of our Christmas activities and news.

The parish Christmas Concert was a hit, with the children’s choir, a visiting ‘pensioners’ choir, the church band, and various soloists. Here are a few pictures:

The school Christmas services went well, including 2 of last years confirmands who bravely stepped up to sing a duet in front of their whole school:

We are learning to re-arrange our calenders to make use of free time, and that meant English Christmas dinner on Saturday 21st December, celebrated with friends from Norway and Afghanistan. Sarah found time to make a home made flaming Christmas pudding:

Christmas Eve (Julaften) is when Norwegians celebrate Christmas. This represents a shift in the last 50 or so years, away from actual Christmas Day. 9 of the 11 buildings where our congregations meet have services that afternoon, plus a couple of the old peoples centres, with about 1300 people attending (that’s about 15% of the population. For Sarah it meant a lot of traveling (3 services, 80 miles / 131 km), and for me it meant a lot of organising and people (2 services, 800 people, junior choir, band and a visiting adult choir). Sorry, there was no time to take pictures!

Christmas Day itself for the few Norwegians who do celebrate ‘properly’ means a festival (although rather solemn) service – very different from the typical English ‘show and tell’ family service. Attendance 80 across 2 services. Afterwards we enjoyed Christmas dinner with some friends, which turned out to be not so different from English Christmas Dinner (including sprouts, but excluding Christmas pudding / Christmas cake / mince pies). Again, no time to stop for pictures!

Boxing Day / Andre juledag is the feast of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr (read Acts 6:8 – 7:51). It used to be widely observed in Norway, but now has become an extension to Christmas day, with one service in the remaining chapel which didn’t get a service on the 24th or 25th. It was miserable weather, with little more than grey twilight and treacherous walking / driving conditions due to ice and rain. So again, no pictures.

Happy Christmas 2013!

Happy Christmas – God jul!

Sorry (again) for the dearth of recent posts. However, now the baby has arrived (Jesus), we should have a little more time to write some updates.

In the meantime, below is our Christmas (eve) / Julaften family picture, and here is a link to a great Christmas letter from Mark Lawrence (Bishop of South Carolina) on the subject of the Perfect Christmas a subject of much discussion internationally this year.

Oh, and on the subject of ‘perfect’ Christmases – our dream of a white Christmas was fulfilled, although today the temperature has risen to about 5C / 41f and it’s started to rain hard with a ‘warm’ wind from the south, so we might yet have a green new year.

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Blue Dawn

Today dawn came with clear skies, albeit that there wasn’t much light before about 9.15 am. But when the light comes, it’s quick. I continue to be amazed at the range of blues we see, from almost white to the richest, deepest shade of almost black.

These pictures were taken in the space of about 15 minutes:

Skolegudstjeneste 2013

Today is day 3 of our 5 day ‘marathon’ of skolegudstjeneste – almost 20 Christmas services for the local schools. By Friday afternoon nearly every child in the parish will have participated, totaling several thousand!

Following yesterday’s post about our thaw, it did temporarily freeze over night causing chaos today for the schools when the buses bringing the children to church couldn’t get up the short hill, forcing the nearly 800 children to walk (equally difficult with the same ice)! But once they were in, albeit a bit late, it was a joy to share worship with them.

Dreaming of a White Christmas?

A couple of days ago we began to experience another thaw – temperatures up 8 degrees above freezing and and rain, causing the snow to melt quickly, and creating a super-slippery surface for walking and driving (I might try to take a video of some of the more fashion-conscious trying to walk on a hill in high heels . . .).

Patches of grass have begun to appear from under the snow, and according to the weather forecast (here in English), the thaw is likely to continue well past the 25th, so in addition to the short term lack of perambulatory friction, we are faced with another, much worse prospect next week. The possibility that a white Christmas will be simply a dream.  Apparently it can happen. The Arctic continues to surprise us!

Finally, it’s been rather dark to take many pictures, but here’s one from my walk to work yesterday:

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St Lucy

December 13th is celebrated across Scandanavia as Luciadagen (St Lucy’s day). There are many different accounts of her life, including varying versions of a gruesome martyrdom. What seems certain is that she used her wealth to feed the poor, and a tradition has grown up that she carried so much food with her that she could not carry a light, so she lit her way by putting candles in her hair! So, a Black Beards arch nemesis!

In Sweden the commemoration frightening often involves a girl with lit candles in her hair leading a procession into church. In Norway the safer version is a crown of electric candles. So that boys are not left out, in Norway they wear cone shaped hats signifying ‘wise men’ (although looking suspiciously like a dunce’s cap . . .).

Today is also a significant birthday for one of the staff, so we celebrated, combining a staff St Lucie parade, with coffee, cake and the traditional Lussekatt (a kind of figure 8 shaped bun).

A couple of hours later a group of last years confirmants paid a visit to the offices with their own parade!

Here are some pictures. A prize (probably a notional pat on the back) is offered in our ‘spot the difference’ competition (see the first 2 photos). As a tie-breaker we also need the most amusing explanation of what caused the differences in the second picture!

Julespill 2013

Stage one of the Advent / Christmas marathon – the Julespill (Christmas play) – is now successfully completed! 9 performances in Finnsnes Church plus a variety of cut-down versions in the outlying villages mean that hundreds of small children have now witnessed the miracle of Christmas.

Here are some pictures:

The Christmas Express

We are now well and truly on board the Christmas Express!

The parish has already had 4 “Lysmesse” (candle lit services marking the beginning of Advent), the Advent Labyrinth (much appreciated by more than 50 people, despite horrendous weather), and yesterday we have hosted the first of 4 Christmas concerts.

Tomorrow we have 3 of the dozen or so “Julespill” (Christmas plays) put on by staff and volunteers and watched by most of the “barnehage” (pre-school nurseries) in the area. It’s good to be able to report that our ‘Mary’ is still in Norway!

On Wednesday we have the first of another dozen ‘skolegudstjeneste’ (school Christmas services). Almost all the pupils from the primary and middle schools come to one of our churches and participate in a simple service.

And on Sunday, we have our annual parish family Christmas concert, so everyone is in high gear rehearsing. If you’re in the area, do drop in!

Pictures below are posters for this weeks ‘open events’, our Children’s choir at rehearsal today, and the view over the sea to Senja at lunch time (the sea has begun to freeze and the sky was a surreal pink colour making the mountains look like cardboard cut-outs: very strange!).