Birthday rituals are a little different in Norway. For starters, you give yourself your own birthday bash rather than a relative or friend throwing it for you.
For normal birthdays you might just invite a few close friends over for dinner, but for the Big Birthdays, a grander gathering is in order. In fact, it’s almost expected and can be, in certain circumstances, offensive if you don’t put on a celebration.
This summer we were lucky enough to attend two Big Birthday parties. The first was a friend’s 40th.
All parties start with a welcome drink which is often champagne. I think I’ve drunk more champagne this year than in the previous 10 years combined!
Fruit was the appetizer. No wonder Norwegians are so healthy–no baby quiches, chips, dips, or stuffed or fried anything.
Both the day before and after were gloriously sunny and warm, but a torrential downpour was not to be deterred for this garden party.
Norwegians are Vikings, though, and a little (or a lot!) of rain is nothing to fret over. They just pitch a tent complete with hardwood floors and
chandeliers!! Party tent companies in Norway do a booming business.
Assigned seats always stress me out in the beginning, but I’m usually delighted afterward since great care goes into who is seated next to whom.
Introductions are made while everyone is standing. You don’t sit until your whole table has found their seats. This is actually smart because it makes it easier for people on the inside to reach their chairs.
Niklas was seated between two really smart, well-traveled, and nice women and they just happened to coordinate so nicely:). I sat opposite him between their husbands. We had loads of fun with this group!
This is one tradition that I just love. Someone other than the host/hostess acts as the master of ceremonies. It’s announced who this person is at the beginning of the party and anyone who has a question or need, goes to this designated person who will then handle it. Another role he/she has is to coordinate all the toasts. Anyone wishing to give a toast to the guest of honor tells the MC before hand and then he determines the order, the length of time between toasts, etc. I love how the Norwegian flag is prominently displayed at all important gatherings.
Different wines for the various courses…
Personally, I was more than satisfied with just the seafood course. That’s sword fish in the foreground; jumbo shrimp and king crab legs in the background–all fresh and grilled to perfection!
These parties are expected to go long into the night, or morning to be more accurate, so after we lingered over our multi-course feast, we went back to the house for drinks and DJ jams.
Now this is one tradition I hadn’t experienced before in all the years I’ve been hanging out with the Swedes. Maybe that’s because we’re just coming to the age where we’re going to these Big Birthdays or maybe this is strictly Norwegian. Any Swedes out there care to comment?
At least in Norway, if the party is large, someone will unwrap all the gifts for the birthday person so they don’t have to take time from their guests to do so. Huh??!?! Isn’t that the point? for the birthday person to enjoy opening their gifts? Well, not if they have to get them all opened before the dinner, I guess. During the party, it’s custom for the guests to view all the gifts and they need to be unwrapped for that to happen. I like this custom; it was fun checking out how creative people can be with their gift giving.
I acted as photographer for the party so our friends wouldn’t have to worry about taking pictures. I just took this self portrait so they would remember I was there years later when we’re long gone:).
After the DJ intermission, we headed back to the tent for these decadent desserts.
We had already sung the Norwegian Happy Birthday song before dinner which includes hand clapping and jumping around in circles. So I was surprised then, just before the birthday boy cut into his cake, this group of 80 Norwegians, or rather 78 Norwegians, 1 Swede and 1 American burst out singing, Happy Birthday–in ENGLISH! That’s classic Norwegian for you–well traveled and well versed; not only in the English language, but our traditions as well.
After dinner drinks are served with dessert and coffee…
followed by some entertainment. Jo Nesbø is one of Norway’s most beloved artists. He’s a best selling crime writer, but also writes popular children’s books, is a talented musician and story teller, too! I didn’t understand a word of his obviously captivating and funny stories, but his music performance transcended language barriers–simply put, it was amazing.
We were the absolute first people to leave before 2am and that was only because we hadn’t made proper arrangements with our babysitter about it going, literally, all night long. The rest stayed to dance and celebrate until 5am. Pretty standard in Norway–even for 40 yearolds.
The next weekend, we attended Niklas’ cousin’s 50th birthday dinner. She’d already had a big bash like the one I described above, but we attended the more intimate dinner she had for her neighbors. Can you believe this woman is 50? She’s so beautiful, fun and young at heart–just awesome, as is her husband, Steinar.
The invitation said we were eating outside so I bundled up over my party dress–some Norwegian summer nights can be downright chilly!
Luckily, they took mercy on us and moved the dinner indoors. Kristin’s house is over 100 years old with tons of great character like their living room ceiling so it was just as nice to have the party there as it was out in their gorgeous garden–and much warmer, too!
Since it was a small gathering, Kristin, opened her gifts as they were presented. Again, fun to see what she received.
Flowers are customary, plus she scored some spa gift certificates and her gal pals are taking her down to Paris this weekend for further celebrations.
Again, since it was a smaller affair, Steinar, acted as MC and host extraordinaire.
Dinner was a crab feed.
I stared at this guy a long time trying to figure out what to do. I’d actually never been to a crab feed before, but luckily Niklas’ lifetime experience with crayfish, prepared him to teach this novice the ropes.
Of course there were lots of toasts. I’ll share the history and ritual behind the Viking “Skoal!” another time since this post is already so long.
A crab feed is fun because it’s messy, you use your fingers, and it takes so long to eat them that there’s plenty of time to talk to all your dinner mates.
I was a quick learner and devoured my fair share of fresh, delicious crab!
Of course after dinner drinks are served…
and everyone lingers over desert and coffee.
When the coffee kicks in, it’s off to the dance floor!
So now you know how the Norwegians celebrate their birthdays. If you are ever blessed with an invitation to one of their Big Birthday Bashes, accept it and make sure to get a baby sitter for the whole night!