The Norwegian war on Christmas

I hear Americans go on about a war on Christmas because someone says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. Bizarrely, Norway seems to be showing up the Americans on how to actually wage a war on Christmas. There are some true and some fake stories about a war on Christmas here in Norway.

From a serving tray painted by my grandma, Marion Beale Mundal

So let’s start with the Muslims: Muslims in Norway are not upset that we have marzipan pigs for Christmas (that was a humor site’s joke). Nor that we sing songs with words like “Jesus” and “Yule” in them. One Muslim blogs [in Norwegian] about why she loves this time of year. I’m tickled by the idea of a gingerbread mosque. The Muslim I eat lunch with at work loves this time of year, too. All the lights! All the “pinnekjøtt” (steamed ribs of mutton, a traditional West Norway Christmas dinner)!

However, the cancellation of the school Christmas mass in nearby Voss municipality is a real story.

Let me first tell you a little bit about Norway, schools and the church. Back when Norway still had a state church and a much more homogenous population, it was considered necessary and good to teach children in school about the church and its history. This included going to mass for Christmas during the school day, and it also included a class in middle school called “Christianity and Spirituality”.

I actually liked that class. I love learning about how things come about, why people believe the way they do, and what other ways are there to see the world. As an American in Norway, this also taught me a lot about why Norway is the way it is.

Nowadays, the same class is called simply “Spirituality”. However, Christmas mass for school children is still part of the school’s education on culture and our “Christian and humanistic values”. I believe that to deny children attendance because they aren’t Christian is to deny them information about the country they live in. Knowing what goes on in Norway and how we got to where we are today is essential.

However, we do live in different times, and the school has a challenging balancing act: It still has to teach Christianity in order to show how it influenced Norwegian history and traditions, but how much is too much?

Back to Voss. The Norwegian Humanist Association there managed to get the schools to cancel Christmas mass [in Norwegian] because it’s religious and could corrupt children. I say this is nonsense and totally missing the point of the school Christmas mass!

When I was a child in Norway, my (American) family never went to church. The one time a year when I could get inside one and see what it was like was at Christmas with my school. It did not corrupt me (or save me—see below), but it did let me learn about Norwegian Lutheran Evangelical traditions, which I think anyone living in Norway should know about. I sing Christmas songs at work every December because it’s tradition there and, thanks to school Christmas traditions, I even know the lyrics. I’m (still) not a Christian. I just go with the flow, enjoy the pretty lights and get a second cup of hot chocolate. No need to copy the school in Stavanger that requires students to hum Christmas songs so they can avoid Christmassy words.

Oh, wait, that’s actually fake news (told you there was a war).

According to the city of Stavanger’s own website [in Norwegian], there was never a ban on singing Christmas lyrics. There was, however, an accidental posting of what politically correct “lyrics” would look like (whoops).

Whew, I’m relieved. They are going to sing the lyrics. However, they aren’t going to do it in church. Here’s an article in English.

The Voss story is real, though. The background is the perennial discussion about just how much religious freedom (or neutrality) Norwegians schools should have. At what point does a religious-themed history lesson or ritual take away religious freedom from the students? Here’s how far the political correctness at Christmas [in English] goes in one school. The reason for the ban on singing around the Christmas tree?

[…]the guidelines are based upon recommendations from the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training (Utdanningsdirektoratet), which references a European Court of Human Rights decision a few years ago that recommends schools be “especially cautious” about religious activities amongst young students.

Speaking from personal experience, a beautiful Christmas mass or joining other children in song will not make your little brat a Christian. I even read from the Gospel of Luke for the congregation at my first school mass. Still, the church did not capture me, and I’ll tell you why (this is maybe why you should send your kids to mass):

The mass started with music: A choir of middle school children sang a couple of incredibly beautiful hymns (they were unfamiliar to me). I wanted to applaud, but before I could make a fool of myself, the minister got on his pulpit. “Wasn’t that beautiful?” he asked. And the congregation sighed in happy agreement. “If we weren’t in God’s house, we would applaud them,” the minister said.

Wait, what? One group of people just made another group of people very happy and we aren’t allowed to show that? What a stupid rule! What a stupid god!

The Christian church disgusted a 10-year-old girl that day. She has found her god elsewhere, and has since learned that the Norwegian church was very conservative in 1970. Nowadays, it allows rock concerts in its churches (if not during mass) and you may applaud then.

Still, I wouldn’t have wanted to have missed that mass. All in all, a very interesting experience, and something that helps me relate to Norwegians and all the generations of school children that have attended church since.

So the “war on Christmas” and the attempts at denying children history and cultural awareness for the sake of protecting them from “wrong beliefs” needs to stop. Also, the belief that the Muslims in Norway are spearheading this nonsense needs to stop. The Norwegians are managing that silliness all on their own.


PS: If you want a dose of what is uniquely Norwegian Yule, check out these photos.

By Keera Ann Fox

I am a bi-lingual American who has lived most of my life in Norway.
Jeg er en tospråklig amerikaner som har bodd mesteparten av mitt liv i Norge.

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