Hei venner! (Hello, Friends!)
This week we are going to do something fun! We are going to celebrate all things Norway! And this is the perfect week to highlight this gorgeous country, which calls to my heart in so many ways. I chose this week in particular to delve into the history, culture and good books of Norway because it includes two very special dates. On May 17 ( syttende mai ) Norway will celebrate it’s Constitution Day, a day of celebration and national pride in Norway. May 20 is also very special because it is the birthday of beloved Norwegian writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Sigrid Undset, who’s work I am so captivated by– something I know I share with so many of you, especially since we so recently read Undest’s Kristin Lavransdatter together.
I have been fascinated by all things Scandinavian since I was a child– my American Girl Doll Kirsten Larson was my gateway into all things ‘God Jul’ and the holiday of St. Lucia. My love for Scandi culture only grew as I became an adult and had a family— we’ve traveled several times to Lindsborg, Kansas to enjoy Scandi life on the prairie, and Scandinavian country home aesthetic is one of my favorites.
My interest in Norway has also been fostered by my good friend Winnie Nielsen, who married her own “Norwegian Viking”, and spent many years sharing the Nielsen Norwegian heritage with her daughters and then with me! She’s had so many tips about foods to try, her own travels to this beautiful country, and family stories of when the Nielsens came to America. I know I can always count on Winnie when I’ve got an obscure Norwegian or Scandi interest, and she also joined me in reading Kristin Lavransdatter at the beginning of this year.
It is also thanks to Winnie that I have a giveaway treat to share with you this week….in the form of a copy of Sigrid Undset’s novel “Happy Times in Norway.” Winnie sent me a current copy of this book at around the same time I found a copy in Lindsborg this spring. We decided then that we should give away this book to one lucky reader here on the blog (and/or on my instagram) so that someone else could enjoy these heartwarming stories! If you would like to receive a copy of “Happy Times in Norway,” please comment on this post or the corresponding post on my instagram. The winner will be announced on Friday this week!
Undset wrote “Happy Times in Norway” during her exile from her beloved home country during WWII. It was part of a wider project taken on by writers and artists of Nazi occupied countries to celebrate their homelands that were being overtaken by Hitler’s Third Reich. Undset had long been a critic of Nazism, and upon learning that her country had been invaded by Germany, made quick plans to leave the country for fear that she might be arrested. Undset and her youngest child Hans fled into Sweden, and eventually made their way to the US by traveling across China and Russia. She was heartbroken by the news that her oldest son, Anders, had been killed early on in the invasion in the battle to defend Norway and experienced a melancholy relief that her daughter had not lived to see the war. Undset spent her years in exile helping to raise money for Norwegian resistance, speak out against the horrors of Nazism and championing the idea of a sovereign Norway— which had only attained its independence in 1905 after hundreds of years of domination by either Denmark or Sweden.
“Happy Times in Norway” is in many ways Undset’s love letter to Norway, sharing all the little every day celebrations and a snap shot of her family in a thinly veiled ‘fictional’ setting. In the book, ‘Mother’ and her sons Anders and Hans (her sons real names) and her special needs daughter Tulla (a character much like Undset’s own daughter, Maran Charlotte, who had died the year before the invasion) celebrate the seasons in Norway– including 17th of May, Christmas, summer holidays and life in their idyllic Norwegian world. It is an upbeat and happy book, full of humor and told in the modern era of its writing. I can imagine it was a process full of emotion for Undset to write— and it was her hope that in the near future the traditions celebrated in the book (such as displaying the flag of a free and sovereign Norway) would be able to happen again.
Undset was eventually able to return to Norway in 1945 after many years away. She made her way back to her beloved home in Lillehammer, unsure of what she would find. She knew that the home had been confiscated out of the care of her trusted friends and that for several years it had been occupied by various Nazi sympathizers and officers, with furniture tossed out into the yard or burned as firewood. But her friends had been able to save many of her most prized treasures, moving out many of her personal effects and saving many of the things that meant so much to her- including her impressive collection of books and a ‘crown of thorn’ plant.
I will share more about Undset, who has become so dear to me, in a post later this week to celebrate her birthday. She is, more than anything the inspiration for this ‘week of Norway’ celebration. After reading Kristin Lavransdatter and a few pieces of biography about her this year, I have come to admire her so much. She herself is a character, and she saw such amazing heights in her life and career, as well as unimaginable sadness and pain. Much like her character Kristin Lavransdatter, she saw a lot of the best and worst of life. And like Kristin, her faith, which she came to truly embrace in her middle age and beyond, was her anchor and inspiration.
If you would like to enter to win a copy of “Happy Times In Norway”, so thoughtfully donated by my friend Winnie, all you need to do is comment on this blog post! Let me know what interests you about Norway, or if you have a favorite Undset novel– I’d love to hear!
Thanks a million for joining me here this week! Or, as they say in Norway– tusen takk!