I believe if you were searching for the core of this majestic land, it’s very essence, you would discover Christmas.

We arrived one stormy, grey December afternoon. We wanted to spend our time sipping grog, nibbling on homemade gingerbread men, hiking the mountain trails, playing in the snow and taking gorgeous photos. But life doesn’t always work out that way.

I am grappling with some kind of brand new (and at time of publishing, still unconfirmed) gluten tolerance so I am on a restricted diet. It won’t stop raining, and the sun doesn’t actually come up until well after 10. Though that isn’t quite true – we asked Espen’s mum and she said she hasn’t seen the sun in months, which was a bit awkward. We haven’t seen the sun either since we got here – so who knows when sunrise is. Suffice to say, our ideas were a bit misplaced. Such is life. 

Still – Christmas in Norway is pretty epic.  We visited the gingerbread village in Bergen (the largest in the world) and marvelled over the gingerbread prison and gingerbread old folks’ home. The Norwegians have an incredibly dry and somewhat morbid sensibility.

I sat next to everyone else drinking grog and eating gingerbread men while I ate my bananas and stared into my veggie soup. It’s tasty – but let’s be honest – its not Christmas fare. Espen was beside himself with the pinnekjøtt – the main reason we came home to Norway.

And as much as we enjoyed Lille Julaften, gathered round with the family, watching Dinner for One (who else actually does this?!), and Christmas (which happens on Christmas Eve – really?!) we were treated to an excellent story by a family member. It went like this….

In the land of Norway, compulsory national service is still a thing. Every man does it – Espen did his stint as a fireman in the Arctic Circle (really), and guys are always on their way to national service, or on their way back. Back in the day, they let anyone in (that’s a direct quote).

They remain lifetime members of the Civil Guard, meaning they keep their uniforms and equipment at home, ready for the call should the need arise. And to keep everyone in tip top condition, from time to time they are called up for training exercises, which is usually done over one week a year.

Now – for some reason which wasn’t entirely clear, they don’t use military vehicles for these training excerises. They, according to our source, use Avis hire cars. Military men zipping about on training expeditions in hire cars. So cue an entire manoeuvre, for example, “securing an airport” with the whole company, weapons and all, arranged across a fleet of hire cars to complete the mission. 

I literally can’t get enough of Norway.