Monday, October 15, 2012

Beer Traditions in Norway, and an Oleanna Excerpt

Kathleen Stokker's Remedies and Rituals: Folk Medicine in Norway and the New Land is a fantastic resource for readers and writers who have an interest in folkways and the immigrant experience.

One tidbit of information I found incredibly interesting, and ended up using in Oleanna, was the long history of beer traditions in Norway.
"Early Christian law required that landowners brew beer to share with their neighbors during Christmas and at other times of celebration, threatening the noncompliant with stiff fines and the loss of their land. For centuries, beer (øl) remained the essential drink for observing the yuletide (known as å drikke jul, or 'drinking Christmas'), as well as betrothals, (festerøl, engagement beers), christenings (barnsøl, child-beers), and funerals (gravøl, grave beers). 
"The brew that accompanied these celebrations had to be strong. It stood out from the weak beer made for daily consumption by recycling the malt first used to make the festive brew. Norwegians looked forward to celebrating the milestones of life and the yearly cycle as a welcome break in their otherwise dreary, work-filled lives, and they drank on these occasions with the aim of getting drunk. A good host made sure that they did…
"'Velkommen grande I mit hus' (Welcome neighbor to my house), reads the inscription on an 1843 ale bowl from Todalen in Møre og Romsdal, 'Sæt dig ne dog drik en rus' (sit yourself down and get soused). 'People thought drinking made them happy,' observed Armauer Hansen in his 1910 memoir, 'a misunderstanding that can be fitting for Norwegians who are otherwise too inhibited to let themselves go.'" (179-80)
Ale bowl with rosemaling decoration; from my collection

Elisabeth and Oleanna were definitely not averse to a bit of akevitt during any time of celebration (or frustration) but the beer was brewed special for Christmas, and for Syttende Mai (Constitution Day)--and the sisters had a unique tradition of their own.
Oleanna looked back to find her sister laughing and angling herself so the men could not see her taking four bottles for herself. Oleanna chuckled and shook her head: for many years, liberating as much beer as possible had been their private Constitution Day tradition. At that moment, Elisabeth looked up at her and flashed a wicked grin. Oleanna smiled, then turned and pushed open the door to the dark, empty church. 
After they'd liberated a few bottles, they headed out of sight.
“Come on,” Elisabeth said, pulling her out of the church, spilling more of the precious, and strongly brewed, celebration beer in the process. They hurried around to the side of the church, and up into the dark wood which was never very far away.
Elisabeth led them deeper into the forest and they settled with their backs against a fallen log. After a few moments, Oleanna took a long drink; the beer wasn’t theirs—sharp with too much new grass—but she swallowed nearly half the bottle at one go, and then quickly dispatched the second.
Elisabeth finished off her own bottles and set them on the ground. They sat together quietly, feeling the beer work its magic, listening to the chatter of the crowds just beyond the curtain of trees.
Learning a small tidbit about beer traditions in Stokker's book uncovered an interesting quirk in Oleanna's personality; good lord I love writing.

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  1. Anonymous5:34 PM

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