Not that many people make the trip to Tromsø around Christmas. The 70 000 inhabitants of the city get through the entire month of December completely without the sun and without many visitors – but with atmospheric Christmas concerts, cafés and restaurants full of merrymakers, traditional quivering lutefisk and a bit of Christmas shopping. Which is precisely why you should visit Tromsø before Christmas.
In December, the sun doesn’t show its face at all in Tromsø, staying below the horizon all month long. despite this, on clear days there is quite a lot of light at around noon. And a little later in the day, what remains of the light reflected off the snowy peaks around the city creates a fantastic and magical blue light. But it is mostly dark. Very dark. And THAT’s what Tromsø folk find so appealing.
The Christmas fairs held on the weekends of November are fun places to find Christmas gifts, especially traditional handicrafts. On the last weekend in November, the Christmas tree lights are turned on in the main square, accompanied by festivities of all kinds. Everyone who believes in Santa Claus should take a trip to the hamlet of Berg, south of the city, on the first weekend in December, for a generous helping of good old-fashioned Christmas atmosphere. The second weekend in December is when the people from the inland valleys come to town; count on a solid dose of choir-singing, traditional sweet lefse, coffee brewed outdoors over an open fire, and distinctive dialects.
In Tromsø what really counts is visiting the city’s vibrant cafés and restaurants. Warm, noisy, softly lit and packed full of people, they offer the weary Christmas shopper a delightful coffee break in the midst of good company. Dark, too, is the taste of the city’s own specially brewed Christmas beer. In the pre-Christmas period, the local bars and restaurants are filled with ex-Tromsø folk returning for their Christmas holidays, so Tromsø nights are particularly electric in the run up to Christmas.
In the old days, Advent was a time of fasting, when no meat was eaten. In Tromsø, however, eating fish and seafood has never been a sacrifice. For the fish specialities from Tromsø combine fresh ingredients from the icy ocean with the finesse of international cuisine. The shoals of Lofoten cod swim past Tromsø on their way south, and close up to Christmas you can be fortunate enough to be served delicacies like skrei (spawning cod), cod liver and roe.
What should you buy to take home, that is really particular to Tromsø and Northern Norway? Warm, hand-made socks, mittens and hats made in Norway’s most active handicrafts county are just the job for a stroll around town in the Arctic cold. Be sure to ask for felted wool products, as they are extra warm. Tromsø also has several good sports shops with high expertise in the outdoor life. A picture or a piece of jewellery from a gallery, or a decorative glass ball from the world’s most northerly glassblowing studio, won’t take up much space in your suitcase.
Black, syrupy cordial made from crowberries and soft, crumbly, many-layered sweet lefse are among the local food specialities. If the mobile fishmonger has his truck in the square, ask for a piece of good boknafesk, semi-dried cod. Lamb, lamb roll and brawn (headcheese) from Lyngen or Kvaløya have the aroma of wild Arctic heather.
To get in the right Christmas mood, it may be an idea to go to a Christmas concert. Tromsø’s many choirs, the mighty organs in Tromsø Cathedral and the Arctic Cathedral, as well as the more fun-oriented Christmas review groups, all conjure up a festive atmosphere in the dark December evenings.
For the very reason that it is dark, you should head out of town, for then you have the best chance of seeing the spectacular Northern Lights. Trips by dogsled, boat, snowmobile and reindeer sleigh go in all directions from Tromsø, to take you to a front-row seat to view the Northern Lights. Some people find it simpler to go to the far north of the island of Tromsøya, on which Tromsø is built, or to hire some skis and follow the flood-lit trails around the entire city area.
Christmas in Tromsø
While Advent is a hectic, fun and busy time, Christmas itself is very quiet. All the shops and virtually all the hotels, cafés, bars and restaurants close down for the holidays. From the 24th to the 26th of December the city is generally quite dead. However, between Christmas and New Year, the cafés, shops and bars open up again for the people of Tromsø, to enjoy their laziest week of the year.
On New Year’s Eve the Christmas holidays go out with a bang. Against the mountainside the old year symbol is lit with hundreds of flaming torches, and on the stroke of 12 the fiery digits change to the new year, against a background of fantastic fireworks. Rockets whizz up all over the city, and champagne-drinkers teeter on high heels on icy pavements. If you’re going to party, you’re going to party!
Go to Visit Tromsø’s website for lots of information about Tromsø.