With the help of my siblings, I shall try to give an insight into the Christmas celebrations in "the little town beneath the glacier" when Ny-Ålesund was a family community. The memories they're sharing with me are marked by solemnity, warmth, security and unity.
The smell of forest
The night before Christmas Eve was deliciously sweet and good with the production of homemade marzipan! There were scalds of almonds that were ground and kneaded together with powdered sugar and egg whites into great works of art! Especially after licking our fingers thoroughly.
Christmas morning: Pappa was at work, and when he came home he decorated the tree and mom dressed us. The tree was a whole little scientific work for dad. Although Svalbard was his paradise because of his interest in outdoor life and fondness of the freedom the area offered, the symbolic green color and smell of the forest that came to us with the Christmas tree are also important memories of our parents.
Gathering together at the mess hall
Pappa built a shower in our home at London 2, a luxury mamma appreciated! There were not many other houses that had their own shower, so it was probably important for us to always keep mum. But on Christmas Eve the tree moved into the shower and the luxury was reserved for those frozen branches that had been in storage since the Christmas trees came up with last boat. Plenty of attention was paid to caring for the tree, for we had memories of the bright green sprouts far beyond the Christmas season.
Christmas Eve at 5 a.m.: The Christmas season rings in from the bell tower of camp director Arne Gerhardsen, visiting during the trip home, to wish everyone a merry Christmas. Subsequently, small and large houses are decorated and everyone gathers at the mess hall for a Christmas Eve Mass. Packages from friends and family down in Norway, which also arrived in Ny-Alesund on the last boat, were left under the tree in London 2 awaiting our attention later in the evening. On the walk to the mess hall, we looked across snowdrifts since the way was not always plowed, making for a little adventure outside the Nordpol Hotel. There also stood a Christmas tree with many and brilliantly-colored light bulbs. Possibly the bulbs had a connection with the electrical workshop which was in Lompa just across the road from the Nordpol Hotel. Lompa is also no more; it was demolished sometime shortly after mining stopped.
Christmas Eve at the mess hall: Northing was missing! Operations Manager Einar Grimsmo read the story of Christmas and roast pork from the camp's own pigs slaughtered before Christmas was served. A large, decorated Christmas tree with all the trimmings! And crepe paper in all shapes! The female servers in the mess celebrated while miners in black pants and white shirts served! Memories of childhood colored by solemnity, joy, unity, going around the Christmas tree, a beautifully decorated mess and gifts Zeppelin Santa arrived with! And what about cranberries? Equally true besides Santa Claus living behind Zeppelin is that cranberries grew there also! We four siblings have it from a safe source - our dad - namely! So that settles the matter!
Christmas celebrations in the canteen, and Santa has just arrived. Anne is wearing a red dress. FOTO: Johan Ødegaard
The journey home to London 2 and the packages from Norway "as the night wore on," going over snowdrifts carrying children in patent leather shoes and the many packages that Santa Claus had brought. The packages to the children were given by all who lived in Ny-Ålesund were many, and they came with plenty of memories of those who had all their kin down in Norway. One time a gift from Edith Grimsmo was very exotic – all the kids got a coconut!
In homespun woolens
Christmas Day: According to tradition, it should be quiet.
Homespun woolens … maybe new clothing knitted by a grandmother far away, down in Norway somewhere.
The rest of Christmas was as it should be with Christmas parties in movie theater, others holiday gatherings and playing outdoors during the daytime.
Party: Jon Aage, who sits with his back to the window, celebrating his birthday with chocolate cake, limonade and good friends. FOTO: Johan Ødegaard
A birthday on the Fourth Day of Christmas: Our brother, Jon Aage, had a proper celebration with a group of boys. One of the highlights was the homemade ice cream, which was frozen in a milk pail in a gutter outside the living room window!
The Ødegard family: Pappa Johan, Mamma Nanna, Vigdis, Jon Aage, Anne and myself had a home in Ny-Ålesund from when Nanna traveled up with the two oldest in 1952, the year after Johan first came up. Anne was transported in the womb down to Norway and came back during the the summer of 1953, while the undersigned arrived when the midnight sun first appeared in the spring of 1963 in Ny-Ålesund. Johan and Nanna eventually traveled on in the fall of 1986, after living in Longyearbyen for about 16 years.
Still know where Santa lives
Such are the memories of Christmas in Ny-Ålesund by my siblings. In our family, the memories from our years in Ny-Ålesund have always been strong and vibrant. So vivid that even I, who was only three years old when I last lived in Ny-Ålesund, feel that this is something I've experienced myself. Anyway, I still know with certainty that Santa Claus lives behind the Zeppelin Mountain, where the cranberries also grow…
Since Dad often took the pictures, there were few photos of him. Here he is in a nice moment with a curious polar bear cub. FOTO: Private
On behalf of us four siblings:
Merry Christmas wishes to everyone reading these memories of a childhood in Ny-Ålesund during the 1950s and '60s!
Ellen Marie Ødegaard lived in Ny-Ålesusnd during her early childhood years and is currently the chairwoman of the Kings Bay Veterans Club.
Translated by Mark Sabbatini