Celebrating The Solstice In Norway

22 October 2015

Perhaps it's because Jolly Old Saint Nick is said to live in Finland, but the good people of nearby Norway aren't the most dedicated of Christmas revellers.

A country with deep-seated Norse traditions passed down from the Vikings, who once marauded from this wintry landscape, Norway is a fascinating place to visit in the heart of winter – Santa Claus or not.

That's mainly because the darkness of Norway's long winter nights is often pierced by the natural spectacle of Aurora Borealis.

The famous 'northern lights' regularly dance across Norwegian night skies in a luminous display of colour, attracting travellers from far and wide, keen to catch a glimpse of this 'bucket list' phenomenon.

Light shows aside, Norway is a great place to visit in December, with the winter solstice (today, December 22) a time of traditional festivities in a nation with strong Yuletide connections.

Yuletide Beginnings

Though the term is now equated with Christmas, the festival of Yuletide is actually a pagan ritual said in the sagas to have been observed as far back as the 4th Century.

The Yule celebrations were eventually combined with the more familiar Christmas festivities we know today, but the Yuletide spirit lives on in Norway – a nation proud of its pagan roots.

Before the advent of the Gregorian calendar, St Lucia's Day on December 13 was the original winter solstice, sparking a wild celebration of day-long feasts, ale-drinking sessions and, of course, gift-giving.

Today, the celebrations are slightly more subdued. There are, however, still plenty of reminders of Norway's pagan past, not least in the Museum of Cultural History's popular Viking Ship Museum in the Norwegian capital Oslo.

Natural Wonder

Northern Norway may seem like one of Europe's more inaccessible regions, but it's actually a relatively short flight from Oslo.

The country's north is also a surprisingly popular tourist destination, owing to the prevalence of the spectacular northern lights.

The region's largest city, Tromsø, is located some 350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. It's a chilly place to visit in winter, but the hauntingly beautiful Aurora Borealis flickering across the sky – its luminous red and green auroras shooting across the darkness – makes the chill factor a little more bearable.

December is one of the best months to witness this ethereal natural wonder, with Tromsø plunged into the eternal darkness of Polar Night from November to January.

Winter Wonderland

Norway's long winter nights mean December may not the ideal time of year to explore the country's breathtaking fjords and scenic mountains, but that doesn't mean the nation should be looked past.

Norway's bustling capital Oslo comes alive in December, with the bright lights of the city's shopping centres cutting through the dim and luring in plenty of window shoppers.

Oslo is also a great place to learn the finer points of skiing, with the Oslo Ski Center north of the city centre boasting several ski runs varying from beginner to expert.

You can also enjoy skating, sledding, tobogganing and a whole host of wintry festivities at The Olso Winter Park, located an easy half hour from the city centre and boasting 18 powdery slopes.

Oslo may not be the first ski destination to come to mind, but its this very fact – and the beautiful spectacle of the Aurora Borealis – that makes it one of Europe's best kept secrets for ringing in the Yuletide.

Flight Centre

This post originally appeared on Flight Centre Australia.