During our trip planning to South Norway, we connected with Inger Lise Stulien, a renowned musician from Syrtveit, and her welcoming family. Inger Lise, learning about our Christmas holiday journey through Setesdal, invited us to their farm to immerse us in Norwegian Christmas traditions. After a scenic drive from the Hovden ski area through snowy landscapes and frozen lakes, we arrived at the Syrtveit village. There, Inger Lise, her husband Olav, and their children Harald (19), Kari (18), and Endre (13) greeted us in their winter wonderland-like farm. The festive lights and a warm welcome around a fire marked our arrival, despite the challenges our winter tires faced with the snowy conditions. This start heralded a unique visit, rich in Norwegian Christmas traditions and cultural practices from Setesdal, some even UNESCO-recognized, including singing, dancing, and playing the Hardanger fiddle and Jew's harp.

julepyntet hus i mørket

tre mennesker rundt bålpanne

Warm welcome in a festive winter garden

Upon arriving at the farm, we stepped into a magical winter wonderland. Before entering the house, we experienced a Norwegian tradition – eating glosteik. Fenalår, a salted and dried lamb or mutton leg, is a centuries-old Norwegian custom. Inger Lise showed us how to skewer meat slices and cook them over fire, then wrapped in lefse – a thin, pancake-like bread made from potato and wheat flour. Accompanying this was glögg, a non-alcoholic spiced drink similar to mulled wine, enriched with almonds and raisins.

gutt som spiller fiolin

Exploring Setesdal traditions through 3D mapping

In a large space in the farm's annex, where Inger Lise holds concerts, we watched a 15-minute 3D film about Setesdal's rich traditions. This visual journey brought local culture to life, showcasing the origin of traditional costumes, seasonal farmer activities, celebrations like weddings and Christmas, and typical foods, including glosteik and lefse. This immersive experience was enhanced when Endre, the youngest son, performed on his Hardanger fiddle, connecting us further to the region's heritage.

stabbur på lerret

A stabbur full of Norwegian customs

After the performance, we walked across the farm to the stabbur, a traditional Norwegian storage shed on stilts to keep pests out. Inger Lise's farm features a beautiful replica, showcasing her great-grandparents' old box-bed. Upstairs, several bunads are displayed – typical Norwegian attire for men and women, still worn during special occasions. Every Norwegian owns a bunad, often passed down from parents to children. Custom-made bunads cost about €7,000, but there's time to save from birth. The two older children gave a demonstration of Norwegian folk dance, accompanied by the youngest on his jewsharp. It was a delightful and challenging experience when I was invited to dance.

folk som danser i setesdalsbunad

Enjoying a Norwegian Christmas dinner together

After our warm reception and the music and dance, we all entered the cozy farmhouse. Two days post-Christmas, the festive spirit lingered with the Christmas tree and table set as on Christmas Eve. Inger Lise prepared a traditional Norwegian Christmas dinner: pinnekjøtt (salted lamb ribs), swede mash, and moose meatballs with caramelized onions and figs – a carnivore's feast for Fleur and Léon. Vegetarian meatballs and sausages were also served. We discovered shared culinary preferences, like the similarity of stamppot to Norwegian dishes.


Heavenly dessert of Christmas cookies

The dinner concluded traditionally with over seven varieties of Christmas cookies, adhering to the Norwegian tradition of baking at least seven types. The assortment included smultringer (donut-like), sandkaker (sand cookies), sirupssnipper (syrup cookies), goro (wafers), krumkaker (waffle cones), fattigmann (rich despite its name meaning "poor man"), and Berlinerkranser. Homemade baking is preferred if time allows.

Fleur and Léon's winter adventure

Post-dinner, Fleur and Léon embarked on a sledding adventure in the forests surrounding the farm. A snowmobile towed them up the hill, and they descended through the woods with headlamps – a new experience for Fleur. For Inger Lise's children, it's a regular winter activity.

mennesker rundt frokostbordet

Waking up to a traditional breakfast

After a night of complete silence, a new experience for us city dwellers, we gathered for breakfast. The counter was laden with various Norwegian cheeses, pâté, smoked and steamed salmon, salads, fruit, and different bread types. We noted differences in breakfast habits, like our preference for sweet spreads like peanut butter, chocolate paste, or hagelslag, which surprised our hosts. Norwegians typically enjoy savory breakfasts.

stabbur i snøen

Jewsharp crafting demonstration

After breakfast, Harald, the eldest son, showed his jewsharp and storage box crafting skills in his workshop. He learned from a local artisan and now sells his creations. The meticulous process of forging and tuning the instrument reflects his patience and passion.

mann som støper

Cross-country skiing, Lefse and Lapper

Well-rested and fed, Olaf invited Léon for cross-country skiing – an activity we'd previously tried unsuccessfully in Sweden. Meanwhile, Fleur, Inger Lise, Kari, and I made lefse and lapper (pancake-like) in a shed with a warm baking plate. This calming and enjoyable activity brought us together.

to som baker lefser

Lapper spread with "Norwegian Gold"

As Leon and Olaf tapped on the shed door, we had just finished baking the lefse and lapper, our hands still warm from the oven. Gathering around the freshly baked treats, we all tasted the warm lapper, planning to take the remainder inside for lunch. Endre and Harald joined us, adding to the cozy atmosphere. Léon, particularly famished from his strenuous cross-country ski adventure, relished the food. We topped the lefse with various savory spreads, similar to those we had enjoyed at breakfast. However, the true highlight was the lapper, best enjoyed with a generous spread of “Norwegian gold.” This unique jam, made from Arctic cloudberries, was a rare delicacy. Resembling raspberries but golden in hue, these berries are notoriously elusive, not growing in the same place or quantity each year and not yet successfully cultivated. Their scarcity made them all the more special, particularly as they aren’t available in the Netherlands. It was a treat to have a jar opened just for us, allowing us to indulge in as much as we desired on our lapper.

Laughing and learning together

The lunch marked our final shared meal before we continued our journey through Setesdal. Inger Lise remarked that it felt as if we'd known each other for years, a sentiment we echoed. Our time was filled with laughter over shared jokes, and even as I did the dishes while chatting, I felt completely at home with her family. We reflected on our cultural similarities and differences, noting the diminishing adherence to traditions in the Netherlands, with customs like Sinterklaas waning, while celebrations like Halloween and Eid al-Fitr gained popularity. In contrast, Norway cherished and preserved its traditions, especially those around Christmas, passing them from generation to generation. Norwegian children, from a young age, actively participate in these customs, maintaining them even into their teenage years. We also found amusement in the linguistic parallels, laughing at the literal translations of Dutch or Norwegian phrases into English. Our brief time together had already fostered a deep sense of belonging within their warm family circle.

Mennesker foran stabbur

A warm farewell and a bag full of Norwegian delights

After lunch, the moment came for us to part ways. Inger Lise thoughtfully packed some of the food we had prepared together, along with a variety of homemade cookies and a piece of Norwegian salmon. This meant we didn't need to worry about our evening meal. Embracing each family member in a heartfelt hug, we said our goodbyes, grateful for the hospitality and the experiences shared. With our bag of Norwegian treats, we set off to Valle, continuing our exploration of the beautiful Setesdal region.

Interested in visiting?

There is  a minimum of 10-15 persons, 90 Euro each person(half price for children under 12 years) Opening hours are Wednesdays from 13 - 17.00 pm. Other days only after an advance agreement with groups of a maximum 50 persons.

The program includes: 

- a 3 D mapping show about the culture and local traditions

- a folk music mini concert - live performance

- home made pastries and coffee

- a visit to the fram´s log house (Stabburet), a mini museum of traditional clothing and rosary paintings

Contact information: ingerlisestulien@gmail.com