We had a wonderful surprise at our house on Saturday night. Giovanni and I had just finished making dinner – homemade turkey burgers, french fries and chocolate malts – when I realized that I hadn’t brought the day’s mail inside.
Expecting the usual fare of junk mail, bills and ubiquitous political flyers, I was pleasantly surprised to find a large package waiting for us. We have an unusual mailbox at our house; our mail is received in an old-fashioned milk cupboard, which can also be accessed from inside our house. It is one of my favorite features in our house, as I also use it to cool cookies during the holiday baking season.
Giovanni and I studied the package: the size of a large shoe box, it was wrapped in lightweight, brown parcel paper, and addressed to “The Masellos.” This piqued our interest even more, since our last name is actually Nasellos, with an ‘N’. There were several foreign stamps on it, and as I turned the package over, I saw a return address with the word “Julenissen.” Smiling, I told Giovanni that I knew exactly who had sent us this unexpected package.
“Who?” He asked, barely able to contain his excitement. “Santa,” I said, still smiling.
Gio’s eyes grew wide as he tried to comprehend what I was saying. I placed the parcel on our kitchen table and told him to study the pretty foreign stamps for a clue about its sender.
“Nor-eg?” he said, puzzled, then looked at a different one. “Norge? What the heck is that?”
“That’s Norwegian for “Norway,” I said, and his expression switched instantly from confusion to delight.
“Ooh,” he said with glee, “This is from our Norwegian Santa!”
If you’ve been reading our blog this summer, you might recall our encounter with the Norwegian accordion players in Jamestown. We met a wonderful couple from this group while dining at the Buffalo City Grill, Jan-Erik and Wenche Knudsen, from Lillestrom, Norway. Jan-Erik shared that he was an official member of the Julenissen, also known as the Norwegian Santa Association (which made a lot of sense since he looked just like Santa). We learned that the Lillestrom Accordion Orchestra would be in Fargo later that week, and Giovanni and I knew we had to attend their concert.
Before going to the concert that Tuesday, we decided to bring the Knudsens some small gifts to help them remember their visit to Fargo, and hopefully the new friends they’d made here. I wanted to find a set of note cards featuring John Borge’s “Four Cities” theme, and figured downtown Fargo would be the best bet to find some fun Fargo gifts. After visiting several local merchants with no success, we had almost given up when we arrived at Boerth’s Gallery on Broadway.
Boerth’s had a special section showcasing all of their Fargo and North Dakota signature items, which made it fun and easy for us to put together our gift bag. We found the John Borge note cards, and also included a copy of Marc de Celle’s book, How Fargo of You, as well as a nice magnet of downtown Fargo.
The concert was at the Sons of Norway, where a turkey dinner was being served prior to showtime. Gio and I thought this sounded like a treat, and we invited my grandmother, Sunny Mathison, to join us.
My grandfather, Don Mathison, was 100% Norwegian-American, and very proud of his ancestry. He passed away in January of 2004, and I miss him dearly. Meeting our new Norwegian friends had me thinking about him a lot that week, and I was glad we could share this experience with my grandma.
We picked her up and proceeded to the Sons of Norway, located near the post office in downtown Fargo. I’d never been to “The Sons” before, and was surpised by how large it was. There was a gracious entryway with a bar/lounge just to the left. The entry led into a large dining room which was somehow made cozy by the red and black decor – something only Norwegians could accomplish with style.
I was transported back to an earlier time, a time when people still belonged to social clubs like this and gathered together frequently. Does anyone remember the good old days with clubs like the Elks Lodge and the Eagles? Ah, nostalgia. I was very glad to see that the Sons of Norway is still thriving.
We enjoyed our turkey dinners (very delicious, I must say), and had a cup of coffee with our chocolate cake before the show. Soon it was time for the show to begin, and we proceeded to the ballroom.
I spotted our Norwegian friends at a table on the far right side of the venue, and we headed over to say hello. They were happy to see us, and I could tell from their reaction that they hadn’t really expected us to come. Giovanni presented our gift bag to them, and this was an especially good moment, for many reasons. How often can you say you gave Santa a gift? From Jan-Erik’s reaction, we could tell he wasn’t used to being on the receiving end of gift-giving.
Another reason I loved this experience was that we actually did it. How many times in our lives do we get a good idea, and fail to act on it? Life is busy, and it would have been easy to let an excuse get in the way of attending the concert. Certainly, there was no need to bring a gift, too. I often get these kind of great ideas, and then let them pass me by, too absorbed in my own little corner of the universe. These wonderful Norwegians somehow motivated me to function at my best level, which enabled me to teach my son another layer in the art of hospitality.
Jan-Erik and Wenche thanked us profusely, and then he left to take his place on the stage with the other accordion players. We found our seats a few tables away, and sat back to enjoy the sound of the dozen or so accordion players and musicians that made up the Lillestrom Accordion Orchestra.
I could see Wenche at her table from where we sat, and when the first song ended, I watched her passing around our gifts to the rest of her table-mates. She was smiling brightly, and her friends kept stealing glances toward our table. They waved at me, and then Wenche blew a kiss. It was evident that our simple gesture of friendship had brought them joy.
The music continued, and Giovanni lit up the dance floor with his best dance moves. For someone with the name of Giovanni Paul Nasello, it isn’t too often that he gets to celebrate his Norwegian heritage. But watching him that night, dancing to the accordions and waving a Norwegian flag in his hand, his last name might as well have been Knasella!
The evening came to an end for us long before the music did, and we said our good-byes to one another during the intermission so we could get Giovanni home to bed. In a matter of a few short days, these people had become important to us, and I wondered if we’d ever see them again. I was glad that we’d made the effort to let them know how happy we were to have met them.
Well, back to the parcel from Norway. We decided to wait until Tony came home from work, so we could all be together when we opened it. Since it was already after 9:00 pm, Giovanni called Tony and told him he had to come home right away. Tony arrived home just before 10:00, which was good because Giovanni was fading fast.
He cut through the strings and unwrapped the layers of brown parcel paper to find a package wrapped in red and gold wrapping paper, with lots of matching ribbons and hearts attached. Inside was a large shoe box, covered with a beautiful rosemal design. There was a gold heart sticker on the top of the box which said, “To Gio, From Santa.”
Giddy with excitement, Gio opened the box to find a red t-shirt which says “Jeg tror på Julenissen” on it, with a picture of Santa in the middle. Translated into English, this means “I believe in Santa Claus.”
Also included in the package was a beautiful Santa doll, and a CD called “Nisser og Troll,” which I suspect is in Norwegian. Our Julenissen had also sent two personal notes to Gio, and some brochures about Savalen, Santa’s Norwegian homestead. Jan-Erik was even the featured Santa on the cover of one of the brochures.
Giovanni was really moved by these items, and placed the doll in a position of prominence in his room. I told him that he can pass this treasure down to his children some day, to which he replied, “Um, yeah, that won’t happen ’til I’m dead. No way am I giving this away.”
We hope to continue our friendship with the Knudsens. Giovanni will be sending them a thank-you note this week, and then I think he’ll probably write to Santa again after Thanksgiving. The community the Knudsens live in, Lillestrom, is about 25 km northeast of Oslo, and we would love to visit them someday. But for now, we are happy to keep it simple and correspond the old-fashioned way – through the mail.
I have to remind myself that none of this would have happened had we not decided to get Lost on the Prairie this summer. Our discovery of North Dakota has become much more than just a travel experience for us, and this is just one of the many gifts we’ve received from our adventures. By stepping outside our norm and doing something different, we have changed. And in some ways, we’ve become better versions of ourselves. At least, better enough to get gifts from Santa, months before Christmas. Do I believe in Santa Claus? Ja, jeg tror på Julenissen!