Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Norwegian Roots

KellieAnn Halvorsen - Midterm paper Introduction to Folklore
October 12, 2013

My Norwegian Roots

Discovered at Disney
Photograph by Author "The Halvorsen Sisters and
 their Norwegian Christmas Trees." 2010 jpeg

My ancestors came from the Northern European country of Norway, but it wasn’t until a family visit to Walt Disney World's Epcot (“Epcot” n.d., online) some 4515 miles away from the actual country did we really start to discover our Norwegian roots. At Epcot just beyond the iconic ball you will find the World Showcase, pavilions and areas that represent several countries of the world surrounding a picturesque lagoon. There on the water's edge tucked between pavilions representing China and Mexico you will find the Norwegian pavilion with reproductions of iconic architecture, food, decorations, and the most popular ride in the World Showcase, the Maelstrom. The amount of people a year who visit this faux Norway, is equivalent to the actual population of Norway, (“Norway” n.d., online) making it a great way to educate the masses on the culture and folklore of this nation. Because of the Norway pavilion some of my first impressions of what is important to Norway was vikings, trolls, the land and sea. This might not be the best representation of the values of the actual people of Norway, but it is a great spring board to start our exploration of the Norwegian folk.

The Folk
Norway is part of the Scandinavian countries in northern Europe which also includes Denmark and Sweden. The area was settled by east Germanic tribes between 780 to 1100 AD whose culture overtook over the original Norse population. The Germanic tribes gave the area the name Scandza which means “womb of nations.” (Boysen, 2011) This monicker came into fruition as the Viking age continued and Scandinavian vikings explored, traded, settled, and even raided much of Europe and the world leaving behind an influence wherever they went.

During this time a unique Norwegian Farm Culture began to develop and continues to be perpetuated today. There is a emphasis on self reliance with rural farming and fishing, along with associated values that permeates the folk culture, rituals, myths, and tales of this northern nation. In the 18th century Norway experienced a strong patriotic movement that made it possible for the perseverance of this Norwegian Farm culture. With it an emergence and divergence of Norwegian culture from that of other Scandinavian countries developed. Modern Norwegians or “Nordmen” as called by Scandinavians, a population of over 5 million, continue to honor their unique folklore today.
Disney. 'Trolls of Maelstrom" 2013, jpeg. online image.

One of the most abundant decorations you will see in the Norwegian pavilion at Epcot is statues, carvings, and figurines of a common mythological creature, the troll. Trolls are creatures of varying sizes and ugliness that live in the mountains, fjords, forests and nature of the land. (“Trolls of Scandinavia” 2008, online) Their temperament can be mean, mischievous, or even benevolent. There are dozens of types of trolls as well as legends. From waterfall trolls, Fossegrimen, to Huldra a lady troll who liked to seduce men, and common farm trolls, Nisse, the Norwegian landscape seems to be dotted with trolls. These urban legends aren't just told around a campfire or to keep a child on their best behavior, they are part of their culture and has embedded themselves into rituals and practices of Norwegians even today.

According to the mythology every farm has a Nisse troll. They view the land as their own and sometimes can give the farmers who they view as squatting on their land a hard time. A Nisse can be a good creature to have, if a farmer keeps it happy by being kind to his own farm animals and offering gifts to the Nisse. Nisse enjoys porridge with butter, and as such a ritual developed where a farmer on Christmas will leave a bowl of porridge and butter out for the Nisse to eat on Christmas, or Yule. In the morning the bowl is checked to make sure that the Nisse has eaten it and is pleased with the offering. If the porridge is not eaten, it is viewed as a bad luck and is expected to be followed by events like bad crops, spoiled milk and sick animals. This ritual has evolved and perpetuate the story of Santa Clause, who can be interpreted to mean something like a yule nisse or Christmas Troll, giving gifts to the deserving.

Stories of trolls wither friend or foe. are just some of the many legends of mythological creatures that effected the population of Norway. But there are other legends that shaped the nations folklore, and these ones are based on historical people and events. These are the stories of the Vikings.

Every World Showcase Pavilion has an iconic landmark and for the Norway pavilion it is the Norwegian Stave Church, a gallery stocked with exhibit of viking replicas and artifacts dating as far back as the 9th century. Norwegian vikings has sculpted the culture, religion, and politics of the Norwegian people. Christianity took longer to spread into Scandinavia then other areas of the world so the Vikings worshiped a pagan pantheon of Norse Gods until the Viking king Olaf II Harldson (Boysen, 2011) converted to Christianity in the 11th century. History has recalled “Olaf the Holy” as a violent viking whom participated in brutal attacks across the European content and used the conversion to Christianity of his nation as simply a power move. He was killed in battle in the Battle of Stelkstad in 1030 AD and became a martyr and a later a saint of the Catholic church. Christianity grew strong over the next centuries and in 16th century, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway became the official church of Norway of which over two-thirds of the Norwegian population is currently members of. Although a small percentage actually practice the religion. (“Religion of Norway” n.d., online)

Disney. “Viking at Norway Pavilion” 2013, jpeg, online image. http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/galleries/2013/05/journey-to-norway-no-passport-needed/#photo-3

Every year the viking king, and saint, Olaf II is honored by a name sake holiday on July 29th commemorating his death. The Stiklestad National Culture Centre in Nord-Tr√łndelag puts on a St. Olaf festival every year that attacks tens of thousands visitors to concerts, seminars, performances and more about the vikings. (“Top 5 Viking Experiences in Norway” n.d., online) Viking feasts, festivals and reenactments are common throughout Norway and a very popular way for the people to inform and educate the outside world in performances. These events also become a great way for Norwegians to celebrate their hermitage and teach their younger generation about great vikings like King Olaf II, Cnut the great, and Erik the Red.

Visiting the Norway Pavillion in Epcot for me has become more then a vacation, but a call to learn about my ancestors. Our visit on May 17, 2009 coincided with Norwegian Constitution Day, a day celebrating the signing of a Norwegian constitution in 1814 effectively ceding the nation from the Denmark and Sweden. At the event there was such an atmosphere of celebration as Norwegians settled here in America poured into Epcot to mingle with each other. Norwegian flags of red, white, and blue hung from every available place, festive music hung in the air, Norwegian food and drink was in plenty and Disney Cast Members native to Norway wore traditional Bunad clothing while handed out flags and bracelets to the guests.

We spent most the day their riding the replica Viking ship past the trolls on the Maelstrom ride, munching on open faced salmon sandwiches, crafting at the kids table and chatting with actual Norwegians. We have since celebrated the holiday as a family at home with a Norwegian feast of our own and watching Norwegian films. Constitution Day is not the only day we celebrate our newly discovered roots, the Christmas is a season full of Norway now, with talks of trolls, Nisse, Krampus, and even the Norse Gods mingled with our usual nativity and tree. Now, we are very proud of our Norwegian heritage and viking blood.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Happiness of a Sunbeam

The Happiness of a Sunbeam
By KellieAnn Halvorsen, October 19, 2013

Happiness in life is something semi-elusive that we all are searching for. No matter our life situation or current blessings we already have, we reach for this “Happiness Goal” for ourselves, our family, our friends. We in the church are blessed with the knowledge of having a loving Heavenly Father, who we learn wants only our Happiness in life and has established a plan and path that is to lead “Men that they may have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25) During this past General Conference, this is the idea that seemed to permeate my thoughts as I listened to the apostles and leaders of the church. That even amide the trials and tribulations of my life, God wants me to be happy. I would like to bear my testimony to you today brothers and sisters, that God wants you to be happy too.

We are taught this concept many times from the time we are small children. I can look back with fondness to when we were asked in primary to sing the song, “Jesus Wants me for a Sunbeam.” (Children's Songbook, pg. 60) I remember even as a little three year old how excited I was to participate in this my first ever memorized Sunday hymn. I loved waiting to spring out of my chair and become that spastic ray of sunlight “shinning for Him each day” with my arms extended out and falling back down only to spring back up once more.

At that time I didn't quite understand what the point of the song actually was, I remember graduating from my Sunbeam class and being confused that we would still be asked to sing the song even as we where no longer in the 3-year-old Sunbeam's age bracket. I admit that it wasn’t for years that I understood that, besides using up the build up energy from attempting to sit quietly during primary, that the song was asking me to be a happy person. To find and shine the excitement and joy that comes from learning and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

While writing this talk I couldn't help but smile as I imagined using this song as a regular hymn during our sacrament services. In my mind's eye I could see the entire congregation, adults and children, bursting forth in the same energy that I witness during singing time as a primary teacher. The congregation singing with hand and body movements proclaiming proudly how “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam to shine for Him each day.”
In the sessions of this past General Conference some of my favorite apostles talked on this matter of happiness, and conversely, matters dealing with sadness and depression. Pres. Eyring spoke of finding happiness in the gospel, in the keeping of commandments and creating it within the walls of our homes. He gave these wise words, “Heavenly Father has made each of us unique. No two of us will have exactly the same experiences. No two families are alike... Yet a loving heavenly father has set the same path of happiness for all of His children. Whatever our personal characteristics or whatever will be our experiences, there is but one plan of happiness. That plan is to follow the commandments of God.” close quote. (Eyring, October 2013)

This plan Goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge of the plan of salvation. God is our loving Heavenly Father. He sent us to earth to become more like him. To be more like him we needed to be make our own choices and grow in our own understanding. Along the path of this understanding we come across harsh trials and powerful blessings. We all stumble and become unworthy to return to Him. So in God's wisdom he incorporated into the plan, the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Wherein we can be forgiven of these sins, learn to live a righteous life, and return home to Him. This is the path of Happiness that the God wants us to live. To have faith, repent, and strive keep the commandments, this will leave to long and lasting happiness. Not the fleeting and often hollow happiness of this temporal mortal life, but an eternal joy in the kingdom of God.

I know from personal experience, that happiness can be hard to find, even while striving to live a Christ centered life. Sometimes the weight of our trials and sins, wither active transgression or sins of omission, can weigh on our lives and cause us great sorrow and depression. Blocking our vision of happiness and even our desire to reach out for it. When in this state of mind it can be extremely difficult to hear the encouragement or reprimand of others. It is in these times of darkness that we must turn from comforting ourselves by wallowing in our own misery, and actively seek for the light. The light that emanates from the life and atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. To find and exude that ray of “Sunbeam” in our lives.

During conference Elder Holland in his amazing talk “Like a Broken Vessel,” spoke on the reality of depression, mental illnesses and sadness, adding through observation and experience his own advice on how to work through these times of doubt and darkness saying “Faithfully pursue the time-tested devotional practices that bring the Spirit of the Lord into your life. Seek the counsel of those who hold keys for your spiritual well-being. Ask for and cherish priesthood blessings. Take the sacrament every week, and hold fast to the perfecting promises of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Believe in miracles. I have seen so many of them come when every other indication would say that hope was lost. Hope is never lost. If those miracles do not come soon or fully or seemingly at all, remember the Savior’s own anguished example: if the bitter cup does not pass, drink it and be strong, trusting in happier days ahead.” close quote. (Holland, October 2013)

It can be hard to keep moving ahead, to keep the fires of hope stoked when our righteous desires seem to be coming to us to slowly or not at all. I must admit that I struggle daily with this, but I am still a happy person. When in doubt I often think of a marvelous talk giving by President Eyring to the students at BYU thirty years ago called “ A Law of Increasing Returns.” (Eyring, March 1982) I listen or read this talk often, on what feels like a weekly basis having downloaded it even to my every handy kindle.

It speaks of working hard at your goals, even if the rewards are not coming to you a quickly or as often as you like. Eyring speaks of keeping a vision of the blessings and happiness you would like to achieve. Of working towards the “Late harvests” in life. Near the conclusion of his talk he states that There are some things you should work for and expect results now. But along with getting early harvests, I hope you’ll work and wait for the late ones. That will take seeing the law of increasing returns as an opportunity, not just a test. Delayed blessings will build your faith in God to work, and wait, for him. The scriptures aren’t demeaning when they command, “Wait upon the Lord.” That means both service and patience. And that will build your faith.

It may help you to watch both for the chance to smile and the blessings around you on the way. And it may help to picture both the future of the people whom you serve for God and his promise of peace in this life.” Close quote.

Brothers and Sisters, I ask of you today to watch for these chances to smile while working on finding your happiness in life. To remember that excitement of a youngster springing from a chair to declare that merits of “shining for Him each day.” Let us strive to live by the simple lyrics of this children's Hymn:
Jesus wants me for a sunbeam,
To shine for him each day;
In every way try to please him,
At home, at school, at play.

A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
Jesus wants me for a sunbeam.
A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
I'll be a sunbeam for him.

I bear my testimony that happiness comes from continually striving to live the commandments of God, the little and the big. I also would like to bear my testimony that we all struggle with sadness along this path. That we all struggle with our own pet sins and vices. But that through the atonement of Christ and the power of repentance these weaknesses can become our strengths. Again I would like bear my witness that God truly wants you to be happy and that true and lasting happiness can only come through following the promptings of the spirit and keeping the commandments of God.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ Amen.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Character Development

Everyone around us is just fictional characters. It doesn't matter that they are living breathing souls; all they really add up to is what you perceive of them in your own mind. But every once in a while they startle us and fight back, causing us to reanalyze our dreamed hypothesis. But not for long, after the shock of discomfort hits us, we shake it off, rehypothesize and yet again paint the image we want to see.