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            September 2004

National Geographic publishes around the world, so who better to point you to the most unusual, unique, and sometimes irreverent cultural traditions in their countries than the editors of our international editions? Each month a real insider reveals five favorites in this series.

Who runs the show:  Gunnar Falkum, Editor

Name of the game:  National Geographic Norway

When it all started:  September 2000
Where it all happens:  Oslo, Norway
Who makes it happen:  Two people in Norway, including the editor, along with eight others in Copenhagen, Denmark.
What goes out:  About 19,000 copies a month

Upcoming GeoHappenings:  "In October we're publishing an article on the Sierra Madre and Norwegian Carl Lumholtz, who explored the mountains of Mexico a hundred years ago." 

What keeps the editor going:  "Apart from the coffee, I try to get some fresh air and exercise. In the winter I sometimes start the day with cross-country skiing. In the summer I play golf to get a break and refuel."
Favorite end-of-the-workweek activity:  "With such easy access to nature near Oslo, I'm off to the woods and mountains every chance I get."
What's great about Norwegians:
"Norwegians don't pretend much. We're quite straightforward in saying what we think. Perhaps we're too blunt sometimes. But in general, it's an asset."
What's great about Norway:  "Besides the nature and beautiful scenery, we have a lot of space. It's not very crowded and rushed like so many other countries. And that makes everything quieter."

International Editions
FlagFive Cultural Bests
Cultural Bests

Norway may be on the quiet side, but Falkum's choices of favorite cultural traditions are filled with energy, music, and celebration.

1. The Barbara Festival
"Barbara Arbuthnot was a Scottish noblewoman who lived 150 years ago. In the 1860s she came to the Sunndal Valley in western Norway, where I grew up, to do some salmon fishing with her son and her third husband. After a quarrel between her son—who was epileptic—and his stepfather, the young man died. Lady Arbuthnot blamed her husband for bringing on the seizure, so she stayed behind in Norway when he returned to Scotland. For the rest of her life she used her wealth to help the local people. She created shooting clubs and built huge fishing lodges in the mountains. To honor her, my hometown of Sunndalsøra hosts a festival every year around June 15. For two weeks we enjoy cultural activities including outdoor concerts in the beautiful mountain setting and her story told in a musical featuring amateur performers and professionals in lead roles. Although Sunndalsøra is about 300 miles (480 kilometers) from Oslo, I try to go to the festival for at least a few days."

2. Birkebeineren
"Every March thousands of amateur cross-country skiers head to Rena in southeast Norway for the 34-mile (54-kilometer) race across the mountains into Lillehammer. The event commemorates a historic exodus that saved the life of a Norwegian king. In the early 1200s, the rivalry between the Birkebeiners and Baglers for the throne took a turn when Birkebeiner chieftain Haakon died on New Year's Day in 1204. A few weeks later the chieftain's son, Haakon Haakonsson, was born, an event that threatened the Baglers. Over time, a party of Birkebeiners decided to take the child to safety in Trondheim. On Christmas Day in 1205 they reached a small farm in Lillehammer, where they hid over the holidays. The cold, snow, and wind were so bad, however, that the two best skiers, Torstein Skevla and Skjervald Skrukka, left the others behind and continued the journey to Trondheim with the two-year-old. The boy later became King Haakon, ended the civil war, and ruled over a prosperous period in Norway. Today, skiers participating in the Birkebeineren carry an eight-pound (four-kilogram) pack to symbolize the young heir to the throne. I competed in the race once. It was hard. I'm not going to do it again."

3. 17th of May
"We have a traditional way of celebrating our National Day that is quite uncommon. We don't have military parades. Instead, all over the country in every village, town, and city, we put on a parade of children. Bands play marches, and everyone goes out to watch the children. As with any national celebration, we wave the flag a lot. People wear their best clothes, especially their bunad, traditional embroidered costumes."

4. Kristiansund Opera Festival
"Kristiansund is a town of about 17,000 people located on three islands connected to the mainland by a tunnel. The town has one of the few opera venues outside Oslo and has hosted the opera festival for two weeks every February for about 30 years. Sometimes the operas are classical, but more often the program consists of fairly unknown compositions featuring a cast of amateur singers with top professionals in the lead roles. Comedians perform, and musical theater and pop concerts take place as well. Winter conditions on the Atlantic can be quite rough, but that just makes the festival more interesting."

5. The Oslo Kammermusikk Festival
"For two weeks every August, Oslo hosts a number of classical music concerts. This is a fairly new tradition, going on for the last 15 years. But it quickly caught on as a good way to hear high-quality classical music. You won't find amateurs performing here; it's strictly professional. Performers and orchestras come from all over the world."

Photographs by Reuter Raymond, CORBIS (left),  Wolfgang Kaehler, CORBIS (center), and Galen  Rowell, CORBIS  (right)

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