Three-year old Ivan is sitting beside a small campfire in Nordmarka, Oslo's public forest, looking pretty pleased. For one, he has convinced his mother, Katja, to prepare pinnebrød for him: a classic outdoors delight of dough wrapped around a stick and cooked over the flames. But also, more importantly, Ivan tried out skiing for the first time today! In Norway, a country that claims cross-country skiing as a national sport, this is a big deal.
Ivan, Katja, several hundred other Oslo residents and I are all taking part in the annual Markadagen, "Forest Day.” Based in the public forest north of Oslo, this free winter event is a collaboration of a handful of local outdoor-oriented organizations. According to Mona, one of the volunteers from the Skiforeningen (Norwegian Ski Association): “The main thing is to show the public from all over the city simple activities and those who offer them. It’s important that we show how simple friluftsliv can be.” Friluftsliv, literally translated to ‘open-air life,’ describes the cherished Norwegian value of spending time out in nature. This is often considered a key aspect of Norwegian identity.
When I arrive around 11 a.m., the event is just beginning, and a carnival, friluftsliv-esque feel pervades the winter air. Go sledding! Borrow free skis equipment and practice shuffling through a mini obstacle course! Ride in a horse-drawn sleigh! Guess how old this spruce is, or how much this chunk of wood weighs! (I do both, and get a sweet email in Norwegian the next day, telling me I was quite far off but thanks for trying.) In one lavvo—a tipi-like structure, characteristic of the Sami of Northern Norway—you can even try making your own snowshoes from branches and twine! When you get tired, take a seat and watch some local teenagers put on a cute snowman play! When you get hungry, buy a moose burger with sautéed onions and tyttebære rømme (cranberry cream)!
Markadagen is a relatively new program; this is only their second year at the current location. According to the event organizer, Bent, the overall purpose of the day is just to get more people outside. The organizers specifically tried to target people who might not be as familiar or comfortable with staying active in winter. “We want to show them ideas for winter outdoor activities they can do by themselves,” Bent explained. Although Norway is known for its friluftsliv, not all multicultural Norwegians necessarily have a background of outdoor activities. Events like Markadagen aim to make opportunities like skiing, sledding and other winter fun accessible to all.
As we talk, Bent is manning one of the free food booths: he packs brownie dough into a hollowed-out orange half, to be wrapped in foil and placed in the coals to cook.
In Norway, the country where a single cucumber can cost over 4$, free food can be a major draw. Even though the moose burgers cost money (50kr), the chocolate oranges are free and so is the pinnebrød, the latter coordinated by Den Norske Turistforening (DNT), the Norwegian Trekking Association responsible for the country’s extensive network of marked trails and huts. Activity leader Juel has been a DNT volunteer for nearly eight years, and he explains that pinnebrød is typical DNT fare. "This is Norwegian culture! This is a good picture of what it is.”
I sit around the campfire with a motley crew: me, Ivan, Katja, Juel, another Norwegian long-time DNT volunteer, a volunteer from Spain, and a 10-year-old Norwegian girl. We compare pinnebrød roasting tactics (slow spin vs. char?) and share winter experiences. Katja is from Russia (thus no stranger to the snow), but she moved to Norway nine years ago. She came to Markadagen today with Ivan in mind.
"Today was fantastic,” Katja says. "Fire, food, activities. It’s good for him to do these things when he is young.” From the contented smile and crumbs on Ivan’s face, I’m pretty sure he agrees.