Fairs In Scandinavia
( Originally Published 1881 )
ALL over Scandinavia fairs are held once or twice a year at places convenient for a great gathering of the people; mer-chants send goods for these occasions, and houses often are built specially for their accommodation. There are horse and cattle fairs; and others where goods and produce only are sold.
It was September. Numerous boats were pulling towards the land, on their way to the fair which was to take place at Lærdalsoren, situated at the head of the Sogne fjord. Both women and men were rowing ; but as they approached the shore each boat stopped to give the rowers time to make their toilet before landing. The women were putting on their skirts and bodices over their petticoats, combing their hair, adjusting new caps, or giving the last touch to their dress; for if there is anything as to which the bonde woman is particular, it is that she shall be tidy when she appears in public.
After landing, I found the narrow streets of Loerdals6ren crowded with people, including a great number of women ; these were clad in their best—the men in dark-blue home-spun cloth, with silver buttons on their vests, and a few old men in knee-breeches, the women in high-necked dresses of coarse dark blue or black woollen, the bodices fastened with silver buttons. The married women wore head-dresses characteristic of different districts, and the girls handkerchiefs or little caps.
On gaining the main street, I found myself surrounded by friends, who welcomed me to Laerdal. The fair was to Iast three days, and everybody came either to buy or sell—the farmers getting chiefly dried codfish, herring, coarse salt for the cattle, flour, tea, coffee, sugar, etc., for the winter season; the women wearing apparel for themselves and their families.
There are several stores which remain open all the year round, filled with goods sent by the merchants of Bergen for sale on commission. It was a sort of opening of the season at the time of my visit. The new stocks for the year—the so - called latest styles—were exhibited in profusion ; and among the articles intended to tempt the buyer were shawls, silk, woollen, and cotton handkerchiefs to wear on the head, cotton goods of different kinds, and a great array of umbrellas; for each woman seemed to take a personal pride in having one of these for her own. One or two jewellers came from Bergen, and their wares were the chief attraction for the women and maidens, and even for the men.
Almost all had brought their own food, stored in oval, covered wooden boxes, often gaudily painted. They lodged in the houses around, each room crowded to the utmost-paying for lodgings and coffee, and some for meals, also. My friends introduced me to those who were from districts where I had not been. Soon it seemed as if I knew everybody in the place. One party would join me, and walk with me for awhile ; then I would be seized upon and carried off by another group, and thus we met and separated many times during the day.
The buying mania seemed to possess all the good people about, and it finally seized me. I began to purchase right and left—a shawl here, an umbrella or silk handkerchief there —as I was walking with good friends and their daughters or sisters, until we came to a jeweller's stand, and then I was in for it. This was the time to show that I had not forgotten the many kindnesses I had received. My companions crowded around the glass show-cases wherein was displayed an assortment of silver spoons, chains, brooches of patterns to suit the taste of this part of the country, and large quantities of silver rings, many of which were ornamented with little golden hearts, or golden hands clasping each other; but the greatest attractions were the gold rings. The ambition of a young girl was to possess one of these treasures—a plain gold ring being her chief adornment, to be worn on Sundays or a visit. There were also silver thimbles, some of which were gilded in-side, and silver studs—the latter extensively worn by the men and women in this district ; the women especially used them, and always managed to show them above their high-necked dresses. Some were set with large red carbuncles. Silver
watches for the men were sold in considerable quantities. I bought first one thing and then another; this for Brita, and that for Ingeborg, Inger, Sigrid, Dorte, Anne, and at last for Ole, Lars, Mikkel. Here a present given at the fair has a greater-value than on an ordinary occasion. I enjoyed the giving of these simple presents, and, like all the rest, I was bent upon having a merry time, and on making my friends happy.
The height of the fair seemed to be at about five pm.,when people had had their dinner, and all felt happy. On every side invitations to visit were showered upon me. We became more and more friendly as the day advanced, and seven of us swore to be good friends to the end of our lives—and good friends we are, indeed, to this day.
While walking with two girls, friends of mine, a good-natured fellow, who evidently had taken a little more than he ought, made professions of affection to one of them. She said, laughingly, "You know that I do not love you," and re-commended him "to go after Berit, for she was the one that he loved." Then she said, confidentially, `Paul, that fellow has made love to Berit for More than a year, and now lie wants to make love to' some other girl, but I am not to be the one." Similar innocent intimacies of young people of the same hamlet were continually before my eyes. Young men were seen walking with their arms around the waists of girls to whom they were not engaged—the daughter of a neighbor, or the sister of a friend-perhaps the beginning of what was to end in a wedding. Occasionally, however, a girl would send a young fellow off in a manner that showed the strength of her muscle, amidst peals of laughter from all those who witnessed his sudden discomfiture. Most of these farmers' daughters are twice as strong as a young lady from the city.
Towards night many of the men became rather lively, having drank a little too much, but none of the women were similarly affected ; they would not have enjoyed the fair unless they had finished the day by being jolly. There was no quarrelling, no coarse language, and no swearing, for the Norwegian bonder do not curse.
At dark, the lamps having been lighted in the stores, the crowd continued to buy. By eight o'clock it was much diminished, and the women had almost entirely disappeared from the streets; and every house in the place, and on all the surrounding farms, was filled with people. The accommodations were restricted, but all were taken care of—three or four girls sleeping in one bed, and many of the men on the floor. At nine o'clock all had retired, and the fair was virtu-ally ended.
In the house where I slept there was a host of my friends the peasants, and my room contained three beds, all of which were occupied, three fellows sleeping in each. A great many people left in the morning, and I felt lonely to see everybody going away. The same feeling that prompted me to be merry with the rest urged me now to depart, and nothing could have induced me to remain a day longer. Had I accepted the invitations I had received from friends, it would have kept me busy for several months.
When just ready to jump on my cariole, a fine lad gave me an old silver watch-chain; one girl came to give me a silver ring, with two gold hands clasping each other, as a token of friendship, while another presented a little carved box, saying, "I have two brothers and sisters in America; the people are kind to them. Take this little box ; it is mine by inheritance, and has been in the family for hundreds of years. Take it, Paul, as a minde (token of remembrance) from me." And she added, "When you go to America, try to see my brothers and sisters, and say to them that God has taken care of us all; that father is getting old, but that mother is well: tell them never to forget God, and to love him as they did in old Norway."