Besseggen. Photo: Marta B. Haga /MFA Norway

Norwegians and nature

Norwegian adoration of nature is a vital ingredient in the country's national identity. Over half of the population have ready access to a cabin, the schools arrange annual obligatory ski days, and most postcards produced by the tourist industry depict nature scenes rather than cultural attractions.

Most Norwegians live in single-family homes and large apartments, equipped with every thinkable electric appliance. Nevertheless, great value is attached to closeness to nature and a simple lifestyle. Thousands of Norwegians spend weekends and holidays at the family cabin, which ideally speaking should be should be tucked away in the wilderness surrounded by the pristine landscape of the Norwegian mountains.

The typical Norwegian cabin is built of logs and consists of a living room, one or more bedrooms, an outdoor lavatory, woodshed and small kitchen. Heating is preferably by wood, although kerosene is permissible, just barely. Oil lamps and candlelight provide light on dark winter nights. This simplicity is not due to a desire to save money. In fact a mountain cabin in an attractive location is a costly investment, no matter how simply they are furnished. The absence of modern comforts is founded on ideological and moral, rather than economic, reasons. (It must be added here that many Norwegians have a cabin by the coast, usually in an area with a mild climate. Here, completely different rules apply: these cabins can be comfortable second homes.)

Hiking and going for walks are a way of getting out of the house, as Norwegians put it; you leave civilization and all its comforts and depravity behind to get in touch with your inner self and feel like an authentic person. Hikes and walks can be taken on a weekday after work, but are usually a weekend activity. A normal yardstick for gauging the success of a walk is the number of people you meet along the way. The fewer the people, the more successful the walk was.

Adoration of nature in Norway has many facets. It is official and has a political aspect; unspoiled nature is a national symbol. It is private and is associated with family rituals, such as cabin life. But it is also personal and individual, and in this area veneration of nature has a clear sprinkling of religion. The state religion in Norway is the Lutheran faith, but reverence for nature is also very strongly ingrained. Instead of renouncing it as heathenish, Lutheranism has consciously embraced it - among other things, Christian books published in Norway often display Norwegian nature scenes on the cover. Moreover, the outdoors is often recommended by state church clergy as a great place for religious meditation and reflection. In this way, Christianity, which in principle places a sharp dividing line between culture and nature (nature is evil, people are by nature sinful), avoids a direct confrontation with the strong Norwegian ideology that culture and nature are two sides of the same coin.


Source: Shortened version. Thomas Hylland Eriksen is professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo and he is the author of several books on nationalism, ethnic relations and cultural change.   |   Share on your network   |   print