Several hundred gingerbread houses were smashed to pieces as vandals broke into a tent harbouring "the world's biggest gingerbread town" in downtown Bergen last night.
Outrage over the havoc wrought by "the gingerbread vandals" was the first thing that met me when I logged on to Twitter this morning, and the story is currently all over the frontpages of Norway's national news sites.
A police officer investigating the affair has told the country's media that to wreck hundreds of gingerbread houses made by Bergen's children the perpetrators must be close to retarded (in Norwegian), and it has been suggested that the outrage will be even bigger if it turns out the mischief was wrought by a "foreigner" (here to be understood as someone not born in Bergen as there are those who feel Bergen is like a nation within a nation. People from other Norwegian cities, especially Oslo, are often made to feel like foreigners there).
The gingerbread town is a popular tradition in Bergen dating back to 1991 and has more than 5000 fans on Facebook, according to VG.no. There's currently a flurry of proposals on Facebook, Twitter ( #pepperkakeby ) and in mainstream media about rebuilding the town - and, more flippantly, campaigning for homeless gingerbread men and women.
Christmas traditions can certainly be serious business in Norway. For my last column for Viking Magazine, I talked to a woman who had something close to a Phd on Christmas dinners. She said Christmas is like a food memorial feast, and few traditions are as sacred to Norwegians as those associated with this time of the year.
Not because of the religious aspects, but because there's nothing like this season's food to realize family belonging - and, mind you, there's a lot of time and effort that goes into making this food. I remember how devasted I was when I lived in London, or Hertfordshire strictly speaking, and my perfect gingerbread house, carefully decorated, only lasted a few days before it melted before our eyes in the dampness of our flat (though or landlord insisted it was only "condensation", and when I called a solicitor friend for advice on how to get out of the fixed term contract he said something to the tune of how 'tenants in this country have all sorts of rights, but acting on them could ruin your life'. When we still tried, our landlord sent a former MI5 agent around to our flat to have chat, but that's a different story).
My point? Christmas cookies, and especially ginger bread houses, is no laughing matter.
I know this story easily lends itself to ridicule, and a good sub would have a ball with it, but last time anything remotely similar happened to me I was 27 and I still found it depressing (to make matters worse, we tried twice: but the last house was constructed by my then partner, who is Dutch, and only stayed in one piece for a day).