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Norway Takes Easter Break, But Not To Dance Or Attend Church

March 30, 1994

OSLO, Norway (AP) _ Norwegians left at home during one of the world’s longest state holidays must feel as if they missed the great Easter egg hunt.

The change in city life is so spooky for some that the Red Cross has programs for lonely left-behinds to find solace with other lonely left- behinds.

″There are Easter cafes, and bus trips and that kind of thing,″ said Unni Kristoffersen of the Red Cross.

The traffic snarls of workday life are gone. There is a parking space glut, since stores and businesses are closed. Sidewalks are nearly empty.

Since the 1700s, the Easter holiday in Norway has legally been five days long, starting Thursday and lasting through Monday. But many Norwegians stretch it to 10 days, starting the exodus last Saturday.

During the last workdays before the holiday, anyone attempting to do business is likely to find that there isn’t anyone to do business with.

″It’s Easter,″ switchboard operators explain.

Among those still working are burglars, mountain rescue crews, movie theater staffs, and disc jockeys or bartenders, who struggle to keep vacationers from dancing under a 259-year-old ban by the Lutheran church.

The 1735 decree, made national law in 1965, bars dancing, concerts, entertainment, sports events and ″excessive festivities″ during much of the solemn Christian holiday, including all day Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

″We plan to present a proposal to Parliament this spring lifting the ban. It may be lifted in time for next Easter,″ said Ole Herman Fisknes, of the government Ministry of Churches, Education and Research.

″The biggest problem is Good Friday and Easter Sunday, since Easter is the absolute peak season at the movie theaters and at the mountain hotels,″ he said.

Local officials can grant exemptions, as they do for most movie theaters.

Under the complex rules, it is possible, at times, to buy a drink in a bar, as long as the patron doesn’t dance.

One Easter, in a town that enforced the ban, a disc jockey spun his dance records at a disco, but kept saying: ″Stop dancing.″

The crowd thought he was kidding. ″I’m serious. Stop dancing,″ he repeated.

Early this week, Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann ran into the Easter shutdown problem in her childhood home of Trondheim.

She wanted to inspect an archbishop’s farm from the Middle Ages as a possible film location, but was told to go away and come back after Easter, the Oslo newspaper Dagbladet reported Wednesday.

Ullmann, named an ″honored citizen″ of Trondheim this year, called the mayor.

″This city has one international star and her name is Liv Ullmann. If she needs help, the mayor will turn out,″ said Mayor Marvin Wiseth, who postponed his own Easter vacation to open the building.

Any Norwegian who has a vacation cabin, and many do, heads for the mountains. Many others pack ski resorts, leave the country on charter flights, or visit relatives.

Actually, only about one-fourth of Norway’s 4.3 million people leaves home for the whole Easter break. Others take shorter trips, mostly to the ski slopes, stay at home to read or pack the movie theaters.

Whatever their plans for the long, religious holiday, few Norwegians seem to be thinking about church. Although almost 90 percent belong to the state Lutheran Church, a recent poll said only 16 percent were considering going to church during the five-day break.