As an American married to a Dane, I have spent more than 15 Christmases in Denmark to date. Christmas truly is magical time of year here and as I have studied and written about “the Danish Way” for many years trying to understand what makes it unique, here are 6 signs you might be Danish at Christmas.
- Your “wish list” is not just wishful thinking. Every year I am asked to provide my “ønske list” from my Danish family. This is essentially a list of what I would like to receive. The saying “be careful what you wish for” is taken to a new level in Denmark. In my family, growing up, gift giving was improvisational. Thus, you were either joyfully surprised or artful at hiding your disappointment while plucking a hideous sweater out of the wrapping paper. Danes seem to be more practical in terms of keeping it simple and not over doing spontaneous gift giving. While I use to balk at this for lacking imagination, I now really appreciate it.
- Your tree is not only real, but there is a chance you chopped it down yourself. Don’t have a real tree? Don’t admit it. The majority of Danes have real trees and the idea of a fake one leaves many looking dazed and confused. Danes typically put their tree up only a few days before Christmas and some join together as a family to chop it down. Coming from Florida and the land of plastic fantastic, this was quite an experience.
- Your ornaments are designer and cost an arm and a leg.In Denmark, most families have at least one, if not a whole tree, decorated with designer Georg Jensen ornaments. This includes candle holders. Yes, candle holders (see next sign). These could be bells, snowflakes or angels in a sweeping modern design and the cost is not for the faint of heart or light of wallet. While my tree growing up was twinkling with tinsel, glittering plastic ornaments, blinking lights and tacky memorabilia, including pink fuzzy flamingos, Danish trees tend to have an elegance and simplicity I really admire. Many years on, we finally have quite a few of our own golden Georg Jensen ornaments. They do, admittedly, hang next to fuzzy flamingos.
- You have gnomes in every activity imaginable decorating your home. Cheerful, chubby, ruddy gnomes in pointy red hats are standard guests in Danish homes at Christmas time. They are mainly in pairs, but can be more. They can be found in an array of activities fromcooking, to throwing snowballs, eating chocolate, riding motorcycles or carrying your candle. Luckily, they are cute because inevitably, they are everywhere.
- You find yourself lighting real candles on real trees in wooden houses thinking “this is “hygge” (cozy) not a fire hazard.My first Danish Christmas, I was horrified as I watched the family light real candles attached to a real tree in a predominantly wooden house. I couldn’t stop scanning the room for a fire extinguisher and wondering if no one had heard of Ranger Rick, the American racoon character who famously warned kids of fire hazards. Lighting candles on a tree in any way, shape or form was not a scene Ranger Rick would approve of. Years later, when I finally accepted that no one seemed to be burning their houses down and candles on a Christmas tree really is very “hyggeligt” or cozy I began to enjoy it. While I absolutely love it in Denmark, I still wouldn’t recommend trying this at home kids.
- Dancing around the Christmas tree singing and holding hands is not just for musicals. When my husband first handed me “the song book” on Christmas Eve and told me that we were going to hold hands, sing and dance around the Christmas tree together with the family, I looked for the hidden candid camera and waited for the laughter at my shock. When none of these came I braced myself for the worst. Once, I finally let go of feeling silly, however, and stopped worrying about my sweater catching fire from the tree, I discovered one of the most heartwarming experiences I have ever tried. It has also become one of my children’s absolute favorite pastimes.
Of course, there are many more signs that you are Danish at Christmastime, but these are just a few that stood out for me. For beginners, try the festive Danish Christmas beer. With a higher alcohol percent than normal, it’s guaranteed to get you in the holiday mood and makes the group singing a little easier.
As featured in The Copenhagen Post