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A European Christmas in Denmark

A column devoted to those brave "first-time" internationals in Denmark.

Photograph: Tivoli / Visitaarhus / Visitnordvestkysten

Text: Dominic J Stevensen

Christmas 2022. Our wonderfully cobbled-together European Christmas was the first we spent here in the South of Denmark, with its treasure trove of inspiration, unique Scandinavian magic, and naughty little elves. It incorporated elements from my wife's childhood in Poland and mine in England, remnants of this cold but cheery time of year from our near decade past in Germany, and now informed by the globally known hygge of Denmark that fits so well into our general lifestyle.

We cracked open the first six-pack of Mr Kipling's Mince Pies from England on the 23rd of December, unable to wait any longer for the festivities to start as we had all been a week at home together, akin to another lockdown, owing to further illness.

Danish festive delicacies we embraced this Christmas were the risalamande with kirsebaer sauce, the aebleskiver, flaeskesteg, and a wonderful little Christmas Ale that sold out all too quickly and logically once we had discovered how delicious it was. We would have to wait for next Christmas to stock up on that festive delight.

We dined after dark on Christmas Eve – as is the Polish tradition – and on Christmas Day in the early afternoon as my family and I always did in England.

The main festivities included Christmas crackers, mince pies and Christmas pudding from my homeland, Polish barszcz soup, the duck we feasted on for Christmas Day dinner (a tradition we had started during our time in Germany) with all the trimmings – stuffing and Brussel sprouts as we always had in England, a mashed parsnip puree, and the quintessential potatoes done in several different ways.

We added the nissehue desserts from a nearby bakery to the mix only to later find out they included alcohol and, therefore, could only be consumed by the adults in the equation. It was not easy to get that message over to our salivating three-year-old, who merely saw cute, edible elf hats.

Daddy wore a Santa hat and his merry jumper and socks, the children had their own Christmas outfits, and everyone was loaded with Danish cheer in our new home, a stone's throw away from the sea.

"Our wonderfully cobbled-together European Christmas was the first we spent here in the South of Denmark, with its treasure trove of inspiration, unique Scandinavian magic, and naughty little elves."

Contemplating language, each country I resided in had a unique and rich version of 'Merry Christmas.' In Spain, it was Feliz Navidad - in Hungary Boldog Karácsonyt, Poland Wesołych Świąt, Germany Frohe Weihnachten, and here in Denmark, it was Glaedelig Jul. The Danish version somehow felt closest to the English, while all the others were from other planets linguistically. 'Glad Yuletide Greetings' echoed the Danish sentiment, as well as serving to remind me that, yes, of all the countries I had resided in, Denmark, so far, did seem to have the most in common with England – both weather-wise as well as the Danish people and lifestyle. Here, however, there was an extreme affinity for all that was cosy, and it was this, as well as its lovable language, living by the sea, and the sense of community we were now a part of, that had provided us with a foundation to build a life on. It was becoming like home. Creating such a feeling is no small thing, even a considerable accomplishment when living abroad.

Before the main Christmas window had opened, we had been invited to the house of an elderly Danish lady, a neighbour, who had given my children wonderful little fun snow shakers, their first ones, and biscuits and chocolates of the season as we had sat in a wonderfully dimly lit home, drinking, nibbling, and getting by on her broken English and our Danish efforts of similar proportions. It was quaint, extremely hygge, and one of the highlights of our merry period together. With Christmas being such a special time this year and all the problems we had had to overcome thus far since our move to Denmark, it felt like we had arrived now.

October 2023. Looking back, just contemplating that first Christmas in Denmark, and hopefully the many more to come, has me brimming with a sense of dark fun magic.

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