Living abroad naturally leads to a blend of traditions, and these seem to show themselves best at Christmas and New Year.
Text: Heather Storgaard
Growing up as a Third Culture Kid, I find the blend of traditions that grow with every new country experienced a part of the festive experience, mainly because it inevitably leads to more memorable days and foods. So, if you can’t get enough Christmas hygge, I’ve written about some of my favourites from Scotland, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark that span early December through to the middle of January.
One tradition that gets Christmas going a bit earlier in December is Sankt Niklaus Tag, popular throughout much of central Europe but known to me from Switzerland and Germany. Children (or anyone who would like to take part) leave a shoe or a boot at the door for Saint Nik to come and fill with fruits, nuts and chocolates. In rural Switzerland, receiving the treats depends upon the correct recital of Swiss-German poetry, which played a part in my learning the language as a child. Nowadays, I find an excuse to buy good Swiss chocolate early in December and kick off Christmas with a tradition that’s very homely for me.
Æbleskiver are now known in Denmark and the UK thanks to the Copenhagen-born Great British Bake-off presenter Sandi Toksvig introducing them.
Christmas baking is a big part of tradition everywhere where the season is celebrated. Getting mincemeat for British mince pies or custard powder for New Zealand trifles to Denmark and distributed around expat friends every year can become an operation in itself! Æbleskiver are now known in Denmark and the UK thanks to the Copenhagen-born Great British Bake-off presenter Sandi Toksvig introducing them. However, I find it a shame that few in Denmark know of German Christmas foods, considering that, at least in Jutland, you’re never more than a few hours from the border. German Stollen, a yeast dough with fruits and spices, rolled up with marzipan in the middle, holds brilliantly, so it can be made early in the season. If that’s not enough marzipan for you, then Danish Kransekage for New Year is also a fabulous treat. Finally, if you want to keep the festive food going even longer, Dreikönigskuchen (Three Kings Cake) is a Swiss sweet bread with fruit, made for Epiphany on 6th January. My husband thinks it’s like an enormous British Hot Cross Bun, which makes it popular in our house!
Bilingual New Year
Hogmanay, otherwise known as New Year, has traditionally been bigger than Christmas for many Scots. Christmas has made some headway in recent years, especially for families, but something about a Scottish Hogmanay feels different from New Year anywhere else. In my family, we have always sung Auld Lang Syne in its original Scots, but in recent years my husband and I have added Jeppe Aakjærs’ Jysk (Jutlandic) translation, “Skuld gammel venskab rejn forgo”. It seems apt to sing about remembering old acquaintances in both Jutlandic and Scots, as we try to balance a life in both places.
Impending bleak January with storms brought by the North Sea will not be a foreign concept to anyone living in Denmark. However, in Northern Scotland, this is brightened not by candles and hygge but by January fire festivals. As a child, the most local to me was Burghed, where burning barrels are rolled through the streets, but the most famous is probably Up Helly Aa in Shetland, celebrating the Norse heritage of the islands with a parade of Viking enflamed long-boats. If you’re looking for a winter break that’s a bit different, there are direct flights from Esbjerg to Aberdeen, from where you can take a comfy overnight ferry to the Shetland capital of Lerwick. I am not brave enough to light that fire myself, so this is one tradition that I have not tried to transport to Denmark!