Christmas in Denmark

Admittedly, I was a very lucky person this year.  Because of a confluence of several events, 2010 turned out to be a year of traveling.  Pretty much all of my family on my mother's side live in Denmark and while I have been there many times throughout my childhood during the summer months, I've only spent a handful of christmas holidays there.  I visited with my family in 1989, once in 1999, and in keeping with an every-10-years theme, I felt it was necessary to visit this year and see the family's new farm (recently moved into and renovated), my cousin's fellow and growing baby bump (due in May) and my mother who ended her months long traveling stint in Denmark for the holidays.

I have to say, it lived up to all I'd hoped for.  Jason and I arrived on the morning of December 23rd in a snowstorm.  We figured our way out of Copenhagen and onto a crowded train, full of folks on their way home for the holidays.  The stark overcast landscape wizzed by outside our traincar, a repeating scroll of snowcovered fields, stands of black barren trees dusted with snow and sweet Danish architecture with windows full of red hearts, plants and yellow light.  We arrived midday in Middelfart (yes, such a giggle-worthy town name does exist), and we were picked up promptly by Jeppe and Tina doing some last-minute Christmas shopping in town.

Upon arriving I saw that while all my memories of the old farm were still indellible, the new family home was just as cozy and familiar as it could have been.  All of the family's pictures and ambiance were still there. 

We arrived around dusk and were plunged into what can only be described in a Danish word not really directly translatable to english - Hyggelig - roughly meaning "cosy, welcoming and enticing - with scores of candles flickering around the open-plan sitting room".

After so much traveling it was great to finally be there, on the inside watching the snow still swirling outside.  The yellow indoor light and the almost electric dark blue tones outside were so stunning against eachother, I had to take some photos.

On the evening of the 23rd, it's tradition in Danish households to put together a dish of rice porridge covered in butter and cinnamon with a mug of beer to take to the Nissen (or gnomes) that typically live in your hay loft (if you have one), or other remote parts of your house like an attic.  Their tradition doesn't so much focus on Santa Claus during Christmas, but on these Nissen who are present and hiding out of human sight at all times of year.

The family farm now no longer houses rows and rows of pigs like it used to, but 3 Icelandic ponies that are let out during the day to play in the fields behind the house.  We all tromped out through the garage and past the farm equipment to the horses pen, gingerly stepped through the hay and navigated up a ladder to the hay loft.  We all sang a few traditional songs and shouted out the presents we all wanted for christmas.

In the morning, all the porridge and beer was gone and a large basket full of handmade items (could only have been made with natural materials on hand!) and a letter from the Nissen was inside.

On the day of the 24th we all decorated the tree with Danish flags and live candles, then generally lounged around to our heart's content.

Jeppe, one of the several talented cooks in the family, began preparing christmas dinner...  The kitchen preparation room and pantry in the background is jokingly referred to as "Jeppe's Office", since he spends so much time in there!

On Christmas eve, the main event in Danish tradition, we sat down for a dinner of duck and potatoes (candied or plain) with a fig salad and red wine, followed by rice porridge for dessert where everyone raced to find the whole almond in their bowl.  The winner with the whole almond traditionally receives a gift.

And after the feast that left most of us completely over-full, the singing and dancing around the christmas tree began.  After several songs, we snaked our way throug the house hand in hand, singing another raucous round of holiday songs before the present giving and receiving commenced.

On the 25th I bundled up and took a long walk outside.

We made a trip to the family cemetary in Ejby to see my grandmother's grave, and saw some nice still lives along the way.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Denmark in the waning days of 2010, it's definitely something I want to repeat again.