We’re only just over a week away from Christmas now. Here in Copenhagen the ground is covered with a thick carpet of snow and the skyline is lit by a range of Christmas lights that shine all the way to the North Pole.
This is my second northern Christmas. Whilst I miss the lazy summer afternoons and ice cream Christmas pud that I associate so closely with Christmas at home, there are elements of ye olde school Christmas time (or Jule, pronounced Yule, as it is referred to here) that make it slightly more cosey than Southern Christmas.
It’s not just about the snow outside or the Christmas tree lasting more than two days before drooping in the heat. It’s about the firm upkeep of traditions which just don’t translate to the Southern summer.
Sure, we have our own great traditions in Australia. And I think that one of the best things about Christmas in home is the multiculturalism. If you celebrate Christmas in Australia you probably have your own unique family traditions. Some stay up for midnight mass, but for others Christmas is more about family than religion. Some eat beef, others lamb or seafood. Some people have a big lunch; others wait to tuck into a large dinner. Some people are bound to purchase a gift for everyone in their family and other families decide to run a Kris Kringle instead. It speaks volumes about the ability of Australians to forge their own cultures and traditions.
But no matter where your family hails from, chances are that somewhere along the line you have had to modify your Christmas traditions in order to make them work in the heat. Or maybe they have simply changed over a couple of generations to fit into a more relaxed lifestyle.
In contrast, the anchoring thing about a Christmas celebrated so far from home is that the traditions in Denmark are so strong. There are a lot of them, but this year I’ll just cover the countdown to Christmas…
First on the countdown list is a Christmas candle. This is a must for every Danish home to burn in the window each evening. The Christmas candle is slightly different from a standard candle in that it has the numbers one to twenty four carved along the side. Every evening you light the candle and wait for it to burn down to the next number before blowing it out and waiting for the next day to burn the next stage. For me the charming thing about the candles is watching them disappear day by day and knowing that the big event is getting closer and closer. It is a visual reminder of the anticipation we all feel for the coming celebrations.
Obviously playing with flames and candle wax in anticipation of is enough to delight any sensible child. But Danish children have the extra privilege of being on the receiving end of a beautiful tradition of advent calendars. Now when I was young, an advent calendar evolved some dodgy illustrations of Santa hiding some molded chocolate behind cardboard windows. There is none of that here.
Here dedicated parents pick and individually wrap twenty four small, but personalized gifts. For example, one friend (although now an adult) always receives several batches of her favourite sweet- Danish salty liquorice. But it’s not all about sweets. It might be something like a skipping rope, or even a lottery ticket. But it’s not really about what’s in the packages, it’s about the thought and attention that goes into creating something special and individual…building anticipation for a family event.
And you can get creative with this too. Even if you don’t have the time to invest in twenty four separate gifts you can easily do better than the old Cadbury calendar by creating the packaging. Check out these different themes to get you inspired for next year!
So cheers for now.
Next week- Christmas dinner!