I have a confession: I am obsessed with Christmas.
I think the blame lies with my mother, who raised us on Christmases chock full of hot chocolates stirred with candy canes, hand-written notes from Santa and family expeditions to Christmas tree farms to seek out the perfect tree to cut down, haul home and lavish with the love of years of handmade decorations. As soon as the Thanksgiving leftovers were neatly tucked into Tupperware, the Christmas boxes were hauled out from the garage, supplying us with enough holiday music, movies and decorations to last the whole season. And although the magic of Santa has long faded, Christmas has become even more fun as I've grown. It's now an occasion that reunites us, and in fact, I fly back to the States this Thursday for my first homecoming since last Christmas. In the meantime, I've been getting into the Christmas spirit on the weekends, when I blast Nat King Cole and the Carpenters through my laptop and bake (cookies, cranberry bread, you name it).
While I'm looking forward to finally being "home," it has been fun to see Europe deck its halls and to explore how other nations "do" the holiday. I don't think many Americans realize how many of the Christmas things we take for granted are really limited to our own country, for example: Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (my tutoring children stared at me blankly the other day when I mentioned him), candy canes (or peppermint in general), stockings (here they will often do wooden shoes, or just gifts), pumpkin pie, Christmas cookies (here they eat a jelly roll cake known as a bûche de noël, or yule log), and gingerbread men and houses (here they do literal ginger bread; a dense brick of a thing with nuts and raisins).
I'll fill you in with more details of the French noël tomorrow, but first, here's the Danish approach to a god jul (merry Christmas) and the last installment of my Copenhagen photos.
Danish portrayals of Santa often include him carrying a jolly looking pig. At first it struck me as random, if rather cute, and then my inner pessimist kicked in and I realized what Sinister ol' St. Nick had in mind for that pig. A quick chat with a Dane confirmed my suspicions: little Wilbur was headed for the main platter at Christmas dinner (and with a garnish already in mouth, no less!):
Another common Danish Christmas sighting: toadstools and dwarves (not elves, per se, but little forest gnomes that you'd imagine living in small thatched cottages under toadstools). When asked why, Danes reply with a "duh" look. Apparently they're so synonymous with Christmas over there that there doesn't need to be a reason.
The last seemingly odd variety of Christmas decoration: birds (and owls in particular)
Some of the Christmas things I found weren't so different as much as they were just very Scandinavian. For example, these fair-skinned, blond-haired, blue-eyed winter figurines (which, if you added tall and lanky, would correspond with the real population of Copenhagen):
Another quintessentially Danish item was this Christmas arcade game, which featured children wearing santa hats and vests engaging in Copenhagen's favorite activity: cycling! (the object was to press a "stop" button, timing it just right so that one of the bikes stopped in front of a prize that you wanted).
The Danish holiday foods of choice are Aebleskivers (little dough balls sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with cranberry jelly) and gløg (mullet wine with raisins and almond slivers). Here's a cute anthropomorphisized sign:
And here are my real-life samples, purchased from a Christmas market at Nørreport. Delicious:
A Christmas window display in a downtown department store:
One of the highlights of my trip was browsing the Christmas market in the famous lighted Tivoli gardens:
...which featured ice sculptures...
...various theme park rides (here you see the lights of little "sailboats" that children could take out on the pond) and scenic lights (you can also see the illuminated weeping willow)...
...a candy land area for children...
...and, oddly enough, light castles from exotic lands, such as this Taj Mahal-looking place...
...and this Japanese-inspired temple thing.
I even managed to find some mistletoe, which I realized is also a pretty bizarre item to associate with Christmas, but at least this one was familiar.
Alas, with the boy still across the ocean in Canada I had no one to kiss beneath it. Less than a week until reunion now, though. What an excellent Christmas present.