As expats we have lived in two different countries, observed and in many cases adopted some of the traditions around us.
People often ask us what we do for Christmas dinner now we live in Denmark. If I am honest I am not a massive fan of traditional English Christmas dinner. I can’t recall the last time we had a turkey when we lived in the UK and despite my mum saying I would grow into liking Christmas Pudding, I never did.In Denmark it is traditional to eat your Christmas meal on Christmas Eve so we meet half way by eating Danish Christmas dinner on the 25th. So we enjoy a roast duck with brune kartofler (sugared potatoes) or roast potatoes (depending how we feel that year), red cabbage but with a bit of Brit thrown in with stuffing, Brussel sprouts and for my husband, bread sauce.
But the pinnacle for me is the traditional Danish Christmas dessert of ris a l’amande. A cold rice pudding thickened with whipped cream, packed full of almonds and then topped with warm cherry sauce. The best thing for me how I enjoy my Christmas dinner without feeling too stuffed and bloated. It is a great new way to approach the meal.
The other thing about Christmas that I think we have adopted from the Danes is the idea of it being a lot less stressful. From the end of November onwards you see many articles online and in print media aimed at people in the UK about how to have a stress-free Christmas, the idea that a time that should be about peace, family and enjoyment turns into a stress-fest of arguing relatives, burnt food and panic bought rubbish presents. I am sure this is the case for some people but the idea that it is a stressful time is put into people’s minds, thus becoming a self fulfilling prophesy. Recently there was an interesting article by Helen Russell about how to do Christmas like a Viking and the biggest take home message from this was that Danes like their families (who they see regularly anyway and not just at Christmas), enjoy a restful time at Christmas and don’t go mad buying presents (which it is quite acceptable to return anyway).Most shops and businesses close from the 23rd onwards to the concept of panic buying is reduced. Gifts are even wrapped for you in many shops so that added stress is removed. Food needs to be bought before the last few days and most popular ingredients such as cherry sauce and almonds are already selling out or low in stock a week before Christmas. So nofighting over the last jar of cranberry sauce in Asda and people fighting over parking spaces on Christmas Eve.
In fact shopping yesterday in Tiger I noticed that the Christmas stuff was already taking a back seat to normal stock and New Year’s Eve things. We don’t host a big Christmas (read about virtual Christmas here) so we don’t have the dinner stress but frankly when we had more people around the table for Christmas dinner years ago I still didn’t fuss too much about it. Growing up the actual timing of our Christmas dinner was a very fluid thing and we enjoyed it all the more.
There are a few things we still have at Christmas harking back to our British roots – a big barrel of Twiglets, a Chocolate Orange and a big box of Crackers which will hopefully include that weird cellophane fish that tells your mood and some very lame jokes. My husband always make a traditional Christmas Cake from the Women’s institute Christmas cook book and whenever we have given slices of it to Danes, they never mention it again. Presumably they are operating on the philosophy if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all! It is easy to keep the parts of Christmas we loved as kids away from modern influences. I loved this article by Emma Conway about why Christmas was rubbish in the ’80s and we still loved it. All the things the writer talks about are the things we reminisce about to our son and the bedrock of how Christmas should be, to me.The thought of my neighbours dancing tipsily around a tree lit with real candles on Christmas Eve does make me feel slightly nervous but never the less, let’s raise a glass to a stress-free and hyggeligt Danish Christmas!