Living in an expat world | Christmas ‘hygge’ and hysteria

Christmas is upon us – a time when the Danes go bananas! For many people it is the highlight of the year when one can learn the core meaning of Danish hygge. The agenda of the month is baking, making decorations, drinking glögg (mulled wine), eating æbleskiver (Danish donuts), and attending several julefrokoster (Christmas parties) with colleagues and friends where schnapps and pork prepared in ten different ways are a big part of the menu.

It is also the time of year when expats find it even harder to get in touch with Danes. Not even Christmas can bring out spontaneity in the Danes. Hygge is planned to perfection and noted in a Dane’s calendar weeks and months in advance.

I have been so privileged to take an active part in the Christmas traditions ever since I arrived. It all started with a julefrokost with Danish friends where I somehow ended up in charge of the food. I am not a fan of the traditional Danish Christmas meal, so I decided to throw a vegetarian julefrokost. I was wise enough not to announce this before they sat down and had taken the first bite. Well, the announcement was followed by a few minutes of silence. In their denial, they started discussing whether I had fooled them and put meat in the pâté after all.

Since I am married to a Dane, I have also taken part in Danish Christmas celebrations in a family setting. I soon found out that there are many unwritten rules and they are hard to pinpoint and follow. As I wanted to establish and maintain good relations with my mother-in-law, I prepared myself by reading about the traditions. I also made up certain signals, such as a certain look, a little nod or an almost unnoticeable point of the finger that my husband could throw to me if I was on the verge of a big no-no.

I have also attended many multicultural Christmas celebrations through International Community. We had our annual Christmas event earlier this month, and participants from many parts of the world enjoyed learning some of the Danish traditions. I bet they can now impress their mother-in-laws with inside knowledge about the Danish Christmas and maybe even a handmade Christmas ornament in red and white.

This year my family has decided to put their fate in my hands. It only took them eight years to brace themselves for having the foreigner in the family take responsibility for the most traditional event of the year. However, I will refrain from cooking a Danish Christmas meal. I could probably pull it off, but I am quite sure that no matter what, ‘it would not be the same’ for the Danes.

I will do my best to make this a wonderful experience. Yes, the menu will be a bit different (not vegetarian), but there will be room for most of the other Danish traditions. However, I have to draw the line at lit candles on the Christmas tree. I simply do not have the nerves to put candles on a dried pine tree.

As to the candles − somehow Danes aren’t as prudent as I had presumed. At Christmas time, they truly go all in.