Now I consider myself a Christmas expert and fanatic, and pride myself on my dedication to the holiday season, however I was not at all prepared for Danish Christmas. Yesterday I met with my visiting host family, a Danish family I was paired with in the beginning of the semester, to spend the day decorating their home for Christmas. I thought we would maybe decorate some ornaments or hang up wreaths and lights, but oh no, I was so incredibly wrong.
We began the afternoon by decorating our own candle stands! My host family had all gone foraging in the woods for branches, pine cones, berries, and mushrooms (yes, you read that correctly) to decorate our candles. We started with a block of wood as the base, piled on a lot of clay and then began sticking our decorations in. Everyone was hard at work for a while, trying to design the perfect candle holders. I added some berries, pine cones, bark, and moss to mine.
This is such a fun and creative Christmas tradition! I'm definitely going to take it back to the states with me and have candle holder decorating sessions with my family and friends!
Once we had the Christmas lighting down, we moved onto the smell. We all grabbed an orange and stuck lots of cloves into them in fun patterns. We tied them up in ribbon and hung them around the house! The oranges and cloves smelled so incredibly good! I had only seen this done with cooking, like when you make a spiced apple cider or something, so this was my first time hearing of it as a decoration.
My youngest host sister is incredibly good at making Danish paper stars, so she began to teach me how to do them also. I had already learned how to do the simple ones made from four strips of paper at my LLC Christmas Party, but my host sister knew how to do a 12 strip star! It looked insanely complicated but we tried it anyway. She was a really good teacher and at the end of a long process, I had an almost perfect large Danish star! There were a few points that went missing in the process, so the star has some dents, but she's still beautiful in my opinion. My host sister's star was perfect though, so she gave it to me to use as an ornament when I go home.
If you think that was already a lot of creative crafts, just wait there's more! We did however take a quick break in all the decorating for some gløgg and æbleskiver. Gløgg is spiced mulled wine with raisins and almonds in it but I also got to try a non-alcoholic version that my host sister was drinking made of apple cider. Æbleskiver are basically pancake balls served with jam and powdered sugar! They are so delicious and these two treats are a Christmas classic here in Denmark.
While eating, they told me about some other Danish Christmas traditions. Apparently the Danes really like eating games! There are two main Christmas eating games, one for cookies and one for rice pudding. I forget exactly what the cookie game was called, but the name had something to do with mice. My host sisters said that this is something they played when they were really small in school. The rules are that there are a bunch of pepper nut cookies on the table and one person has to leave while everyone else chooses one cookie to be the special one. The person comes back and has to keep picking and eating cookies until they pick the special cookie. Everyone takes turns doing this and just ends up eating LOTS of cookies in the process! The second game is played during Christmas Eve dinner. There is a large pot of risalamande, Danish rice pudding, with one almond somewhere in it. You have to keep eating the rice pudding until you find the almond in your mouth. If you have the almond, you need to hide it in your cheek and pretend that nothing has happened so everyone else keeps eating! Only once all the rice pudding is finished, can the winner show the almond and win a prize! Apparently my host brother has almost always won the game, and one of my host sisters is very jealous because she's never won so the game is a bit of a sore spot for her lol. She swore she was going to finally win it this Christmas, so I'm rooting for her!
After our little break of snacks and chats, we were right back to business. My host mom brought out a large tray of marzipan, chocolates, sprinkles, licorice powder, almonds, dates, dried strawberries... the list goes on and on. Basically we were going to create our own little marzipan chocolate sweets! We all began shaping and filling the marzipan with nuts, sprinkles, or dried fruits and then dipped them in chocolate. Once they were all dipped we decorated the tops with sprinkles and let them dry. We made two whole baking trays filled with little candies! I had never made my own marzipan candies before, but apparently it's something they do every December. The candies were so delicious!
Unfortunately I couldn't stay for dinner because I had a lot of work to do (yay finals!), but I had so much fun spending most of the day with my host family and sharing Christmas cheer. All these traditions held a big place in my host family's heart, and I could really see how much they all loved spending this time together. The crafts were all simple and straightforward, but were so fun and entertaining, especially with a good group of people. You only needed some pine cones, candles, paper, snacks, stories, marzipan, and chocolate for an entire day of Christmas fun. I am definitely bringing these traditions back home with me and making time to do some of this stuff with my family this Christmas.
I really wish I had taken more photos of the afternoon, but I honestly totally forgot about my phone the whole day because of all the fun we had! I unfortunately don't have a picture with my whole host family, but here is a picture of my host siblings and I from an earlier dinner.
It was our last time all meeting up this semester because I'll be going home in less than two weeks and it'll be a busy time, but I'm so thankful for all the fun I had with them over the semester! I learned a lot about Denmark, Danish culture, and their lovely family. I now have so many new Christmas traditions to remember my time in Denmark, and I can't wait to share them with other people!