Sunday, January 24, 2016

We need a little Christmas.

Winter isn't's here.  It's cold, it's dark, and winter is definitely here in North Jutland.  I've already written our survival tale of last winter but only briefly mentioned there how essential Christmas cheer is to surviving the doom and gloom of the winter months in Scandinavia.  So let's brighten January with a little bit of that Christmas spirit.

Despite having some really nice fall weather this year, there was no denying the shortening of days by the time November rolled around.  Just when you might have started losing hope that you would every see the sun again...Christmas to the rescue!  You can't complain too much about darkness when the biggest department store in town covers it's entire building in thousands of Christmas lights (and puts a Lego model of Aalborg in the front window).

The first Friday in November marked our transition into the Christmas season.  Why the first Friday in November?  Because that's when the Christmas beer is released, of course!  J-dag is the day when Tuborg Julebryg is delivered to bars across Denmark.  It started with a cartoon beer commercial back in 1980 and has since grown into a yearly tradition where Carlsberg employees dressed in elf costumes give away free beer and fake foam snow starts falling at precisely 8:59pm.  If you're willing to brave the crowds, you might score a free light-up elf hat!

A few weekends later, Julemand (Santa Claus) arrived in Aalborg on his ship from Greenland and paraded through town on an old firetruck before lighting up our giant Norwegian Christmas tree.  After which, the Christmas market soon opened in the center of town, and we could fill ourselves with æbleskiver (little round pastries that taste like pancakes) and gløgg (like mulled wine with raisins and almonds) to keep out the cold.


As in many countries, food is an essential part of the Danish Christmas.  There are certain foods that you just always eat at Christmas, and it isn't really Christmas without them.  Of course, since it's Denmark, many of the traditional foods are some form of pork or fish.  There's also some really delicious creamed cabbages dishes.  Danes even have sweet potatoes, but not the orange kind you're thinking of if you're American.  The sweet potatoes in this case are boiled white potatoes that have been peeled and then coated in a caramel-y syrup.  And for dessert, it's ris a la mande with kirsebær sauce.  That's basically rice pudding with almonds and cherry sauce, but as per Christmas tradition, the bowl of rice pudding contains just one whole almond (all the others are chopped up).  The lucky finder of the whole almond eventually wins a prize, but if the almond is revealed too early, the bowl of pudding might go uneaten.  So the lucky almond finder must slyly keep the almond hidden until everyone has stuffed their face and can eat no more.  The traditional mandelgave (almond gift) is a marcipangris (marzipan formed into the shape of a pig).  Why a pig shape?  No idea.

So that's your traditional julefrokost.  Jul meaning Christmas, and frokost meaning lunch.  A name I'm not really sure about since every julefrokost I've been to has started around dinner time and didn't happen on Christmas.  I think Danish families do have a real julefrokost at lunchtime on Christmas, but the name also gets applied to any kind of Christmas party where you have the normal Christmas food and drink snaps until all hours of the morning.  Which is exactly what happens at the company julefrokost.  Yep, that's julefrokost with your colleagues, a time when your boss is pouring shots and everyone stays out til 5am in true Danish style.  At my first company julefrokost, I impressed my colleagues by being willing to try all of their Danish Christmas food, even the herring on rye bread which is the traditional first course (see photo).  It's followed by taking a shot of cold snaps, and while I don't particularly like either herring or snaps on their own, for some reason, they do seem to work well together.

This December included some extra fun as we headed to Copenhagen for my THIRTIETH birthday!  I've always enjoyed my birthday being during the Christmas season (well, except when I was a kid and wanted to have a pool party for my birthday), and we celebrated my three decades of life enjoying the Christmas magic at Tivoli amusement park.  Tivoli is a lovely, old time-y amusement park in the middle of downtown Copenhagen.  It's over 150 years old and still oozes charm, especially at Christmastime when it's decorated with thousands of lights.  Special thanks to our dear friend Louise who showed us around and treated us to a lovely birthday/Christmas dinner complete with ris a la mande.



As I think you can see, the Danes know how to celebrate Christmas.  When winter is really at its darkest, they light up the candles, cook up some pork, and sing together around the Christmas tree.  It's about as hyggelig as you can get.

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