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A Holbaek Holiday

Three years ago, my parents surprised me with a plane ticket to go visit my best friend over in Denmark.  He was teaching Spanish in Holbaek, a very small Danish town with a population of only 27,000.  I was elated to go visit him but was a little put off that I would be away from the familiarity of Christmas at home.  Waking up obnoxiously early, with a brightly lit Christmas tree and my family listening to Christmas music in our pajamas all morning was something that I eagerly anticipated every year.  However, this year would be different.  But little did I know at the time, it would probably be one of my most memorable Christmases to date. 

My best friend and I were lucky enough to be invited to celebrate with a family he had met in town.  They took us into their home as if we were their own children.  The festivities all took place on Christmas Eve, as that is when Christmas is celebrated in Denmark.  We were greeted at the door with a traditional drink called gløgg – a warm wine seasoned with spices and swimming with finely chopped nuts.  It was delicious and much more appealing than the egg nog that I was often forced to gulp down at home.

The dinner was the most amazing spread of food I have ever seen one tiny woman master up.  It included flæskesteg - roast pork steak with cracklings,  andesteg - roast duck with apple and prune stuffing, rødkål - sweet-sour red pickled cabbage, brun sovs - a traditional dark gravy, whole boiled potatoes, roasted chestnuts with salt and butter, and for dessert, risalamande – a dish made from rice, whipped cream and almonds, served cold with cherry sauce.  For a girl that is used to having turkey and mashed potatoes finished with pumpkin pie, this was a world’s difference, but probably still one of the best meals I have ever had.

Being overly stuffed from eating a second portion of everything on the table, I was ready to sit down and relax.  This however, was not in the agenda.  After dinner we all went into the living room where there stood a Christmas tree illuminated not with lights, but real candles.  My jaw dropped.  The first thing I did was to look for the fire escape, but everyone assured me that this perceived fire hazard was the norm.  After closely admiring (and still pondering) every last candle, the family then told us to take our place around the tree.  They started to form a circle and hold hands around the tree.  Even in my state of confusion, I decided to follow suit.  The family then started dancing in the fashion of the ring-around-the-rosy game I used to play in preschool, while simultaneously singing Danish Christmas carols.  Before I even had time to comprehend what was going on, the circle broke and we were in a full out Christmas conga line dancing around the house.  Still to this day I wish I had the video of this so my family and friends could fully appreciate the story in full glory.

I knew after leaving the family’s house that night that I would never forget that Danish Christmas.  The family even gave my friend and I each a set of the candle-holding ornaments in hopes that we would bring the tradition back to America.  The following year, when back in the familiarity of a Colorado Christmas, I couldn’t stop wishing that I was back in Denmark dancing around that tree.  It made me quickly recognize that stepping out of my comfort zone made for one of the best holidays I have ever had.

Posted by Jessica McConnellogue  ·  December 24, 2010

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