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My Christmas in Denmark: Different traditions, same feel

I am used to a Christmas of snow activities, activities through my local church, and special time with just my parents on Christmas day. I love skiing, being involved with the church, and eating our family's traditional Christmas food. Now, though, is my time to tell you all about Dansk Jul.

Dansk Jul starts when December starts, with Advent calendars. I have never had an Advent calendar before, but I started to enjoy this tradition quickly because I had two of them with Haribo and Ritter Sport in them. Haribo is a famous German gummy brand that deserves to be famous, and Ritter Sport is one of my favorite German chocolate brands that I might have a slight obsession with. Also, the Nisse (Danish Elves) leave gifts in stockings each of the four Sundays up until Jul! It's a little different than Santa Claus leaving a stocking full of goodies for us to wake up on Christmas morning, but I have no complaints.

Jul truly starts on the 24th in Denmark; with a delicious brunch to start off the day. This brunch consists of a lot of breakfast food, some of which is traditionally Danish. We had Danish pancakes (crepes), eggs, Danish sausages, rugbrød (traditional Danish dark bread), bacon, and more. We ate a lot, as we knew that we were to eat nothing else until the great Jule Aften feast.

In the meantime, some of us headed over to the Christmas Eve church service. I love going to church in the United States, but this was quite different than what I was used to. In the United States, church is more of a social, cozy event. Here it was very formal and no one stuck around to talk afterwards. It was certainly a new experience, but I did miss seeing my fifth grader Sunday school students in the Christmas program.

Now, in Minnesota, we usually had something nice on Christmas Eve. However, in Denmark, this is probably the most important meal of the year and it is very traditional. The main course consists of meat and potatoes, but of course, there are two different types of each. There is flæskesteg, roast pork, and and (duck). For potatoes, there are just regular boiled, peeled kartofler, and brunede kartofler, which are potatoes covered in a caramelized sugar. On the side, there is rødkål (cooked red cabbage) and asier (cucumbers). These are served with brun sovs, an awfully salty and flavorful sauce. I would be lying if I said I found the rødkål and asier delicious, but I found the other parts of the dinner quite good.

The dinner ends with risalamande, which is a rice pudding that consists of rice soaked in cream and vanilla flavoring and topped with a hot cherry sauce. The texture does take a little getting used to, but just about anything tastes good with cream, vanilla, and cherries. The most exciting part of risalamande, though, is the fact that there a whole almond in there, and the person that finds the almond gets a little gift. This year, there were two almonds, and my host mother and I were the lucky winners.

After the dinner, we go out into the living room, and the Juletræ (Christmas tree) candles are lit. It may seem a bit dangerous having candles on a real tree, but it is done in a rather safe manner and we supervise the tree the whole time. We then dance around the Juletræ singing julesange (Danish Christmas carol), and afterwards settle down and open the presents. It's all a very hyggelig and a happy time.

Now, there was much more traditional food the next day, including the famous sild (pickled herring) that has found its way into some Minnesotan families' dinners. It may not have been on my list of favorite foods despite my dad's inclination to it, but the family time certainly was.

In the United States, it has always just been my parents and I for the holidays, which is what happens when you are a family from three, your mom is a nurse, and you live far away from any relatives. The biggest change for me was definitely the amount of people in the house; at the highest amount there were 11, and it was really nice. I wasn't with my beloved parents at home, but I was in a place where people care about me, and I am starting to realize that's the most important requirement for a place being your home.

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