xmas in denmark (or: eating like there's no boxing day) - Dec 1998

  For some reason I'd been avoiding making any concrete plans about my second consecutive Christmas abroad and the more people asked me what I was planning to do the more I procrastinated on making a plan. Worse, I found myself quite unjustifiably bemoaning the fact I had nowhere specific to goand so attracted loads of invitations out of pity for my self-inflicted vagrancy. The truth was, I'd  received loads of pity-free invites tospend Xmas in Berlin, Sweden, Wellingborough, London, Shrewsbury, Scotland,Denmark, and of course various places in Ireland (where I'd based myselfformost of 1998) but this didn't stop me from telling all and sundry I was probably going to be spending it staring at four walls of an empty house in the back blocks of Dublin or Wexford. Long term travel does wierd things to your head; one week the world's your deftly shucked oyster, the next, you're feeling as pathetic and unloved as xenophobic hermit who's never set foot outside his front gate.  A late offer came from Regina, the Danish graphic designer on work placement at Saatchi Dooblin,who invited me to experience a typical Danish Xmas with her family. I'd only part-processed this invite since Denmark had not entered my addled head as a particluarly intriguing place to visit. But when my poor friend in Wexford had to uninvite me to his family bash because his mother said she'd rather leave numbers as they were, I thought, this is a big offer; I cannot refuse.  This was echoed over a farewell drink with my friend Patrick, the droll North Doobliner who'd had the wherewithall to buy me a champagne after spotting me all dressed up and dining alone. He disappeared for ten minutes and returned with a Book-of-Kells-inspired silver pendant depicting three dogs "chasing each others' asses". "A complicated design, for a complicated girl", he said. Hmmmm.

23/12/98 To Denmark

I farewelled Dublin for the last time and by midday I was on my way to Copenhagen. From there I spent 229 krona (about 23 quid) and a further two and a half hours on a train west to Vejle where Regina lives.The family welcomed me with open arms into their fabulous new house which left me gaping in awe. Outside, the unpreposessing blond brick exterior blends quietly and respectfully with the rest of the neighbourhood. Step inside and itsl ike entering a Danish Tardis - a cavernous open plan lobby superbly finished in granite, timber and stainless steel, with naturally, a cordless Band & Olufson sound system artfully positioned on a wall. The centre of the house featured an in-floor atrium stocked with fat & happy golden carp spooshing about under the wanton gaze and lolling tongue of Seigwurt, the family's Danish-Swedish farm hound. Someone had taught the dog an amusing though somewhat politically-incorrect party trick - offered a morsel with the words "der er en Tysker!" ("It's German!") the dog would refuse to touch it, closing all orifices tight as a fishes ass until the words "der er en Dansker! ("It's Danish!") were issued, upon which the food would be snapped up immediately. Apparently, the surly Germanic spouse of an uncle did not find this trick remotely funny...

24/12/98 - Xmas Eve in Denmark

Like several countries in this part of the world, Xmas Eve, rather than Xmas Day, is the big 'un. After a very late breakfast of rye bread, cheese sliced off a large block with a piano wire and Danish muesli, I sat decorating the Xmas tree with strings of Danish flags, little wooden men, baskets for holding licorice and real candles, carefully placed to avoid a forest fire. I was nearly laughed out of the room when I told them about the artificial tree my family in Oz had been putting up for years (white plastic, to resemble a spruce on the slopes of Vale, see). Lunch was noteably skipped to get one's pancreas and liver ready for the evening's onslaught, and my cyclist's tummy was starting to rumble despite overdosing the night before on several stodgy but delicious AEBLESKIVER, donut-esque balls dipped in rhubarb jam & icing sugar, and washed down with GLOG (pronounced "glook"), a flavoursome mull wine. At 6pm sharp Regina's paternal grandparents Elsa and Knul arrived and the feast began. Central to the spread was a large goose, roasted slowly over 4 hours and stuffed with prune and apple. It tasted somewhere in between turkey and duck, and was accompanied by gravy, cranberry sauce and several side dishes including red cabbage, sauerkraut with caraway seeds and BRUNEKARTOFLER, lozenge-sized potatoes sauteed in caramelised sugar and butter.There was a notable absence of leafy greens. Unlike my ABC (Australian Born Chinese) festive pig-out, where one piled one's plate Uluru-high from a groaning smorgasboard that could only be described as a food combiner's nightmare, the Danes served themselves modest proportions, pacing themselves and raising their Schnapps and Christmas Beers with "SKOL!"("Cheers") every few mouthfuls. Dessert was creamed rice - literally cooked rice with a vat of whipped cream folded through, and which formed the basis of a Danish Xmas game. A handful of wrapped gifts were placed on the table. An almond and a half were hidden in the dessert. Whoever gets the nuts must try and conceal the fact whilst others try to guess who got them. Regina and her dad were the lucky ones, and chose, er, a marzipan sow lying prone with marzipan piglets suckling at her underside, and a chocolate covered marzipan eel. After coffee we donned Santa hats, held hands and danced around the Xmas tree singing (in my case mumbling) songs from a Danish Xmas songbook.The songs, and the dancing, got faster and faster until we broke away from the tree and pranced through every room in the house, over beds and around the laundry to bring Xmas spirit to every room, said Regina. The opening of gifts followed, and to my surprise I was given some velvety black lingere from the family, which is bound to come in useful if an amorous hedgehog comes sniffing around my tent. I fell asleep on the sofa with a corpulent stomach whilst the others smoked and drank long into the night.

25/12/98 - Xmas Day in Denmark

Day 2 of the three-day feast took place at Elsa and Knul's equally fabulous house on the island of Funen, 30 miles east. The pair spoke no English but fell over themselves to make me welcome. After my spectacularly unrestrained attempt at goose-guzzling on Day One of the feast, they drew  Regina aside and advised her to advise me to er, pace myself. The meal this time featured pickled herrings on rye, marinated cucumber, home done beetroots, eel specially caught by Knul and smoked locally, served with omelette strips and a creamy curry relish, a heavy sausage and chunks of beef marinated in fried onions and a creamy spinach casserole studded with more of those diet-shattering caramelised lozenge potatoes. Before dinner a fun game took place, which beats Kris Kringle for sheer hilarity and good-natured nastiness. Everyone brings a small, silly wrapped gift, and places it in the middle of the table. Players take it in turns to roll a dice - if a 6 is thrown, he or she selects a gift from the table. When all gifts are taken the fun starts. A timer is set to an arbitrary interval and this time, rolling a 6 means taking a gift of your choosing from someone else. This gets hilarious - some people accumulate a whole pile of goodies which disappear when people decide to gang up on them. Others never get any.  I was the last to throw a 6 and up until then was was convinced you had to be Danish to play. When the timer sounds, everyone opens the gifts to reveal all manner of silly merchandise - a pastry brush, teatowel, pot scourer, hair clip, chocolate, and some more desirable booty like a bottle of red and two cans Carlsberg Xmas beer.  Then round three starts, the timer is reset, only this time people can see exactly what the gifts are. This didn't stop Regina's balding uncle demanding she hand over a garish blue hair brush or the bottle of cheap Chilean vino bouncing from one end of the table to the other like a yo-yo or a little girl from repeatedly leaving her chair to wordlessly and smugly relieve me of my gifts one by one. Clearly, she had it in for this foreigner.

26/12/98 - Boxing Day in Denmark

The third and final day of the three-day feast began at 1pm, when family from Regina's mother's side turned up. I made sure to be well prepared this time, eating only a mandarin for breakfast and going for a half hour jog in the freezing wind. The meal began as per yesterday - pickled herrings,marinated cucumber, beetroot, curry relish and a selection of breads, before moving quickly onto Reg's mum's breaded panfried herrings in a raison and onion marinade, sausages and delicious rissoles called FRIKADELLER, all accompanied by the ubiquitous red cabbage and sauerkraut. More schnapps (Gammel Dansk) and Xmas beer led to a groaning cheese board, fruit and biscuits. At around 8pm the party donned coats and scarves for a shortstroll through the damp chill night to prepare for the finale - chicken, leek and bacon pie with salad, crisp bread rolls and more Xmas beer.  Ataround midnight Regina and I headed out for a break from the family thang and landed in a cafe/bar in Vejle. This is a civilised establishment with tables and chairs where you can actually sit down and presumably get a bite to eat whilst getting sozzled and honouring your round. While she prattled on in Danish I ordered a Chivas and amused myself by perusing the room, as one does when when travelling.  One thing that strikes you is just how good-looking a race the Danes are - blond and Aryan or dark and chiselled - take your pick. My eyes came to rest on a particularly tasty example of each, the only two non-underage (underage = under 30) males in the room. "It's a shame you didn't get to try out the Danish men" chided Regina as we sank our dentures into a taut Danish sausage whilst waiting for my train to take me transport me back to Copenhagen. Indeed ...

Copyright 2003 Lynette Chiang All Rights Reserved