26 December 2005

Christmas in Denmark

JulaftenBefore I get to the real Danish Christmas story, I quit yesterday in he middle of the tale of risengrød, a rice goo that Danish elves eat. Turns out, people also eat it as part of dinner. To an American's eyes, it's more of a breakfast thing (like oatmeal), but I will not complain about food that has to be smothered in butter and brown sugar before you eat it.

The goo is made by cooking rice in milk instead of water. To avoid scalding the milk, Vikings since ancient times have been cooking the stuff by bringing the mixture to a boil, then taking it off the stove and wrapping the hot pot in blankets to finish cooking for some hours. Every Danish kid has a tale of accidentally jumping on the bed while the pot of goo was cooking in that fashion.

The night that we had the risengrød, The Martian and I also cooked one of my favorite 'American' foods: Shepherd's Pie. I don't know if any other American family eats this three-layer meat-veggie-starch dish, but it's easy and I like it, so that's what we made. The second option was mac-n-cheese. Maybe next time.

The next day was Danish Christmas, which they celebrate on Christmas Eve (julaften). The Martian's sister invited us to stay at her home in rural Mou, Denmark. The morning started with a Danish breakfast of coffee and smørbrød, bread and rolls smeared with butter and stuff: chocolate, jam, paté, shrimp, ham, cheeses, whatever. I mostly stay with jam; I can't seem to convince myself to eat liver for breakfast.

After breakfast, The Martian and his brother-in-law went out into their woods to cut down a Christmas tree. We all helped decorate it with a random assortment of stuff, including strings of Danish flags, a common decoration here for any celebration from birthdays to religious holidays. (I bet even George Bush doesn't have strings of American flags on his Christmas tree.)

The whole Martian horde descended on the house in late afternoon. Some brought food or wine; all brought presents that soon covered the base of the tree, much to the children's glee.

DinnerThe main dinner treats were duck and roast pork, including the crackling from the pork. We also had three styles of potatoes, cabbage, pickled squash, and oh, let's just say nobody went hungry.

After the third time the food rotated around the table, the adults were bloated, and the kids were jumping out of their skins. Because they want to move the process closer to the Present Opening stage, they help to clear the table.

The party then moved to the living room, where the man of the house lit the real candles! on the tree. It was the first time I had seen this traditional way of lighting a tree, and it may be the last; The Martian said electric lights are common even in Denmark nowadays.

Then everyone joined hands to sing Christmas carols while walking in a ring around the tree. It's a fun bit of ceremony, but after each song, the kids ask, "Is that enough singing yet?"

Because after the singing their anticipation ended with Opening Presents!

More next time!

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