Jul

While today is Christmas in North America, yesterday, the 24th, was the christmas equivalent for Denmark.  Instead of the festivities being held on the 25th, everything is done on “Juleaften” (Christmas Eve).  Christmas in Denmark, and much of northern Europe, draws upon a much older history, with far more ingrained traditions than in North America.  In fact, I believe that the archaic “yuletide” comes from the word “Jultid”, meaning christmastime.  Because of this lengthy history, the traditions date back to time immemorial.  History, combined with traditions, combined with the Danish idea of hygge make for a Christmas on steroids.

The day begins with a rather normal church service,  people sing danish songs, read passages from the Church of Denmark’s bible, and generally just get together as a community.  The church I went to yesterday was built sometime in the 1100s’, a structure far older than my own country, or even the colonial institutions that created it.  After church one may go back to their house and have a christmas lunch with friends or family.  However, the main event begins when the sun sets (this late in the winter this happens around 3:30pm) when dinner is served.  It’s traditional to have a goose for dinner along with potatoes fried in a caramel sauce and rice with whipped cream and almonds for dessert.  The food traditions are so ingrained that many families will make these dishes even if no one present actually likes them.  One has to appreciate the lengths people will go to in preserving their traditions

After dinner the Father, or husband of the house will go light the candles on the tree, real candles, while the rest of the family waits impatiently to begin giving and getting gifts.  However, before that can begin the family will hold hands and sing and dance around the tree.  Gone is the american tradition of stuffing the tree in the corner of the living room and mummifying it beneath one hundred meters of colorful artificial lights.  A Danish tree sits proudly in the center of the room, adorned with real candles and homemade decorations.  After much singing and dancing, the family seats themselves around the tree and begins the gift process.  However, unlike in North America, where it’s a free for all with kids scrambling over one another to plunder the bounty beneath the tree, the Danish process is patient.  One member of the family is given a gift, they open it in front of everyone, and then the go to the tree and pick a gift for another member of the family.  This is repeated until there are no gifts left.  It can take upwards of two hours depending on how many people/ gifts there are.  All of this is done in the evening, unlike the American Christmas morning.

In Canada, my family and I were never big on christmas, thus, it’s never been an important time of the year for me, and I’m not bitter about that.  However, experiencing the tradition in a way that’s closer to its roots has been a delightful experience and I’m glad I was here for it.

Glædelig Jul til alle.

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The Problem With Exchange Blogging

There is an intrinsic problem with exchange student blogs.  This is something I’ve witnessed with my exchange friends in the past, and my very own blog as well.  See, the main problem with blogging as an exchange student is that you’re blogging about how different your host country is.  All the little quirks and differences, perhaps the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that make you think of home.  But at the end of the day, almost every blog made to capture the essence of exchange is one that attempts to do so by contrasting an old life, and a new life.

And that of course isn’t the real problem; we watch documentaries and read news from far away lands to experience just that, contrast.  The first few months of a blog are always the most interesting, you can read raw thoughts on a new country, read about experiences you couldn’t hope to have back home, and live vicariously through the author as they go about their new life.  But what happens when a new life just becomes your daily life?  This is the intrinsic problem I mentioned before; eventually the contrast you were once able to identify becomes normal.

Yesterday I marked the fourth month living in Denmark.  Three months prior I could’ve written about contrast until my keyboard fell apart.  But now, everything just seems so normal.  I remember one of my earlier blog posts, it was about the rain and weather in Denmark.  The mere fact that it rained 6 out of 7 days of the week was so foreign to me.  But now? Now I’ve just accepted that Denmark is only suitable for amphibians and vikings.

All of this made me think; as an exchange student, I’ll tell people mundane things about life in Canada that just shocks them.  For instance, snow days.  Days where you don’t go to school because there’s simply too much snow on the roads; that’s just a regular facet of Canadian life.  But, to the Danes it’s incredible, especially when I tell them we get 10-15 of them per year.  This of course is just one example of “normal life”.  But, now I have two “normals” and it’s interesting to reflect on which of the two normals will win over in my mind.

Perhaps you may live a life that would be unimaginable to someone else.  It’s hard to imagine someone eagerly wishing to live vicariously through you in your own life, but yet it’s easy to become excited when you read, watch, or experience the life of another.  Is this because your life is merely uninteresting or normal? In my experience, no.

The more “normals” I experience, the more I realise how extraordinary normal can be.