I’ve wanted to visit Denmark for a really long time. A good friend of mine
studied abroad there and for years has told me how wonderful the country is. She planned a trip to visit for Thanksgiving and invited me to spend the weekend with her and her Danish family. I knew it would be great but it completely exceeded my expectations!
I arrived on Thanksgiving which has always been my favorite holiday. I appreciate that it’s not a time for giving gifts (although the Black Friday mayhem drives me crazy!) and I think it’s important to acknowledge the things you’re thankful for. So I was thankful to be able to share this day with a close friend this year when I couldn’t be with my family. Karen’s host Mom cooked us a fantastic meal, and even added some special Danish flare to the main dish. I immediately felt so welcomed by this family and within an hour of meeting them, I was offered to be “adopted” as the family’s second American daughter.
It was at this meal that I learned the meaning of hygge, which rapidly became the best cultural concept I’ve learned in all my travels. This word can’t be translated to an English word, but instead is the feeling you get when you’re surrounded by people you love. It was explained to me as a cozy night at home with family, or a relaxing evening sipping beer on a terrace with friends in the summertime. There’s nothing I love more than the feeling of being cozy so I was instantly hooked!
Our weekend was filled with Christmas markets, exploring Copenhagen, and spending time with Karen’s family. We celebrated the first day of advent with traditional Danish æbleskiver, gløgg, and homemade julesnaps. The family even held the celebration a day early so Karen and I wouldn’t miss out. This was really special for me, especially since I’ve been away from my family for a while, and that’s always harder during the holidays.
The truth is, I’m a Grinch around this time of year. I really don’t like the month leading up to Christmas. Everyone is frantically buying gifts, the same 50 Christmas songs are on repeat, and no one seems to be enjoying themselves. It should be a joyous time, but instead everyone is just stressed. So being in one of the most Christmassy places on the first of December seems like my worst nightmare. But I did not feel the consumerism frenzy while I was there. Sure people were shopping (that’s the whole point of the Christmas markets), but it was more about enjoying mulled wine, Christmas elves, and pretty lights than about getting the best deal on another materialistic thing that no one needs. Maybe I was getting slammed with marketing left and right, but I just didn’t know it because I don’t speak Danish. Or maybe this culture has a different way of representing the Christmas season that I find more appealing than the US. Either way, Denmark made my Grinchy heart melt, and I found myself enjoying it all a lot more than usual.
My favorite part about the weekend was coming back from a day of exploring to Thanksgiving leftovers and practicing the Danish words I’d learned with Karen’s family. Sometimes for me, the people I meet in the places I go are what I enjoy most about the experience. Hillerød, Denmark now has a special place in my heart for exactly that reason.