The summer holidays are well and truly over here in Denmark and we are looking toward the autumn and winter months.
Living in a new country opens up the chance to embrace many new traditions. Many expats want to, rightly, celebrate their own traditions and feel very insulted that the Danes are not open to embracing them. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is very important to keep your own identity and traditions (and to celebrate them yourself) but at the same time you can’t expect people in your new country to feel the same about them.
Over the years of living in Denmark we now celebrate a hybrid of celebrations. We mix up a British Christmas with a Danish one. We have also dropped some that we weren’t that bothered about in the first place. We enjoy the Danish holiday celebrations as well as our own but realise that traditions and celebrations are very specific to countries. This is something that not all expats realise. I still remember being asked by an American if British people celebrate Thanksgiving!
I recently read a Facebook discussion about Halloween, a holiday that is slowly filtering into Danish life but not universally welcomed. One American had been upset that her Danish neighbour had politely declined to give her child sweets when she knocked on the door trick or treating. The neighbour had explained this was not a Danish tradition.
As I see it, it is polite to find out in advance if your neighbours are open to the tradition. Perhaps a little forewarning could have made this situation better – you would find out those who were willing to embrace your tradition and those who are not. There are also events at the American Embassy and Tivoli, which has embraced all things Halloween, where there will be no friction over the celebration of what many Danes see as an unwelcome American import. An assumption that everyone should enjoy your celebrations from home is not the way to go to get them accepted in a new country.
But like all countries, Denmark has a number of traditions that people hold dear and are well worth embracing while living here. It helps with an understanding of the culture around you and helps you to integrate. I also find new traditions fascinating – I still remember how curious I was about the little chimney sweeps that appear in little pots of plants at New Year in Germany. And wondering why there were so many wooden barrels for sale in the shops in Denmark in late winter.
There are many amazing Danish traditions that expats can absorb into their lives that can almost be a positive replacement for their own.
If your kids enjoy dressing up and guzzling sweets until they are sick – then Fastelavn in the early part of the year (dates vary as it is related to Easter) is right up your alley. It is often referred to as the Danish Halloween and there are events happening in schools, daycare and public places. Kids dress up and bash a big barrel full of sweets until it bursts and the booty is shared.
Instead of visiting a pumpkin patch, head out to the country to enjoy the autumn apple harvest.
If you enjoy fireworks and bonfires but can’t find a Guy Fawkes event anywhere (this one if for the Brits) then you have two opportunities for this. New Year’s Eve is the time of the year when the city goes crazy with fireworks from both residents in the streets and in more organized displays at places like Tivoli. Want to watch an effigy being burned on a fire? Then check out Sankt Hans Aften in June when Danes gather around bonfires usually by the water to burn witches (not real ones of course).
You will struggle to find a turkey here for Thanksgiving or Christmas (although it’s hardly impossible if you plan ahead) but why not try something else? In Northern Europe duck and goose are the Christmas birds of choice and a lot tastier than turkey.
Open yourself to local traditions as well as your own and you will find that your year is a lot more fun than before, with even more to celebrate.
Melanie Haynes is originally from the UK and has lived in Copenhagen for eight years. She writes about life in Copenhagen on her blog Dejlige Days and after experiencing relocation to Copenhagen and Berlin, she runs a settling-in service aimed at expats called Dejlige Days Welcome and works with Copenhagen Housing to offer an integrated settling-in and home search service. Her ebook, 'Dejlige Days: A Guide to Relocation', will be published soon.