Maria – the other exchange student in my kitchen – and I had the advantage many other exchange students didn’t have: we are “total bros” with our Danish kitchen mates.
Not only did this have the obvious positives of living with some of our close friends, having a good relationship with the people we lived with, and having a group of amazing people to hang out with, but it also had some other benefits, too.
For starters, we learned about some of the different parts of Danish culture that each of them experienced. This included the historical and “current” rivalry between Denmark and Sweden (at least in the eyes of my Danish friends, whom were normally found jokingly antagonizing our Swedish hall mate); a similar competition between the two regions of the country known as Zealand and Jutland (much like the “rivalry” between North and South Jersey or different American states); the presence of Danish humor in the government’s campaigns to encourage young adults to vote; the different ways to celebrate a Danish birthday; and Janteloven, a Danish cultural law (similar to those in religions, such as Christianity’s Ten Commandments) that encourages individuals to remain humble and considerate of each other, among other rules.
Naturally, as the Holiday Season (or at least my definition of it) drew nearer, Maria and I also learned of the different traditions celebrated by our friends and their families throughout Denmark and Sweden. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to experience some of these traditions first-hand, as well, during one of the events our kitchen threw call our “Kitchen Hygge” day.
Similarly for many people in the United States, this time of year for many Danes (and Swedes), according to my friends, was less of a religious celebration and held more purely cultural components. During our hallway holiday preparation, some of my friends brought back the top section of a live Christmas tree (only the top due to money and logistical reasons), and we decorated it and the rest of the kitchen with paper, weaved hearts, gingerbread and normal tree lights and other cheerful décor. Apparently in previous years, the kitchen would hang the tree upside-down from the ceiling to protect it from future Christmas celebrations, which became a kitchen tradition itself.
We also lit a medium-sized candle with the days of December leading up to Christmas, making sure to melt only a day or number’s worth of wax each day. Christmas calendars were also apparently popular, but my friends and I decided not to spend the money because we were determined to get more chocolate than cardboard for our krones.
During our Kitchen Hygge day, a few of us made desserts together that were common for my friends during the Holiday Season. The first of which was vaniljekranse, or vanilla, almond butter cookies. Each of my friends had a different way to make them, but it was common for many families to shape the dough into small hollow circles. (We attempted to, poorly, and then gave up part of the way through the bowl of batter and started making other shapes, like a family of stick figures, a tiger and a rocket ship.)
We also made a traditional holiday rice pudding dish, risengrød, that can be served as both a meal and dessert, and can be eaten with cinnamon sugar and butter. This dish is apparently so common for Danish Christmas Season celebration that in one of their holiday television series, there is a song dedicated to eating the dish!
Many of the traditions Maria and I learned about and experienced were similar to those we normally observed in Switzerland and the United States, which were a nice reminder of home for both of us.