Family, Christmas and History in Denmark

My mom’s first cousin, Margaret Hunter, had the good fortune of marrying Bjarne, a Dane. They have been living in Denmark for almost 30 years and graciously hosted us for Christmas this year. We all had a fabulous time visiting with family and learning about the Christmas traditions and the incredibly rich history of Denmark. After being away from family for more than 6 months, Margaret and her family made us feel like their apartment in Copenhagen and house on Møn was our home too. After picking us up from the airport, Margaret took us to a local playground with built-in trampolines:

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The next day, as Christmas present from my sister, we took the train to see the Nutcracker in Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest theme park in the world (created in 1843). To me, the park was a little like going to Longwood Gardens in Delaware or the Botanical Gardens in Atlanta during the Christmas season with a few older amusement park rides like those found on Rehoboth Beach. Here is a pic of Ada and John waiting for the model train around the Christmas tree:

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And another pic of them riding the Elf train:

The highlight of our trip came the next morning on December 24th when we drove a hour and a half to their house on Møn, where Bjarne grew up.  While Bjarne, his brother, and my cousins, Peter and Peyton helped prepare a delicious Danish Christmas dinner, Margaret took us on a short walk to the beach where Maddie and Ada made stone soup (using a bucket, sand, rocks, kale from the garden, flowers and leaves):

Before dinner Maddie and Ada had an incredibly giggly time playing with Peter and Peyton who they quickly nicknamed Peter Pan and Pey Pan. Here is Ada on top of Peter:

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and Peyton reading to the girls:

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Around 5pm, we sat down for a delicious Danish Christmas dinner (roasted duck, roasted pork, browned potatoes (with butter and sugar), regular peeled potatoes, gravy, prune and apple stuffing, pickled red cabbage) with a few sides added by Margaret which are common in the US like waldorf salad, and baked sweet potatoes with pecans.

After dinner, we then played a really fun Danish Christmas game called “pakkeleg.” Margaret and her sister-in-law purchased and wrapped about 15 small presents and put them on the table. Margaret passed out two cups with a dice each in them. If you rolled a six, you could pick a present from the table or steal a present from another person. The dice passed from person to person pretty fast until all the packages were taken. At this point, Maddie was despondent because she hadn’t rolled a single six. Margaret then timed the game for approximately ten more minutes when we had to roll and pass the dice really quickly. If you got a six in that round, you had to steal a present from someone else at the table. That is when Maddie started getting lucky and by the end Maddie and Ada were both ecstatic because they ended up with 3 presents each (and John and I had only one because they were all stolen!) Here is a picture of Maddie playing with one of the presents Peter got from the game:

After pakkeleg, we sat down to eat dessert: ris à l’amande which is like the Christmas dessert common in Norway but instead of warm rice pudding with sugar and butter, this rice pudding was served cold and had chopped peeled almonds, whipped cream, and vanilla. It is topped by a cherry sauce and is delicious. Hidden in the ris à l’amande was one peeled whole almond. Whoever got the whole almond in their dessert got a present. If you were the lucky winner, you were also supposed to hide the almond in your mouth so that everyone would eat all the ris à l’amande hoping to get the almond. I was the lucky person who got the almond on my first serving! (but also was not very successful at hiding the almond in my mouth as there was a noticeable bulge that John and Peyton quickly pointed out.)

After dessert, we cleared and moved the table so we could move the Christmas tree into the center of the room. Bjarne lit the candles on the tree and then we all danced around the Christmas tree singing Danish and English christmas songs which Margaret kindly printed out for us. (One of the Danish songs was the one we learned in Norway about the barn elf eating the julegrot which we wrote about here.)

The highlight of the night for Maddie and Ada came after dinner. In Denmark, everyone opens presents on Christmas Eve and Maddie and Ada got to see their presents delivered by Santa! 

The next day was a relaxing day on Møn recovering from all the Christmas festivities, playing with cousins and new presents, and eating the abundance of leftovers from the Christmas dinner. We did get to fit in a trip to a Viking burial ground with Margaret. You had to actually crawl through the entrance and once you get in, you can see bones with other artifacts from the Vikings all of which is protected by plexiglass from visitors. The Vikings period started in 800 and went to 1050 which means this burial ground was probably around 1,000 years old.

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On the 27th, as we started to leave Møn to head for Copenhagen, we stopped quickly to see some incredible chalk drawings from the 1300s in the church where Bjarne and his family were baptized and where they plan to be buried. The chalk drawings were covered in plaster in the 18th and 19th century and restored in the 20th century for visitors like us. As you can see, they are beautiful:

Here is a sign listing who has led the church since 1584!

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On the way back from Møn, we got to see quite a few wind farms. Denmark has the highest percentage of power produced from Wind in the world (43% in 2017!) They are quite beautiful. I got this picture of a wind farm in front of a solar array heading back to Copenhagen which is just a beautiful illustration of what future awaits our children if we want to stop climate change:

In Copenhagen, Margaret dropped us off so we could go on a boat tour of Copenhagen. The picture on the left is of Maddie and Ada in front of the palace where the royal family lives. The Monarch in the Denmark is one of the oldest in the world. The current, Queen, Queen Margrethe II can trace the lineage of the royal family back 1,000 years to the Vikings!

Most of our pictures by the way have to be taken surreptitiously because usually when Maddie and Ada notice we’re taking photos, they will either hide or make funny faces like the one below:

The next day Maddie and Ada were ecstatic because Margaret rented us a Christiana bike so we could explore Copenhagen on bike. Copenhagen, by the way, is one of the most bikeable cities I’ve seen. Not only is Copenhagen incredibly flat but there are also protected bike lanes separate from traffic lanes for cars and sidewalks for pedestrians. So, Margaret feels completely comfortable biking 40 minutes to and from work every day and we all felt completely safe on our bike ride through downtown Copenhagen. Below is a pic of me testing out our bike:

Because Maddie and Ada insisted, Peyton biked them instead of me or John and we headed to Peter’s apartment in Copenhagen where we had lunch. Peyton and Margaret then led us on a 2 hour bike ride of Copenhagen where we saw many sites including the castle where the royal family lives:

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Besides the royal palace, we also stopped for photos at the statue of “The Little Mermaid” installed in 1913 because the author of the story, Hans Christian Andersen lived and died in Copenhagen in the 19th century.

The next day was my birthday. John made a delicious olive and rosemary frittata, smoked salmon on toast, and grapefruit for breakfast. We biked to the Rosenberg castle which was built by King Christian IV in the early 17th century. Maddie and Ada’s favorite part of the castle was the basement where you got to see the crown jewels that the Queen of Denmark still wears today:

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John then took me to Souls, a vegan restaurant where he gave me the best birthday surprise- Michelle Obama’s new book and tickets to see her speak in April in Oslo! (while Peyton and Margaret set up a horse obstacle course for Maddie and Ada in their hallway.)

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Margaret then treated us to a wonderful dinner with their friends who are currently pastors at the international church in Denmark and used to be pastors at the the international church in Oslo.

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The next day we visited the Experimentarium in Copenhagen which was listed by TIME Magazine as one of the top 100 greatest places in the world in 2018. This science museum met our expectations and more with a ton of great interactive exhibits including one on bubbles, several on the shipping industry in Denmark, and of course lots of playing with balls.

On our last day before our flight back to Oslo, we squeezed in a trip to the National Museum in Denmark where we learned more about Vikings and life in Denmark. One of my favorite parts of the museum was the “boring button” which children could press in an exhibit meant for adults when they were feeling bored. The boring button in the Viking exhibit taught Ada and I about how the Vikings thought that the sun and moon were carried across the sky on a horse drawn carriage. Maddie and John pressed another boring button where museum staff, dressed in period clothes, told Maddie about what life used to be like in Denmark. In an exhibit on old toys in Denmark, the boring button near the dollhouses played audio of a Danish kid playing with a dollhouse.

Besides the boring buttons, Maddie and Ada also enjoyed the part of the museum exclusively for kids where Ada got to see what an old schoolhouse was like in Denmark and Maddie got to play in a replica of a Viking ship:

Overall, we had an incredible time in Denmark and are so grateful for our incredible family for hosting us and sharing with us places where we could learn about the rich history and traditions in Denmark.

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