Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Danish Xmas: Soon, every other bite was greeted with more schnapps; “To help the herring swim better!” my host beamed

When new expat Helen Russell (author of the forthcoming The Year of Living Danishly) offered to host a traditional Danish Christmas for her neighbours, she entered a strange world of sugared potatoes, marzipan pigs – and lots of pickled herring.
Julefrokost (Christmas lunch) was my first introduction to traditional Danish festivities. When our new neighbours invited us to “come round for lunch” shortly before Christmas, I was presented with an artfully arranged stack of rye bread and jars of pickled herring, flavoured with everything from curry sauce to cinnamon.

The meal started with a Carlsberg (Danish since 1847) and we constructed our own sandwiches, before drinking to the party’s good health with a shot of schnapps. The children, to my surprise, drank beer. “But it’s Juleol – a Christmas beer. Sweet; very low alcohol,” my host explained. So far, so Danish.

I was just taking mouthful number two of my sandwich (avoiding the cinnamon herring) when my glass was refilled for another toast: “Skål!” Soon, every other bite was greeted with more schnapps. “To help the herring swim better!” my host beamed. By shot number five, I was pretty sure that my herring was Duncan Goodhew.
There was some singing, as there is at the slightest excuse in Denmark, and the next thing I knew, I was holding hands with my new pals and dancing around their Christmas tree. The vast, bushy fir was lit not by fairy lights, but by real candles that flickered precariously close to children’s heads/the curtains/my hostess’s flammable-looking skirt.

 … “Christmas dinner in Denmark is duck and pork,” [the only shop assistant in our local supermarket who could speak some English] told me.

“Duck or pork?”

“Duck and pork,” she corrected me. “Together. With potatoes.”

“Roast potatoes?”

“Boiled. Then rolled in butter. And sugar.”

“What?” I tried to hide my surprise. A potato with melted frosting?

…  God Jul!