Danish holiday tradition: A walk through the woods and a drink of gløgg

Tonight we’re going to a watch a Christmas parade in Gahanna, a town close to Columbus, with friends. My son has already hauled a fake tree out of the basement, the one I had planned to take to Florida last year until we flew instead of drove. I kept telling him, “No, it’s too early to set it up,” but then thought, he’s only five once. The tree, decorated by him, all ornaments (less than a dozen) dangling from branches on one side of the tree only, is in his room.

This has me thinking about Christmas a little early. It’s not the shopping that gets me feeling warm. It’s the traditions that bring communities together. One of the best community Christmas events I ever participated in was in Denmark. When I was a student through DIS (The Danish International Student organization through Copenhagan University) I lived with a family in Allerod, Denmark, a large town about a 30-minute train ride from Copenhagan.

Allerod started it’s Christmas season off with a communal walk through the woods followed by caroling and a town square tree lighting. I had just turned 20, my brain an instant catalog for filing experiences into how this is like the U.S. and how this is not like the U.S. This experience was filed in the “not like” and a “little like” categories–the closest thing to it is perhaps a small town parade.

What struck me was how many people were involved with walking through the woods. Men, women, children of all ages–everyone was out following the path that led to a huge black kettle (there may have been two) filled with gløgg (glug) the traditional Scandinavian hot beverage made with red wine, brandy and spices. It’s yummy and warm, particularly on a wintry night. The other kettle had the non-alcoholic version. (I may have made up this second kettle. The years that have passed since then has placed this kettle in my memory.) The walk ended up back in town where people proceeded to a nursing home to carol and then on to the town square for more caroling and the tree light up.

This particular evening left me feeling cozy, warm and safe–like these winter holidays are supposed to make people feel. It was such a simple, event. Not splashy or commercial–just townspeople getting together to enjoy each others company. And, they were very welcoming and wonderful to the young American woman in their midst.

What about you? Any holiday traditions you’ve enjoyed while traveling?