HELLO TRAVELERS! I’m just leaving Copenhagen, Denmark, the first stop on my Scandinavian journey. Copenhagen is delightful, and I learned so much about Denmark, the happiest country in the world.
Beautiful city of old and new; Postcard reprints of old posters
LOCAL CRAFTS // I arrived in Denmark on a Saturday, and since many shops are closed on Sunday, I shook off my jetlag and headed out right away. A sweet Christmas shop had woven heart baskets, paper stars, and gnomes at every turn. Since Denmark is home to Lego, there was an amazing display of one of the castles and a Christmas market.
Woven Heart Basket; Lego Christmas Market
CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS // I was very lucky in Copenhagen to get some time with a local, the cousin of a friend of mine. After parking her bicycle and steering us through a little courtyard to the city’s best coffee shop, Coffee Collective, jetlag melted away with my latte and cinnamon bun. I told her I was on the lookout for Danish crafts, and she shared that she loves to sew and has been doing it since the age of 4! We headed off to a couple craft and Christmas decoration shops to scoop up traditional holiday crafts and some Copenhagen postcards. Along the way she told me about Danish Christmas traditions, from an advent candle that burns a bit each day, to Christmas eve dinner featuring duck, pork with crackling, caramelized potatoes, cabbage, and rice pudding, in which a whole almond is hidden. The person who finds the almond in their serving receives a special present.
These pigs hold an advent calendar while the real thing is part of the feast; Spot the gnome
CITY HISTORY // After saying goodbye to my wonderful morning guide, I caught a Copenhagen Free Walking Tour (I highly recommend this). Our guide Jarod, a British-Australian expat, was a terrific storyteller and quite funny. I learned that when Christian IV ascended the throne in 1588 at age 11, he showed up to his coronation dressed as his mother. The second day of the coronation party, he arrived dressed as the pope. But by the third day he arrived as himself. I’m not sure if any of that is true, but it’s pretty entertaining to imagine. Christian IV reigned for 59 years.
One of the beautiful buildings on the Copenhagen Free Walking Tour; Look out in this hidden courtyard
ARTifacts // I spent the afternoon at the National Museum, seeing how traditional craftsmanship touched every part of life over the ages, from carved wooden butter molds on the farm to embroidered baby shoes for the elite. Even the country’s most famous author, Hans Christian Anderson, loved to get crafty. On display was that same type of papercutting I’d seen at the Danish Days festival in Solvang, CA, made by H.C. Anderson himself in the 1800s. He’s also credited with the first woven heart basket on record.
Paper cutter at Solvang, California's "Danish Days" Festival; Papercutting by Hans Christian Anderson, on display in Copenhagen
The museum has a fantastic collection of ancient artifacts, proving that artistry and decoration go back to the earliest civilizations. 10,000 years ago (yup, that’s Ten Thousand…. bonkers) people were carving animal charms out of amber. And the jewelry collection from 4000 years ago looked like it would fit right in at the museum gift shop today. The Viking exhibit seemed positively modern compared to these truly ancient people. I had learned at the Danish Days festival that Viking helmets did not typically have horns… but these earlier helmets worn by priests sure did. Another sort of horn, the musical kind, also caught my eye. Displayed like this, the Lur horns reminded me of the Vernicious Knids from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; they were used to create background ambience for rituals.
Amber charms from 8000-5000 BC; Modern-looking jewelry from 2000 BC, Horned helmets, 900 BC, Lur horns, 1200 BC.
HYGGE // Even though winter was just settling in and Christmas is still weeks away, Hygge was in full effect. Hygge is the Danish concept of cosiness. It has a lot to do with how Denmark can be the happiest country in the world despite the long, dark days of a northern winter. Candles, soft lights, cheerful decorations, and warm interiors met me everywhere I went. I loved Copenhagen and hope to come back some day. I know the guidebooks all say to visit in the summer, but I’d come back at Christmas to enjoy the cosiness again. Mange Tak, Danmark!
Trying my hand at a Danish paper christmas star - since every child in Denmark knows how to do this it was humbling to try to figure out, even with instructions and YouTube!