A Family Christmas

27 years ago, my parents, my sister and I moved to Canada. Only for a year and then it became two, then four and then we somehow put down roots and had two countries we called home. And home this is, but for many years, it was especially at Christmas that we missed our other home, the Old Country, because it is at Christmas that our Danishness shows through in the different ways - some small, some bigger - we celebrate the season. And it is at Christmas especially that we miss the family we left behind, the holiday rituals where we'd all descend on somebody's house and celebrate with all of us together. It didn't matter who was hosting Christmas, it was all done more or less the same way every year - there was food (when my uncle Poul hosted, he'd get reindeer from Greenland and we'd eat Rudolph) and then there was the tree and singing and presents and the adults sitting around digesting, laughing and talking while the kids played with their presents. And there's something about that feeling of family, of people who have known you for years, people with whom you do the same thing at the same time every year that was hard to re-create for a small immigrant family in a land far away from home.


A couple of days ago, I realized that tonight, we will be nine people around the table celebrating Christmas and it was at that moment I realized how much our small immigrant family has grown. Over the years, Ken and Michele were added to our Christmas Eve and thanks to Janne and John, we now have the joy of children playing, as well. And I cannot wait to share the Danish Christmas with the kids, sharing our way of doing things with dinner first, then cleanup and then singing, sending them into a state of vibrating excitement before we start opening presents, one by one (ok, so the rest of us vibrate pretty intensely, too). They are old enough now that they can handle the delay and they are old enough now that we can sing carols first without it violating the Geneva Convention on torture. And I cannot wait to share it with David, who in a few hours will for the first time get dropped into the deep end of Danish Christmas – sink or swim, darling!


This evening is my favourite day of the year, my favourite holiday, my favourite meal - everything about this night is magical and what sends it from wonderful into the stratosphere of magic, the moment where it all comes together and your heart fills up is when we sing. Together, most of us not on key, only some of us understanding the Danish carols, but everybody giving it a try anyway, laughing until we can’t breathe at the phonetic pronunciation from the Canadian contingent, we mess up a particular song the way my father always did and bring him into the celebration with us, Janne and I add a little something to another carol that brings our Danish childhood back and we always, always end with the same song. This part of the evening is what does it for me every Christmas Eve, sends me into a place of no thinking, but pure in-the-moment joy and love, the connection between all of us so strong a feeling of family.


In Denmark, they call Christmas the feast of the hearts – perhaps festival of the hearts sounds less Aztec blood ritual – and somehow, our small immigrant family has managed to grow, with all of us descending on mor’s place to celebrate together. And in the week to come, we will celebrate again, with the people who have become extended family, meeting up like we did back home, to share a meal and the love of the season.


Glaedelig Jul! May your heart sing with the magic of small moments.



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