One thing about studying abroad in the fall semester is that you inevitably miss two big American holidays: Halloween and Thanksgiving. However, as a tradeoff, you get to be in Europe for the Christmas season which is arguably the most magical thing ever. I knew both of these things going into this trip. I wasn’t too concerned about missing out because I worked in the hospitality industry where holidays off are never guaranteed. In other words, this wouldn’t be the first Thanksgiving that I missed. How did I cope? How can you cope? And more importantly, how did I celebrate?
Halloween is my absolute favorite. So I’ve got to be honest and say that this time of the semester was when I was at my most homesick. Denmark doesn’t really celebrate Halloween so it was rough watching all of my friends in America having parties and going to haunted houses and just being festive. Meanwhile, Halloween was just a regular day for me. I went to class, I had dinner with the Kitchen, I was mildly grumpy. Nothing special. I just felt isolated and lonely. Definitely not my best time and a low point for sure.
To try to cheer myself up I went to see the decorations at Tivoli Gardens. They go all out decorating for the holidays and it is quite marvelous. Unfortunately, due to my previous travels and classes I didn’t make it to Tivoli until November 3, the last weekend they were open for the season. While the decorations were really wonderful and helped me regain some of the Halloween feeling, it was kind of too late since the actual day had passed. Plus, the park was super crowded with everybody trying to squeeze in one more visit before they closed until Christmas. I probably would’ve had a better time and coped much better and been less miserable had I visited before Halloween itself. Still, the decorations were worth the trip.
Tips: the best way to cope is to recognize that the holiday is coming up and make it a point to schedule something Halloween-y to do. It could be something as simple as watching a scary movie while eating candy, or as involved as making a trip to a Halloween-themed event. No matter what it is, do something and make plans in advance so that you don’t get sad on the actual day because you haven’t done anything.
You would expect Thanksgiving to be even less of an event than Halloween. After all, it celebrates an incredibly American thing and hasn’t been commercialized to the extent that Halloween has. However, I actually had a wonderful Thanksgiving in Copenhagen with my Kitchen family and Other Katie. When I moved into the dorm, my Kitchen was very excited that I was an American because that meant that had an excuse to celebrate Thanksgiving.
We had a lovely mostly traditional Thanksgiving feast. I took over a bit of the planning, making sure that all of the Thanksgiving staples were covered as each of us was responsible for cooking or bringing a dish. As long as we had a turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and sweet potato casserole I would be satisfied. Anything else could be brought to the table so in the end, we ended up having more vegetables than I was used to for the feast.
I put myself in charge of the sweet potato casserole because that’s my absolute favorite dish on the Thanksgiving table and, because it’s super American, I wanted to make sure it was done properly. The Danes know how to make mashed potatoes and gravy and can roast a bird but no other country sticks strudel and marshmallows on a casserole and calls it a vegetable. Plus, I’m usually in charge of making it when I’m at home so I know what I’m doing.
All in all, this was definitely the coziest Thanksgiving I’ve ever had. My sweet potato casserole was a smash hit and it was really nice to share a little slice of American culture with my Danish Kitchen family. While it may seem hard to spend this holiday away from your loved ones, surrounding yourself with good friends is a great way to get through it. While I missed being with my family, of course, I definitely did not regret anything about my Thanksgiving in Denmark.
Tips: A Friendsgiving is a great substitute to a traditional dinner. Invite your friends for a potluck style meal. It doesn’t have to be a big to do, it can be as big or as small as you would like. Don’t worry if you don’t have the resources for a huge traditional meal; pick one recipe that especially reminds you of home and make that. The important thing is spending the day with people you care about. If you’re looking for a hard-to-find ingredient, the grocery stores near the embassies and where the diplomats live tend to have the best international sections. For example, condensed mushroom soup isn’t a thing in Denmark, but I was able to find some in a grocery store in the suburb where the diplomats live. It was about a 30 minute journey on public transportation, but it was worth it for me.
Christmas was the easiest for me to cope with, if only because my semester ended in the middle of December so I was home by the 23rd. I got to enjoy all that the Christmas season in Europe has to offer without missing out on family time at home: truly the best of both worlds.
Christmas in Europe is the most magical thing and Denmark is no exception. Nights might be long and days might be dark, but markets and decorations and lights really transform the atmosphere into something grand.
One of the best parts of living were I did was that I got to participate in many Danish Christmas traditions which made my experience that much better. Our kitchen was decorated and cozy. Everything was super jolly. My one regret was travelling so much in December that I missed out on a lot of Christmas in Copenhagen.
But what I did have was the best, the highlight being the julefrokost. This was basically a Christmas dinner. Like Thanksgiving, everybody made a dish but instead of turkeys the menu was mostly Danish (the other exchange student and I brought festive food from our cultures so I contributed some green bean casserole). We feasted on roast pork, caramel potatoes, and so much more. Plus we had the traditional Christmas almond rice pudding and homemade snaps which is basically flavored alcohol. When not stuffing our faces we played games, had a gift exchange, and ended up parading around our whole circle and a few Christmas trees. It was really just a great, homey time all around.
Of course, there were plenty of Christmassy things to do outside of the Kitchen. Copenhagen had a bunch of cute Christmas markets to browse and gløgg to drink. Plus, Tivoli reopened with a gorgeous Christmas overlay.
Tips: Immerse yourself in the Christmas spirit. There’s so many ways to do so! Some schools have their exams in January after the holidays. If this is the case, you can find lots of opportunities to spend Christmas with others. See if your local friends have room with in family celebrations. Or reach out to community religious, social, or expat groups as many of them will hold events for those that cannot go home.
All in all, I loved spending the holidays in Copenhagen. Christmas is one of the best times to be in Europe which makes the fall semester and ideal time to study abroad. So don’t be scared of missing out on the holidays at home. You can certainly find ways to be festive while abroad.