Mia – December 18, 2017
It began when my eldest, Jake, was a first-grader with a most pressing request: “Mom, can we get an Elf on the Shelf? Please?”
It’s at moments like these that Google and Pinterest are a mother’s best friends. I quickly learned that, according to the accompanying storybook, the requested elf performs daily surveillance on a household’s children before returning each night to the North Pole to report their naughty-or-nice behavior to Santa Claus. In order to keep the magic alive, exhausted parents are forced each night to come up with a creative new location where the kids can find the elf in the morning.
Uh, no. Christmas stretches my energy and creativity in all the best ways, but stretched it is. There is simply nothing left over for devising 24 amusing scenarios featuring an elf doll, even if I were to purloin each one from Pinterest.
Fortunately, I’m Danish, thanks to my great-great-great grandmother Christina, a founding member of The Danish Home. And the Danes, along with their other Scandinavian neighbors, have an elf that puts the shelf-dweller to shame.
They call him nisse, a cute little gnome with a long, gray beard and a pointed red hat pulled down to his bulbous nose. There are various nisser in Danish lore, but it was the julenisser, or Christmas elves, who I introduced to Jake and my younger kids, Astrid and Alex, as an alternative to Elf on the Shelf. We have a whole collection of the little guys, and my kids love to move them around the house, with my blessing.
Julenisser can be mischievous, but we’ve been lucky. The nisse who visits our house during the Christmas season is friendly and generous, leaving a piece of candy or a little trinket for the children to find each morning as they count off the days to Christmas. Of course, we treat our julenisse pretty well. Like all of his kind, he requires a bowl of risalamande—Danish rice pudding fancied up with whipped cream, cherry sauce and a hidden almond—on Christmas Eve. I happen to love the stuff, too, and am happy to oblige him.
Over the years, our julenisse tradition has led us to embrace other Danish yuletide customs. The kids love their daily nisse treats so much that they decided to add a special little something to our Christmas gifts for loved ones. We spend a few hours each year making julehjerter, those Danish woven basket hearts that look so complicated but are easy enough for a first-grader to create. We attach a heart, which is just big enough to hold a piece of candy or a small cookie, to each present. Later, the julehjerter can decorate the Christmas tree.
We’ll be taking some of our red-and-white and red-and-green julehjerter to The Danish Home’s Family Night White Christmas celebration on December 21. My kids can’t wait to hand out their paper hearts to our friend Farfar and the other residents, and I can’t wait to sample the glug. The next day, Farfar will be joining other residents of The Danish Home in making traditional Kleiner Christmas cookies. He’s promised Jake, Astrid and Alex that he will save a few for them. And I’ve promised to share our bounty of pebber nodder with him.
The fragrance of baking cookies and pine boughs, the glowing candles and twinkling lights, the paper and straw ornaments and soft textures, meaningful touches and traditions: they all appeal to my Danish love of hygge, that comfy, cozy feeling that makes the holidays so special.
Wishing you all a whole lot of hygge and a very Glædelig Jul—from our home to yours.