This story begins some time ago. About a year ago, in fact.
It was an afternoon in early December and I saw a flyer posted at the school saying that if I wanted to come by that afternoon, I could “make an ornament with my child”. Sounds good, I thought, seems like some low-key Christmas fun.
So I arrived back at the school a couple of hours later with two children in tow, walked down to the lower level, and was immediately met with what can only be described as a Christmas Crafting Extravaganza.
A long table sat against one wall, heaped with felt, paper, sequins, glitter, cloth, ribbons, googly eyes, and random Christmassy bobbles galore.
Paper garlands swathed the ceiling, and a glue gun center swarmed with busy children.
The whole place was bustling with activity.
I soon realized we were late, noticing that many of the small, elf-hat-wearing-children rushing by were already carrying elaborate, finished-looking crafts.
We found ourselves a seat, and I begin the struggle of trying to help my kids figure out what they wanted to make. At long last, one child finally agreed on a Santa. We collected a few white Styrofoam balls and some red cloth for a coat. I awkwardly tried to guide my son in hot gluing these items into an orientation that would somehow resemble a Santa Claus.
Meanwhile, sitting to my left, an eight-year-old Danish child with bright blonde hair expertly applied the finishing touches to a realistic-looking furry gray mouse, complete with skis, sweater, scarf, and hat.
“What is going on here?” I began to wonder.
As I walked back to our table, I noticed a 9-year-old girl finishing up an elaborate, 3-dimensional origami star. “Wow,” I thought, then watched as she tossed it into a substantial pile of already-completed-elaborate-3-dimensional origami stars.
Another child nearby grabbed a couple red pipe-cleaners, and I watched, mesmerized, as she deftly twisted them into a cute little elf, topped with a wooden head, scarf, and of course, pointy red hat.
My son eventually finished up the Santa, and, although it wasn’t pretty, my child was happy. We all had a good time, and even had a few crafts and ornaments to show for it, but as I left the activity, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why are the Danish kids so uncannily good at Christmas crafts?”
A short time later I brought this question up in an Expat group, and was met with the following response:”Well, they should be good at it, it’s pretty much all they do in school during the month of December.”
This, of course, was an exaggeration, but there was as bit of truth to it: Christmas crafts are an important part of Danish tradition, and the schools generally devote some time for this, getting everyone into the Christmas spirit.
For example, my kids’ school has one day devoted to decorating the classrooms. Parents and grandparents are invited to come and join the children in making the decorations.
A few days ago, I attended this event for the second year in a row. I arrived at the school and was, as usual, met by a flurry of activity–small children running back and forth, cutting, taping, gluing. They were in their element, and knew exactly what they were doing. Many were wearing red nisse (elf) hats. (My fave are the super long ones that trail down the back–so cute!) Within a couple of hours, the young students had transformed their classrooms.
Paper chains criss-cross the ceiling. Traditional Danish hearts and paper baskets hang from lines draped overhead. More crafts decorate tables, walls, and doors. Jeffrey’s 4th grade class even made an elaborate nisse scene with bits of moss and greenery.
Basically it was like that scene from the movie “Elf” where Buddy (Will Ferrell), with his his special elf-skills, decorates and transforms the toy store in a seemingly impossibly short amount of time.
Finishing up the day, a small child wearing a red nisse hat stands on tiptoe to clip a glittery star to the line, prompting me to think, “These children are literally little elves.”
Clearly, Christmas decorations in Denmark are a big deal. Many are traditional and homemade.
Here are a few that I have noticed:
These are typically used to decorate a Christmas tree.
Here’s a tutorial if you want to give them a try!
Paper Cone Baskets (there’s probably a “real” name for these, but I don’t know what it is).
These are also used to decorate the tree, and at some point are filled with small candies and sweets.
What I gather is that these are sprinkled liberally around the house.
The wreath contains four candles. One is lit each Sunday in December, leading up to Christmas.
The candle is numbered with the days leading up to Christmas. Each day, the candle is burned just enough to mark off the days.
As in many parts of the world, the Christmas tree, Juletræ, is popular in Denmark.
Here you can see the traditional Danish hearts and cone baskets:
Real, “lit” candles with actual fire are popular for the traditional Danish Christmas tree, although some opt for artificial.
These trees that aren’t actually trees but are made of tree parts are also popular, and I think quite cute. These are some the kids helped make to decorate the school:
And some little guys:
Creating Christmas decorations out of natural materials is very popular in Denmark. Some people may go out into their yard or a nearby forest to gather materials, but these materials can also be purchased at the local grocery store. Around November of each year, bits of moss, evergreen branches, and random pieces of greenery appear outside the supermarkets, reminding everyone that it is time to get crafting. With a little creativity and a bit of know-how, the Danes show us that random stuff from your yard can be transformed into elegant holiday decor:
I can’t say I know what this is, but it sure is pretty:
And some cute decorations the kids helped make at the børnehus (preschool):
Personally, I still have no clue how to actually create most of the Danish Christmas crafts, but there’s hope for the future because I think that maybe my seven-year-old daughter has cracked the code: A couple of days ago, I brought home a bare wreath for our calendar light. I set it down on the table without saying anything, and began dinner preparations. Literally five minutes later, I walked back by, and Arabelle had flawlessly decorated the wreath–all with little things she had run out and found in the yard.
Here it is: