I’ve heard that the Danes do Christmas very well, with dark nights, twinkly lights, a proper festive atmosphere, lots of hot gløgg, and plenty of hygge. This is why I had set my little heart on making my first visit to Denmark this December. Sadly, I couldn’t find the right arrangement of dates and budget to make the trip this year, so I settled for second best – a Danish Christmas in London.
I’ll admit, though, that this was not entirely intentional. Indeed, it was actually a bit of serendipity. I had already booked a visit to London for the last week in November, and was thrilled to find out through the Danskere i London Facebook group, that there would be a Danish Christmas market held on exactly the same weekend – and even better, at only 3 tube stops away from where I would be staying. What luck! So, I happily packed my bags and hopped on the train with my husband, having decided to try and get a little taste of Denmark right here in Britain.
On our first day in the big city, we woke up bright and early. It was a shame that the weather wasn’t feeling quite as bright but, hey, that’s British weather for you! We decided to get some fresh air by walking by Regent’s Park on our way towards Piccadilly Circus, which had the added benefit of taking us past the Danish Church, St Katharine’s. According to the history books, there has been a Danish church in London since 1696. However, this particular building – and, as you can see from the photo, it is a beautiful structure – was made the location of the Danish Church in London only in 1952. As well as providing a focal point for the London Danish community, they also offer Danish lessons for both children and adults here on a weekly or fortnightly basis – handy to know, if you happen to be a Danish learner in the Big Smoke.
We continued on our way and, after a short hop on the tube,we arrived at Golden Square where we found the Nordic Bakery for a quick coffee-and-pastry stop. What a cosy, hyggeligt place! Chic Scandinavian design and a wide array of pastries and cakes had obviously made this place very popular as, unfortunately for us, the place was jam-packed! Undeterred, min mand and I chose a little treat each – an apple tosca and a Danish pastry filled with lingonberry jam – and crossed to the small park in the middle of the square to test them out. They were both sweet and delicious, although I did find out later that a tosca is technically Swedish… Oh, well!
Feeling replenished, we tackled the crowds on Regent Street until our feet started aching, at which point we ducked into a little pub for a mug of mulled wine. And here, a bit more serendipity awaited us. Two tables along from us, there arrived a group of four young men, and as we sat there, relaxing and watching the world go by, my ears suddenly realised that I could hear the distinctive cadence and rhythm of Danish being spoken! Now, I know that London is a big old melting pot of all nationalities, but what were the chances of that?! I really did want to go over and talk to them but being old enough to be, if not their mother, then at least their mother’s younger sister, in the end I was too shy to say anything. And, yes, I do regret it! Next time, I tell you…
The following day rolled around, as grey and cold as the one before. This didn’t dent our enthusiasm though – we had a Danish Christmas market to visit! I believe that this is held every year in the Danish YWCA (the women’s version of the more famous YMCA), a fantastic, old country house in the Hampstead suburbia.
We turned up only fifteen minutes after it opened to find the place already bustling with people, both Danish and otherwise. The gorgeous rooms were filled with red and white Danish Christmas decorations, treats and knick-knacks, from advent candles to woven yule hearts, from paper stars to julebryg to julekort.
Downstairs, there was an even bigger treat, with a small restaurant serving an array of smørrebrød and a marquee out the back serving lots of other Danish delicacies. Purely in the name of research (ahem…!), I bought some hindbærsnitter (I wanted to see how close my efforts here had been!), a cup of gløgg, and some æbleskiver. If I hadn’t just had a large breakfast, I would have tested their frikadeller too – another time, maybe! I thought the gløgg would be just like the mulled wine I’d had the previous day, but it was actually quite different, being much sweeter and featuring slices of almond floating on the top and plump sultanas to spoon up from the bottom. I enjoyed it so much that I think this was my favourite Danish treat of the whole weekend.
Before we left, we stocked up on some pretty Scandinavian Christmas decorations and this time, I did make myself be brave and try out my Danish. I managed a few short conversations with the stall holders and felt pleased as punch whenever somebody gave me a friendly smile, tried to understand me and – best of all! – answered me back in Danish! After all, the aim of all that studying and practice is to do some real-life speaking with some real-life Danes, isn’t it?
And with that, my sort-of Danish weekend came to an end. Although I hadn’t quite made it to Denmark itself, I think I managed to squeeze enough Danishness out of my London visit to feel like I’d gotten a tiny taste of what Denmark itself would be like…when I make it there next year!