This weekend Denmark received its first snow of the season. The timing was perfect, the storm coming in the night after a very beautiful, sunny Saturday. On Sunday morning I awoke very early, looked out the window to find the garden and trees covered in white, a fine, white snow still coming down.
My husband and I went for a snow tour to the nearby forest in the afternoon, our feet crunching over the snow as we walked along the country road. When he dared to bring up this or that subject from the wider world he was promptly shushed: No, I chided gently, I will not speak of any of that now, I simply wish to be in this stillness and feel the beauty all around us, is it not so lovely? So we continued into the forest, where the snow was deeper still and the trees were covered in glistening white. A half an hour later we came out again to the country road, to find the western sky beginning to fill with that particular shade of scarlet as the sun prepared to set. During the walk back home, the colors became more and more vivid, the scarlet bleeding into pure gold, the greyed blue above, the white fields darkening with the approaching evening. My fingers became numb, my ears became ice, yet still I was filled with such gladness at the scene, the utter peace of it all.
Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent, a time which most Danes respect and those with children celebrate with an advent wreath. This entails getting a block of clay, which is available at all the grocery stores right now, and using it as a base upon which to build the wreath. It is decorated with moss and greenery from the forest, and various other dried flower tops, pine cones, and berries one can find out in nature. Then a large candle (or maybe 4 smaller ones) is placed in the middle, and lit each day of December until Christmas Eve. I made my very first Advent wreath last evening, using decorations I had collected myself over the weekend before it snowed, and it looks festive and humble, sitting on our dining table.
Today at the school, the teachers created an Advent Spiral on the floor of the hall where all gatherings take place. There was a very tall, white candle in the very center, along with greenery and some narcissus bulbs, and from there a double spiral came out, made from various kinds of evergreen boughs. The windows were covered with cloths so that it was semi-dark. The children in all the classes made simple candleholders from small apples, placed a small white candle inside, and then, once everyone was assembled in the hall, one by one, they walked into the spiral to the center, lit their small candle from the large one, and then walked back out, placing their lighted candle somewhere along the spiral as they went. I sat along the side of the hall and watched as each child and teacher repeated this (mostly) silent and solemn ritual. When everyone had walked the spiral, one teacher told the story (in Danish, of course) of Mary being out in the forest, and finding a rose…. perhaps some of you know this old story. Afterwards they sang the most beloved of all Danish Christmas (Jul, in Danish) songs, Dejlig er den himmel blå, which means, Lovely is the Blue Sky. Then it was over, the children and teachers filed out of the still darkened hall, leaving all their candles brightly burning. This was, to me, Denmark at its most reverent.
The Danes have a strange, uncomfortable relationship to anything that they perceive to smack of ‘religion.’ It’s as if all the Christianity which they were all force-fed for all those hundreds of years simply became too much and during the big Youth revolution time of the late 60’s, most of them just basically said, No Thanks. The Lutheran church is a state-run and funded institution here, and it is suffering from a serious lack of participants. Though most Danes support the Church financially, they hardly ever step foot inside one, except for the biggest holidays of the year. I won’t go so far as to say that the subject of God and spirit is exactly taboo, but it is pretty close. Most Danes perceive Americans to be crazily religious, having received knowledge of their religious tastes from the overwrought television preachers imported to Denmark with the rest of the American TV fodder they are unfortunately fed on a daily basis. I find this absurdly ridiculous, although of course I understand it. To me it is very unfortunate that Danish people (as a general rule) do not pray, do not offer thanks before a meal, in fact only speak of God in a semi-mocking way if at all, and yet. The one expression of faith that they still agree is acceptable is within their traditional songs, which are still sung each morning in most schools, regardless of whether it is public or private. Then they can sing of God’s work within nature, and give thanks for their lives and their beautiful land, which they all truly love.
In the time I have lived in Denmark, I have found the most worthwhile events involve their old traditions, music and folk singing. It is so heartening to hear all, the young and the old and the ones in between, sing the folk songs together each morning. It means much more than they themselves can express in words, but it is there, real and tangible, in the melodies: the voice of spirit, blessing them, and me, as we go about our day. Dear Readers, in this season of quiet and inwardness which December always provides, I encourage you to sing the songs which you love, which have the deepest meaning for your soul, whether they have to do with the coming of the Christ or simply are about love and beauty and life. Find, remember and sing out the songs which uplift you, be unafraid to sing, to dance, to feel the joy of the music within your hearts. In this last month of this incredible year, your songs are the most wonderful prayers, and are heard and appreciated by a far wider and larger audience than we can know.
- Happy first advent. (canihelpyoucourse.wordpress.com)
- 24 Days to Christmas (mminnaar.wordpress.com)
- The Advent Candle (faithfulprovisions.com)