Born and raised in Turkey, I didn’t know what Christmas was all about until I got the chance to experience it. For the first time in Lisbon and for the second time in Denmark. And recently, when I got to experience Christmas in Germany, I felt like I got introduced to it even more.
Just as in Denmark, celebrations for Christmas in Germany start early on. Starting from the first day of December I could see the cute decorations, advent candles, and stars on the windows of German houses. Although the sun was setting very early, the streets were colorful and full of cozy lightning.
In Denmark, Christmas celebrations have an extended history and traditions behind them. Long before Christianity, Jul was celebrated in Scandinavia on the coldest full moon of the year. When Christianity came, these blended traditions served on bringing people together for festivities.
Traditional Christmas meals and sweets are prepared in Danish houses at this time of the year. Homemade chocolate and nuts-covered marzipans were my favorites.
Who are Nissen?
A story I encountered during my visit to Denmark touched my heart. The story of the tiny mythical creatures called Nissen. I particularly enjoyed one representation of them in a family’s house I stayed at in Denmark. Nissen were portrayed in family or community settings with different personality traits. They were everywhere! Climbing up on the kitchen door. Walking on top of the chest of drawers. Having a meal near the window where they could get some light on those dark, cold winter days. As I asked for the story behind these creatures I learned about their role in the farmsteads, castles, and houses. They were serving people as protectors. Running around the house to make sure everything is okay. In return, the household would provide them with food. Especially at this time of the year, Nissen play an important role in homesteads. Each Sunday, starting from the Sunday six weeks before Christmas up until Christmas Eve they work very hard to deliver gifts for the kids and adults who still carry their child-like spirits. And for Christmas Eve, they receive some more festive food, oat or rice porridge topped up with butter. This is how I briefly got acquainted with them.
I came across one concrete representation of them In Germany. They were portrayed as old men, called Wichtel or Heinzelmännchen. They were wearing different colored caps and they were of different sizes. Their faces were hidden under their pointy hats. Wichtel with their long white beard reminded me of Santa.
My Sunset walks in Bonn, Germany, were my favorite part of the day. And, when I felt like adding a cozy spark to my day. My go-to was drinking a glass of mulled wine in the Christmas markets. To see people playfully enjoying themselves and the company of their friends was heartwarming.
As I sat down by the window of my flat in Bonn and watched the snow fall, I felt as if time slowed down a bit. I watched the slowly burning incense. As the smell of forest swept the room it brought me a sense of ease.
Embracing the contrasts in everyday life
In Denmark, I experienced Christmas as part of a big family for a short while. I believe they know how to enjoy themselves by getting cozy with tasty food and warm lighting in these dark and cold times of the year. My experience was not only about getting all cozy in a fantasy land but allowing myself to feel the contrasts in everyday life.
The contrast between warm and cold, light and dark, and comfort and discomfort taught me something crucial about the human experience: There are always two sides of a coin. And, we shall allow ourselves to experience both.
My time in Denmark meant living in the presence of contrast. Going for a walk on top of the crunchy, shiny snow layer in the forests and coming back home to sit near the fireplace. Entering the sea and getting out of it, to feel the rushing energy and the heat all over my body. All these experiences made me feel so alive by bringing me into the present moment. And because I got to experience it all, I could sink into each of them.
Recently, when returning from Germany, I was reminded of these contrasts once again. Being washed over by the contrasts in life felt even more blissful this time. Adapting from cold to warm and one culture to another. Being in the crowds for a while and coming back home to solitude. All these changes gave me a broader perspective. It expanded my capacity to embrace each phase of my journey. After letting myself move through it all, I got to appreciate the contrasts in life more than ever. Finally, I came to think that switching between these opposites and being able to live through each of them should mean having a greater capacity to engage in life.
Christmas is a truly magical time of the year!