As many traditions as I enjoy, I’m not exactly a traditionalist when it comes to entertaining or celebrating major holidays. Having lived in a number of different cities and countries, I’ve been invited to many homes, festivities and gatherings that boast some beautiful traditions and a few that were hard to swallow in more ways than one. More about those later. I’ve adopted some of the best of the great ones and they have come to be loved by the friends and family with whom I’ve shared them. There’s a risk in hosting well. When the list of people asking me to do it again gets a little too long, I usually head out of town.
My memories of Danish Christmas stand out as some of the warmest and fuzziest of my life. The quintessential celebration of food and mirth dressed up in the most magnificent array of colors and childlike wonder, Danish Christmas is accented by a marvelous invention called “Glögg”: a hot, mulled wine that is served with chopped almonds and raisins that have been inebriated by rum or brandy. For an evening, one can live in suspended belief that all is really right with the world. Until you see how a candlelit Danish home looks, smells, tastes and feels on Christmas eve, you might think it’s all about the Glögg. Trust me, it’s not. Too many glasses of it and you won’t remember a single thing except the hangover that comes with it. If a Scandinavian invites you over for Christmas, you are already the recipient of one of the greatest gifts ever invented. Pace yourself. You’ll be eating and drinking for hours and then eating once again before you get sent on your way.
What about some of those other traditions that I won’t be bringing home any time soon, you ask? There’s a Hungarian herbal liqueur in the bitters family called Unicum that is often served to celebrate anything from being Hungarian to being with Hungarians. It tastes like expired cough medicine. I’m not bringing that to anyone’s table and I am Hungarian. And do not worry. I will neither invite you over for lamb on a spit and present the eyeballs or testicles as a sign of your honored guest status.
I’m keeping them for myself. Not.