A Danish Winter: Corona-style

Today marks a month in Denmark. Most days I wake up still surprised I made it to Copenhagen. I thought abroad was as good as cancelled two days from when I was supposed to leave. Denmark had imposed new border restrictions disallowing visiting students entry into Denmark. I unpacked my bags, almost cancelled my flight, and began trying to figure out what to do next. Then I got a call from one of the DIS faculty mentioning that because I had a Danish passport, I could still go. I had really no idea what this new experience would look like, but I decided to go anyways. What was once a program of about 500 kids was now just 4 of us who all had citizenship, who would still be heading to Copenhagen. I think it is safe to say my abroad experience thus far is very different from what it normally would have been. Instead of using Denmark as a base for traveling all of Europe, I am required to stay within Denmark. Instead of living and socialising with primarily other DIS American students, I live with 38 other Danish students in a classic Danish kollegium. In some ways this has set me up for the more intimate and integrated experience I was hoping for. Borders, restaurants, bars, museums, you name it are all still closed. Only stores providing essential services are open. Danish winter and the quintessential study abroad experience look a little different this year, and me along with everyone else has had to find new ways of adapting and embracing this cold Danish winter. Here are some of my favorite corona and winter friendly activites so far.

1.Winter bathing- the right way to wake up

Denmark has experienced an especially cold winter this year. A succession of days below freezing long enough to allow ice to form in the canals, lakes, and seas. According to the other Danes I am living with, the canals of Copenhagen only freeze over about once a decade. The frozen canals of Copenhagen in conjunction with corona lock down has prompted a winter bathing craze. Danes very much live up to their viking heritage- winter bathing has never been so popular. On any dock with a ladder you can find people huddled together in various states of dressing and undressing. Someone descending the latter, dipping their body down into a punctured ice hole,  putting their head under the water if they are really brave, and racing back up the ladder to their towel, clothes, hot coffee and fresh pastries. I too have taken up winter bathing and find it one of the most brutal but rewarding ways to start my day.

2. Frozen canals and long runs that turn to walks

Over the past two weeks Denmark has progressed into a state of winter wonderland. At the same time gym closures have forced Copenhagen’s entire population out into the streets for exercise. I myself have been trying to get out for a jog or walk everyday. I think a COVID phenomenon we can all relate to is the reality that as everything has moved online there are actually days when there is nothing forcing you to leave the house. You can spend all day sitting in the same room. When facing this phenomenon is has become more important to force oneself out of the house for a long walk or jog just to get some sun on your head and re-emerse yourself within the real world, if only for a little while. During my daily jog/walk I have really enjoyed watching the canals ice over a little more day by day until finally one day they were entirely frozen over. Below is a view of Nyhavn, Denmark’s most famous canal, and also a stop on my daily running route, entirely frozen over.

3. Fastelavnsbøller in evert shape size and flavor

Fastelavn is a Danish holiday on February 14th, similar to Mardi Gras or Halloween. Fastelavn is a shrovetide celebration, taking place the week before the season of Lent. Historically it was a time of feasting before fasting. Nowadays it is a time when young children dress up, walk door to door gathering treats, and hit a barrel full of candy- similar to a pinyata. Fastelavnsbøller are a favorite Danish pastry made in honor of Fastelavn and available the entire month of February. Made in both old style, a hollow bun filled with marzipan and cream and topped with chocolate, and new style, a croissant like pastry topped with whipped cream, Fastelavnsbøller have become a staple of every popular Danish bakery in Copenhagen. The bakeries within the city compete for who can make the best Fastelavnsbøller, each one putting their own spin on the traditional dessert, creating it in new flavors and styles. I have enjoyed many Fastelavnsbøller throughout the last month. Due to corona there has been a marked uptick in the sales of Fastelavnsbøller. On a Sunday afternoon you can find the lines outside bakeries extending around the block. My favorite fastelavnsbøller is the original style from the Andersen bakery just down the street.

4. The Copenhagen light festival

The Copenhagen light festival provides an exciting and fun spectacle for a cold dark evening. Lights fixtures are set up all around the city. On any given evening you can find groups of families and friends walking around together and observing the lights. The CPH light festival has been a tradition for many years during the month of February, but during corona times it has become the ideal activity for safely meeting with friends for an evening activity.

5. Hygge  hygge and more hygge

The Danish concept of hygge is the best course of action during these times. Hygge is a one word culmination of coziness and comfortability, feelings of wellness and contentment. To practice hygge one must create a warm atmosphere and enjoy the good things in life with good people. Danish culture I have noted is more relaxed and less fast paced, allowing for time to stop in between and relax in the presence of others. Following a group meal with Danes, I am often surprised when everyone sits around chats and relaxes for 2 hours after the meal has ended. Evenings are spent together, watching tv, knitting, baking, playing games, and drinking tea.