Happy new year, everyone! Except to these people.
How are you? Is 2021 everything you expected it to be so far?
I thought it was funny how, in November/December, the articles and talking points started popping up about 2020 being a dumpster fire and how 2021 was sure to be better. While I think tearing off another page of the Gregorian calendar is certainly cathartic, after a year that was traumatic. to. so. many, we need to keep in mind that the year is not an automatic clean slate. We need to do the work – on ourselves and in what we put out into the world – to make it a great year.
Here’s how I closed out my 2020.
A Socially-Distant Birthday
The lock-downs hit Europe in mid-March, and we were due to fly to Czech Republic in April to take care of some bureaucratic things.
That didn’t happen. Our appointment was cancelled. The flight too. As they should have been!
Just one problem – I’d booked a local hotel stay in Vejle for the night before we were supposed to go to the airport (it’s a very small airport with strange flight times). I wasn’t allowed to cancel my stay – the travel industry was already hurting hard – but I could reschedule it. So I rescheduled it to my December birthday…since obviously things would be better then 🙂
See also: Unique Challenges for Expats During Lock-down
This was the right choice in hindsight. It allowed us to safely get a change of scenery and have a special change of pace to pandemic life. Hotels have taken safety measures very seriously, reducing contact between hotel guests and having strict cleaning protocols. Plus, our hotel – Scandic Vejle – has some incredible sustainability initiatives that put the cherry on top of my birthday cake.
While in Vejle, we went for walks in the unusually quiet city and patronized two local businesses for my birthday dinner (stir fry from Wok This Way) + cake (crepe layer cake from Cozy Creperie!!!). As you may know, Chlohemian is happiest when eating at small businesses while traveling, so in that way it was perfect. Both experiences were takeout, and we wore masks while inside.
Though I was sad to be far from family and friends, I scheduled phone calls to keep in touch. And the day after my birthday, two dear friends surprised me with the SUSHI CAKE you see in the above photo. Mmm mm mm. If that doesn’t show you true friendship during tough times, I don’t know what does.
A Quiet Holiday Break
I’m sorry to say I didn’t experience many Danish traditions my first official Christmas here, beside roaming holiday-decked streets with lights and handcrafted, paper-braided decorations, sales advertisements, and bearded gnomes! (The gnomes/dwarves/elves – no one has cleared this up for me – are said to be mischievous, but also bring luck to your house. I think they can also bring presents – elves that don’t need Santa! Imagine!
As for yummies, last year, I got to try aebleskiver, and this year I did my part by eating julehjaerter and rum balls, always festive and delicious pastries.
We got to play “White Elephant,” a version of Secret Santa where you buy dummy gifts for two rounds with friends. In the first round, you roll a die to determine who gets to take gifts from the middle of the circle. In the second, you roll a die to determine whether you can steal or switch presents. In the end, everyone opens them and realizes how useless, or coincidentally useful, they are 😉 (We got Q-tips and a disco ball. Not bad.)
Otherwise, we celebrated a Czech Christmas abroad. No carp here, and salmon is expensive, so we compromised with schnitzel. I also made potato salad for the first time! (This ain’t your mayonnaise-laden American potato salad. It has GHERKINS. And parsnip.) That was a nice taste of what I’m used to 🙂
Speaking of which, I hoped there to be a Hanukkah miracle where my skinny candles (see menorah, above) lasted all eight nights… but to no avail. I lit them when I could, saying the Hebrew prayer. Jewish fun fact: Candles symbolize the human spirit. To blow one out prematurely is to symbolically snuff out a life – so we have to let them burn out naturally.
Danes also open Christmas presents on Christmas Eve rather than Day. I got new slippers from my Czech family that are so cozy I don’t want to leave the house – and I should be careful what I wish for because now I don’t have to, as we’re in lock-down again 😛
Some Bright Spots
Just before the holiday break started on December 23rd, I got something in the mail I’ve been waiting for since July… the edition of Standart Magazine where my article about American diner coffee is published!
Despite the difficulties of this year, I feel blessed and grateful for the caring local and international community that helps me feel supported. My friends and family delivered wonderful birthday surprises – including these sweets from my friend Eleni, the owner of Cafe L’ile – that helped me remember we’re not alone as long as we have people we can rely on, during the triumphs and setbacks both.
And a little sugar on top, always.
New Year’s Day – and What We Can Do Better
If you could only see the supermarket stock of alcohol in Denmark! 🙂
My new year started off on foot, but not necessarily on the right foot.
One quirk of Denmark is that fireworks are only sold in December and technically only allowed in the last week of the month through the new year (somewhere around the 27th to the 1st). The usually quiet and law-abiding Danes came out full force this year, and created the most spectacular yet horrifying fireworks show… from December 18th until at least the 3rd of January.
The most flooring performance was, of course, on New Year’s Eve. People within the city limits shot off firecrackers from nightfall, but there was not one moment of silence – literally – between 11:45pm and 12:45am. (Thankfully?) we had front row seats from our balcony. It looked like this (turn down your volume):
Fireworks show on New Year’s 2021 in Odense.
So, why do I say spectacular and terrifying? A few reasons.
First of all, I originally thought the fireworks were so out of control this year because of Covid and people wanting to let off steam. After I spoke to my Danish friends, though – who said it actually wasn’t. as. bad. as previous years, I really started to think these people are off their proverbial rockers.
I’m a New Yorker – and an American – and I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. Not even on the 4th of July when, of course, municipalities host authorized, impressive fireworks shows.
The second reason is, well, trash.
I was disappointed that a country, which is usually so eco-minded, prioritizes entertainment over environment. Because the amount of trash on the ground on New Year’s Day when I went to take my walk around 3pm was truly upsetting.
There was a truck specifically picking up used canisters from main streets, but even people on small streets and cul-de-sacs had simply left the evidence of the night before to wash and blow away in the street.
I mean, I know you have a hangover, but if you buy it, you should make sure it doesn’t end up in the ocean.
Moral of the story…if I don’t want to feel terrible about humanity, I won’t venture outside on January 1st again 😅
What Does 2021 Look Like?
- I am going to keep advocating for sustainability in my community. Just because we have Copenhagen doesn’t mean we’re doing everything right!
- I await the Covid-19 vaccine in late spring or early summer, when they are due to be available for the general population in Europe.
- I’ll be staying masked and socially distant until immunity kicks in.
- I will stay aware that the pandemic consequences are long-term, with some estimates saying economic recovery in the U.S. will last until at least 2024. The pandemic has put at least 150 million people into poverty globally. The recovery might be longer for the travel and tourism industry, where millions earn a living globally, and women who left the workforce.
- I’ll be committing to the life-long work of anti-racism, starting with the Anti-Racism Daily Newsletter. I’ve been reading since summer 2020 and highly recommend it.
- I hope that travel will be safe and possible by late 2021 and I’ll get to visit New York again. If not then, early 2022.
How will you make sure 2021 is better than 2020? Let me know in the comments 👇