The holidays can often become a time where we’re left feeling stressed and overwhelmed, when it should be a time of connectedness and comfort. Iben Dissing Sandahl, author of The Danish Way of Parenting, provides practical ways to keep mindful this holiday season, giving purpose and meaning to this special time and our relationships.
How does the Danes experience of the holiday season differ from American traditions? I am not familiar with the American traditions very well, but I can tell you that Christmas is the most “hyggelig” time of the year in Denmark.
The Danes’ Christmas begins with the Advent wreath, which has four candles, each of which is lit every one of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Eve. I think that where we differ from other cultures is that a Danish Christmas is often something organized in relation to the concept of hygge. We use the term in many aspects of December and plan lots of hyggelige arrangements, especially where our kids are involved. The holidays begin and end with family and friends.
How can we practice mindfulness during the holidays? Being part of a social group is a very big part of being Danish. Feeling connected to others gives meaning and purpose to all of our lives and this is why Danes value the holidays and hygge so highly. The individual is fully appreciated in Denmark but without the interaction and support of others, we don’t think we can be truly happy as a whole person.
“Family values can be converted into powerful routines and create strong and meaningful traditions.”
Mindfulness is a simple and very powerful practice of training our attention. It is really just about paying attention to what is happening here and now and valuing these special moments together with family and friends. That is a treasure.
Why is it important to develop traditions within our families? How can we strive to carry these out, even in the busyness of the season? Traditions are important because they connect people. And we all need to feel a part of something bigger. Family values can be converted into powerful routines and create strong and meaningful traditions.
Traditions don’t have to be big and time-consuming arrangements. Instead, it is the atmosphere and energy you decide to put into the arrangement that matters.
“Traditions don’t have to be big and time-consuming arrangements. Instead, it is the atmosphere and energy you decide to put into the arrangement that matters.”
It is a matter of will, and if you decide to build up a hyggelig tradition, you just stick to it. Even though you may feel a lack of energy beforehand, you will afterwards feel full of joy and positive energy. It is worth it.
What are some common holiday traditions among the Danes? What are your gift giving traditions like? Almost all Danish kids get one or more Advent calendars – or Christmas calendars, as they are called in Denmark. The more fortunate children also get a gift calendar consisting of 24 small presents, one for each day before Christmas, individually bought and wrapped by their parents. On Christmas Eve, we dance around the Christmas tree followed by opening gifts given from the entire family.
What are the best ways to build routines of self-care, as well as deep care for our family and friends during the holidays? I believe the best way to build those important aspects of life is to continue to remember – also when days get too hectic – what is most important in life. It’s our health, meaningful relationships, and to be loved for whom we are. I believe we sometimes forget to value the moments together, and that’s where you actually find the most important in life. Without these things, everything else does not matter.
‘Hygge’ is nearly the epitome of the holiday season; how can we make more room for this form of togetherness? Yes, that is true. December is the month of the year, where it is difficult to get a glimpse of the sun here, and therefore hygge and togetherness are very much in focus.
Making room for this is something you decide to do – it is creating some nice, cheerful, warm and heartfelt traditions, where you make sure you let the stressors outside the door and focus on being present in the moment. You put the “I” aside for the “we” and practice and practice, if it feels meaningful for you.
“The implicit educational element is that ‘we find comfort in each other,’ we share this experience with each other without drama and animosity. We feel connected, safe, and secure. When feeling safe, it becomes easier to deal with external demands and expectations, which our daily life offers all the time and we know, that we are not alone in all this.”
The implicit educational element is that “we find comfort in each other”, we share this experience with each other without drama and animosity. We feel connected, safe and secure. When feeling safe, it becomes easier to deal with external demands and expectations, which our daily life offers all the time and we know, that we are not alone in all this.