Christmas is by far my favorite holiday, and living far away from home and family, it can be difficult. Spaniards don't celebrate Christmas the way Americans do. There's a celebration, sure; there's lots of food (omg, SO MUCH food), there are some decorations, and some special things that only happen at that time of year. But it's not the same. There's no bite in the air, no chance of snow. There are no Christmas carols, and though Santa Claus is becoming ever more popular, he is still eclipsed by the Three Kings, who come bearing gifts by camel on the 6th of January. (As an aside, for a laugh, check out David Sedaris's hysterical take on the Dutch tradition of Santa being accompanied by six to eight black men.)
Luckily, there are a few places in Europe that know how to do Christmas right, and Copenhagen is one of them. So when we saw the chance to combine our annual trip to the States with a five-day layover in Denmark in December, we jumped at the chance.
Copenhagen is a Christmas lover's paradise. When we arrived it was still a few weeks before Christmas, but the season was in full swing. The weather was frostier and nipped at our noses. Fresh pine garlands bedecked windows and doors; paper lanterns and candles glittered in lit windows. Christmas markets popped up in plazas, serving hot wine and hot dogs (a national obsession). We bought cozy hats and handmade Christmas ornaments. We stopped for coffee and sipped glögg outside with gloved hands. We peered into decorated storefronts - the windows of Ilums Bolighus, a design shop, were so beautiful it was like staring into a fairy tale.
Fortunately, the next few days brought better weather. In the morning we visited the Assistens Cemetery, a labyrinthian park overhung with old trees and creeping ivy vines. Though a famous cemetery where such illuminated persons as Soren Kirkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen are buried, there were many fallen, forgotten, buried tombstones, names erased by time, consumed by the garden itself. It was poetically beautiful and sad all at once.
The next day, after stopping for fresh cinnamon rolls and coffee, we learned to use the buses to get around and made our way out to Christiania, the "free town" (read: hippie commune) within the city limits. You can read more about it here, but basically in the 1970's some people decided to stake a claim to an area of Copenhagen, which the local government actually ended up respecting, and which now exists with a mutual agreeement: Christiania takes care of its own sh*t (literally), and the local government stays out of the way.
It's an interesting concept; however, its execution is rather more...disappointing. The free people are exactly what you'd expect them to be; that is, people who freely trade and smoke marijuana (etcetera). The whole place has an air of severe decadence and everything is in need of a good scrubbing. Photographs are not allowed because the activities carried out within its walls are illegal (see above: pot etc.), and signs implore people not to run because it causes panic. Is this really the utopian society they were going for?