Every year, the Belfast Rotary Club — like thousands of other Rotary clubs around the world — sponsors local high school students for year-long exchanges in other countries. This year, the Belfast Rotary group sent four students abroad, three to European countries and one to South America.

These students left home in the summer of 2011 and will be returning in June and July of this year. Each month, the students provide updates on their experiences; these updates are from early January, and were shared with VillageSoup by the Belfast Rotary Club.

December has been an extremely busy month in Denmark. The past month has been full of Christmas parties, decorating, and fun. It is a tradition at my school that a class is chosen each winter to perform a parody of a Danish show or story for the entire school. On the last day of school, we all watched a silly performance that made fun of a dating show they have on TV here.

Early in December my school had an “international day” where all of the exchange students had to present in front of the entire school, 700 students, about the countries or states we’re from. There are eight exchange students at the school and we were all very nervous to present, but we got through it.

We also had to make some type of snack for the students to try that gave them an idea of the food in our countries. The two other Americans and I spent two days trying to make 700 chocolate chip cookies — I don’t ever want to see another cookie in my life! The international day turned out to be a success, which was very good.

Christmas in Denmark is different from Christmas in the states, but there are also many similarities. Advent is celebrated by almost every family throughout December with advent wreaths. In some families they also exchange gifts each Sunday in December when they light a new candle on the Advent wreath. Advent calendars are very popular items during Christmastime, especially calendars with chocolate.

It’s very common to have little get-togethers with friends and family where they sit and eat ableskevers (kind of like small, round apple doughnuts) that you can dip in powdered sugar and jam, and drink glogg (a hot red wine with muesli). Christmas parties, called juleforkost — for work, family, or just friends — consist of a Christmas meal, usually pork, boiled potatoes, brown sauce, red or white cabbage, and risalamande for dessert.

At a juleforkost many people like to play the “gift game” which is a game where everyone brings a gift and puts their gifts in a pile, then you sit around a table, set a time (10 minutes, for example) then take turns rolling a die. If you get a six you can take a present from the pile or steal one from someone else. When the time runs out you keep the gifts you have (or don’t have).

Christmas is celebrated on the 24th of December in Denmark, so Santa doesn’t really exist here; there is no story about him sliding down chimneys or anything like that. On the 24th, most families visit church in the early afternoon. I spent Christmas at my host mother’s parents’ house in a nearby town. We went to church around 4 p.m., then ate dinner when we got home.

A traditional Christmas diner in Denmark consists of duck, brown sauce, boiled potatoes, and red cabbage. Risalamande was served for dessert topped with warm cherry sauce.

In the risalamande there is one full almond. Whoever finds the almond gets a gift. There is some strategy to this game, though; if you want people to keep eating until they’re stuffed full of food, you can hide the almond in your mouth or take it out and hide it when nobody is looking so everyone will continue eating to try to find it.

After dinner the family gathered around the Christmas tree and danced around it. To dance around the tree you hold hands and walk in a circle about the tree and sing Christmas songs. We only sang and danced for 10 minutes but in families where they really enjoy it they can sing for more than an hour. They also do this to drive the kids crazy because the children have to wait until after they dance around the tree to open their gifts.

New Year’s is also very important here, as family and friends get together and eat dinner together. Children and adults shoot off fireworks all throughout the month of December so you can hear them almost every night. It is also traditional in Denmark to jump into the New Year off chairs or couches.

Maddie Wich is a junior at Belfast Area High School, and is living in Denmark for the year.