US American Holidays Came to Denmark Before I Did

By Henry Milander, Foster Undergraduate who participated in an exchange with Copenhagen Business School (CBS)

Denmark Henry Milander 3When I told my family I would be studying abroad all of last summer and autumn, my younger sister gave me some pretty strong arguments for why I shouldn’t go. Her extensive list included that I would miss: every single birthday of my family, my parents’ anniversary, the 4th of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and most of all, Christmas. While she is right that much about birthdays, holidays and traditions is about being with one’s family, I must say that for the large part I celebrated all of them just fine in Copenhagen.

It is one thing to talk about Americanization in a marketing class and look at global food chains like McDonald’s or Starbucks and point to at least a partial US American cultural hegemony, but it’s a whole other thing to experience Black Friday or Halloween thousands of miles from where they’re typically celebrated. I can say Denmark indeed plays host to this our dominant culture spread throughout the world via Hollywood, the music industry, and US American-based companies, but I can equally say that there is clear pushback from many in Denmark to try and hold on to its own identity.

Denmark Henry Milander 2While there were Halloween parties and many children went trick-or-treating, it is however rejected by the majority of Danes who didn’t grow up with it as part of their culture. As for Black Friday, after speaking to many shop owners about it, they see it as a nuisance that large companies have adopted the, dare I say it, ‘holiday.’ They say it has pressured smaller businesses and shopkeepers like them to lower their prices on a day where the younger generation of Danes expects prices to be lower and items to be on sale, just because another culture celebrates it so.

This cultural inflow also puts Danish community centers in a difficult situation when groups request to book a room or hall for a Halloween or Thanksgiving party for instance. Our fellowship coordinator had trouble Denmark Henry Milander 1finding a place for our Thanksgiving dinner initially because Danish cultural centers didn’t want to be affiliated with a non-Danish holiday. Even during Christmas season, a holiday which the majority of US Americans and Danes share, one can see evidence of conflicting traditions and tastes in things like Christmas lights. Staying with a Danish couple over the holidays unleashed on my ears the disdain they and many others have for our bigger-is-better principle when it comes to Christmas decorations. Even so, if you go to the right house or the right pub, you can see a pendulum swinging away from the subtlety, whiteness, and non-blinking nature of Danish lights to the Tinsel-covered, Inflatable with flashing lights, Santa Claus waving US American decorations. It’s a fair question as to how far it will swing, and whether it will come back. My only hope is that early-adapters among the Danes don’t cause their country something they’ll regret losing, because from my experience in Denmark, they have so much tradition meant to be cherished dearly.