In a true Danish Christmas there would be Lutheran Mass but we went to a Catholic one. It was very beautiful, the full ceremony with costumes and processions that I tend to forget are done now and not only in the late Middle Ages. These things were remarkable as well as inspiring and uplifting. Without the sermon and the credo the Mass would have been ideal, and in my view the elimination of these portions of the ceremony would make it more, not less religious.
In the credo, I find the hope for resurrection of the dead all too unheimlich and also somehow … egotistical, and I will have to investigate why. In the sermon, prayers and exhortations were made for (a) “life,” (b) heterosexual marriage, (c) our military, and (d) the Pope, and against (e) the Affordable Care Act. When at the end it was revealed we had been televised throughout the region I realized why the sermon had been so dogmatically political, although I also once went to a local Mass where it was prayed that George W. Bush would win the Presidential election.
I speak Danish, which also means Swedish and much Norwegian; I understand some German as well as a great deal of Frisian. I even recognize Icelandic and Greenlandic, and also some Faroese because in our family there was a poet, Regin Dahl. His father had been the first to translate the Bible into Faroese and was so famous that he is now on a stamp. Our then living relative was a piano player as well.
We cannot therefore have a true Danish Christmas without becoming nostalgic for the Faroes. Christmas carols have led me to ballads, and ballads have led me to the discovery that many allegedly or apparently medieval ones were not only written down in the nineteenth century but in some cases, composed at that time as well. We have further learnt that Denmark had a romantic-nationalist movement in its nineteenth century culture complete with nostalgia for empire. I had not realized the extent to which the songwriter Grundtvig, of whom I tend to think as an educator, was a founding father, nor had I understood how important nationalism was in his program. I did not know he lived to be nearly 99 years old. Having learned this much we will now learn still more by taking a look at the Faroese ballad.
There is of course the Færeyinga Saga, whose author is unknown and whose original manuscript is lost, but which we know of because fragments have been copied into other texts. There is the famous ballad Omurin Langi, which is saga derived but was actually written in 1830 by a known person.
Nornagest is a saga-derived, Edda-related ballad, or “rhyme,” first printed in — you guessed it, the early nineteenth century. At mid century another scholar went up to the Faroes and meticulously recorded it from performances, publishing thereupon a new edition. Here is the text in a 1921 English version, which I do not understand, and a discussion of Norns. The tale, related to a conversion event that took place around CE 1000, is of a male visitor.
Here is the ballad sung by Týr, the current Faroese folk-rock or “Viking metal” group, and here is a discussion of the god Týr. He is Thor’s older brother and Tuesday is named after Týr.
Here is the text in Old Norse with a clear English translation. And here is an explanation of the visitor’s connection to the Norns.
I feel quite like Borges now, explaining all these esoteric things about Old Norse and referring to footnotes and odd encyclopedias. But to continue for just another moment with our Faroe nostalgia, there was another writer, Hans Andrias Djurhuus, whose name was at one time a household word for us. Regin had recorded Djurhuus’ 1915 book of children’s ballads, Barnarímur, and the small children kept singing it.
Now therefore, after all this discussion of things Catholic and Viking, we will return to our true topic, the nineteenth to twenty-first century Danish Christmas.
This is an 1839 hymn by Ingemann, in which happiness is the Earth’s guest today. The Christmas tree is a branch from the Tree of Life, and children never lose their gladness.
Julen har bragt velsignet bud,
nu glædes gamle og unge.
Hvad englene sang i verden ud,
nu alle små børn skal sjunge.
Grenen fra livets træ står skønt
med lys som fugle på kviste;
det barn, som sig glæder fromt og kønt,
skal aldrig den glæde miste.