Saturday, December 27, 2014

Bilingual Christmas

Zoe expressed her joy regularly ever since I explained that we would spend Christmas and New Year in Copenhagen. She had been asking continuously since December 1st when it was winter and when it was Christmas, only to diss my affirmative answer because it obviously could be neither since there was no snow yet. She has never experienced a Christmas with snow in her life, yet the heavy snow falls during her two winters in Stockholm have left such impression that winter is snowy and Christmas is during winter. Slippery concepts and hard to explain. Especially since it is almost never white Christmas in Denmark and rarely in Stockholm.

Taking the train to Copenhagen on the 21st, I prepared her that it would be cold but no snow, but it would be Christmas. We arrived just in time for a pre-Christmas eve with some of my parents' friends and three children around Zoe's age. The oldest boy started singing a Danish Christmas song which didn't impress Zoe much but when I suggested 'Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer', she chimed in quickly and sang loud and clear the whole song, to each of the adults' bedazzlement. Because she sang it in clear and perfect English. The boy stared at Zoe in disbelief and said "but I know it in Danish" and after him singing a few words, all the adults joined and helped finish it. When I looked down at Zoe she was tearful and quiet. She didn't know it in Danish like everyone else. I tried cheering her up and said she was great at so many other songs. But the look in her eyes, the sense of her being an outsider was etched into her expression and I had to work hard the rest of the evening to make her feel better. For the next few days I kept singing all the Danish Christmas carols I knew, over and over again, so she could hear them. On Christmas day she was able to join on a few choruses.

Being bilingual is one thing, being bi-cultural is even more difficult, especially when not exposed to one of the cultures on an everyday basis. I try to teach her everything about Denmark that I can, read books, tell stories and feed her Danish food. But she will always miss out on things which will then be tough on her to see others master fluently. She considers herself Danish (although she mostly gets confused when people ask her where she is from because what does that mean to a triple citizen anyway?) and loves to speak Danish. But by not living here she is missing out on many things too.

Well, at least her wish came true, which was a complete surprise to me: On Christmas day we woke up to quite a big snowfall and we went out to the park and played and had a snowball fight. She enjoyed every minute of it but I had to prepare her the snow would be gone next morning. "It's okay mom, I don't have my sleigh here anyway". 

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