The residents of Copenhagen are delighted these days – with Tivoli’s Christmas Market where an ocean of lights creates a truly old-fashioned atmosphere. Personally, I feel like counting all the light bulbs, one by one, but 750 000 is too overwhelming a number.
People stroll through little villages, from stall to stall, stopping now and then for a drink of mead or ecological wine, perhaps buy an occasional present, before kissing under the mistletoe hanging from the heart tree, named after the luminous red hearts adorning it. At the Tivoli Lake, the weeping willows have had their leaves replaced by tiny lights. A little castle, floating on the surface of the water, seems to be made of light, while the real castle on the shore has put on shining contours.
Pointed Red Caps
The key figures of the Christmas Market are below average height, at the most three quarters of a metre. They are many, though, 120 altogether. That’s of course the nisse people – the Christmas elves. They live in the Elf Town, a world of frost inside a huge tent on the Tivoli Square. The elves are a good-humoured lot with smiles on their lips and red caps pointing straight upwards. Elves were in my imagination always masculine, but even elf women and elf children have invaded Tivoli.
The elves are here in their right element: snow and ice. Grey fur trousers and beige or light grey smocks with embroidery keep them warm. Most of them carry a little rucksack, presumably containing lunch pack and thermos. They move familiarly among polar bears and penguins, fish through a hole in the ice, build ice castles and go skating. Their greatest passion is skiing, and if all the seats of the ski lift are occupied, the ingenious elves seize hold of a coat hanger in order to ascend the slope.
Celebration is also part of the elves’ Christmas. They love to dress up in their Sunday best and have a good old party in the Local Inn. The elf men wear woollen socks and knickerbockers with a white shirt and a coloured vest, the women are in a white lace dress with a pinafore in bright colours. They eat and drink so extravagantly that the elf granddad is drunk under the table even before the Christmas tree is ready. Reynard the Fox sits outside the window shaking his head at such gluttony.
On the surface, everything breathes peace and harmony. Restless as they are, the elves enjoy using their bodies. In the Elf Town, however, every elf is constantly repeating one and the same movement or assuming a completely fixed body posture. Some hang from their fingers or stand on their heads, while others are mechanically lifting an arm or a leg. The poor elves are supposed to go on like this until the night before Christmas Eve. The monotony, combined with long working days, will soon make their smiles fade away.
It annoys me to see the elves being exploited in this way, so I decide to strike a blow for their health and well-being. First, I consider the local fitness center where the elves could become an entertaining element, but the training machines are probably too big for them. Instead, I decide on job rotation. I’m simply going to circulate in the Elf Town with Route 8, Tivoli’s yellow minitrain, picking up elves who suffer from stress and drop them again when they spot a more wholesome activity.
At the Concert Hall stop, I hijack the Route 8 and head for the elf world. “Job rotation!” I call out, and straight away the first elf jumps on board, in the nick of time, for he was on the point of being seduced by a hot-blooded elf lady with a swelling heart in her hands, in a cave near the entrance. The train really creates a stir, and elves flock aboard; a cackling hen doesn’t hang back either.
The ride doesn’t proceed as expected; the elves merely get on, not off. Apparently, they misunderstood the entire job rotation. Not until we reach the Elf Bar, do a couple of them leave, to enjoy mulled wine and a hot lumumba. At the next halt, the ski slope, I have to announce, “All occupied!” The climax of the tour occurs outside the Inn – a death scream from the back seat the very second that Reynard the Fox leaps on board, digging his teeth into Mother Hen.
As we approach the exit of the tent, the elves suddenly take over the command, vociferous and respectless. “Nisse Beer! We want Nisse Beer!” It’s a special elf beer. I can just think of one joint where I needn’t be ashamed of letting the elves loose, the jolly old Central Corner five minutes from here. An obstacle has to be overcome, though, the guards of Tivoli, standing at the main entrance in blue-black, red-striped uniforms. With their eyes wide, they watch the elf train leave Tivoli, too surprised to intervene.
The Route 8 is no fast train, but that’s unimportant since we’re only crossing the Town Hall Square, on which a gigantic Christmas tree, the city’s foremost, makes the elves gawk with admiration. The men in the Central Corner are already befuddled from Christmas Brew, an extra strong seasonal beer. The elves cheer them up, however, by dancing on the tables and swinging themselves in the wrought iron chandeliers, all the while drinking streams of Nisse Beer, luckily more sweet than strong, and boastfully yelling an old elf verse:
“The elf he is a tricky man,
many tricks he really can:
he can bow, he can kneel,
he can even apples steal,
he sells wares, he shoots hares,
he can waddle, he can wriggle,
tickle, tickle, tickle, tickle”
- Coping with Copenhagen
- Christmas In Rio
- Copenhagen Culture Shock
Copyright © 2003 Terje Raa