Four years at the Danish Canadian Museum and what I have learned.
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
When I accepted the position at the museum, I really had no idea what I was getting into—no, really. I thought I would just be working at a small-town museum regular run-of-the-mill marketing and operations management. As it is still true that is a small part of my position, this is not at all what I feel my true position is at the Danish Canadian Museum to be.
My position at the museum is really to learn and share the little bits of information I have learned with everyone else; it is also to listen to the members and guests that frequent our museum and social media feeds. It is also to inspire guests and new followers to engage in our museum. Most importantly I feel it is to navigate—yup, that is right—navigate. I navigate history, people, beliefs, traditions, customs, fact, and fiction. People from every culture are uniquely different and fundamentally the same.
We all have our own traditions, beliefs, stories, and experiences yet all humans want to belong feel connected and valued. Being Canadian with (German and Ukrainian heritage) the first thing I looked for is similarities in my culture and up bringing to that of Danish culture and traditions. It is fundamentally human to do this to safely navigate the world.
Our brain’s primary function is to keep us safe; we feel safer if there is an element of known. It is also a primitive element from caveman times to feel acceptance, inclusion in a group, or have a tribe (so to speak). If you were kicked out of a tribe, it almost always guaranteed death in caveman times.
Navigating the waters of this new wonderfully different, yet strangely known culture, I started with interviewing and talking and researching every element and true to my nature, I started with cuisine, because truthfully, I had NO IDEA what Danish Cuisine was when I started. I mean the few things I had seen well… let’s just say some are a acquired taste.
There is no better way to learn than to study with ladies that have been cooking their traditional cuisine for their whole life with recipes passed down for generations. Jutta was the first teacher I had, and our Bedstemor was next. Svend took me to the Calgary Danish Club and introduced me to the menu, manager, and the team in Calgary. Then came a trip to Toronto to the Danish Pastry House where I learned sooo much about Danish pastries and their differences. I read so many cookbooks; my personal collection of cookbooks now features over half Danish cuisine. Other great resources were news articles, blogs, and YouTube videos. I am still learning and studying Danish cuisine, its origins, when, and where the cuisine entered the historical timeline.
I have to say there was something about the Danish cuisine felt like a comfortable shoe, when I started. It was a full year later, in our Saga Café with a beautiful lady of age 96, that my eyes were open to why the Danish culture felt so very comfortable and familiar. I learned that I had indeed grown up with Danes, and not just Ukrainians, as I had believed my whole life. I believed my hometown of Hines Creek, Alberta, where I was born and raised, was solely a Ukrainian community—a childhood belief I had never questioned nor had reason to until that afternoon. On that particular afternoon, I met and had the most wonderful visit with a family from my hometown with the last name of Hansen. They were not only from my hometown, but were actually very close to the farm I grew up on. After this visit, my blinders came off. My friends and school classes were full of names such as: Hansen, Johnsen, and Petersen, to name just a few. In fact, my lovely sister-in-law is a Johnsen. This lady also helped with the End of Steele Museum, which is the Hines Creek Museum and (not to brag) that museum is amazing! It is where my love for history and learning where we came from began.
The next thing I learned was the word hygge. The meaning of which is not a simple one sentence. It is a feeling many books, blogs, research papers, and new articles have explored this concept. I now compare it to the word love. It is not a word that is explained because, as feelings and emotions go, we all feel them in our own ways. If I were to now explain Hygge in a short simple form, I would say it is the feeling of being. I asked so many Danes I have met the question, “what is hygge?” They all reply, “it just is.” Now to a person learning and desperately trying to understand, I will admit it was frustrating.
After four years, I feel I understand better. I called a new program we are developing, “The Art of Hygge,” what makes hygge an art form which we can practice. Very simply said, hygge is actively appreciating everything and every moment while acknowledging what is comfortable and cozy to you. It is a state of being, as stated earlier, it is a feeling “it just is.” I feel the museum shares this feeling with everyone who visits us—the natural tranquility and homey atmosphere are like a comforting blanket that wraps you when you walk through our gates.
I learned about Vikings, Danish traditions, holidays, Nisser (delightful little people who are like brownies and elves mixed). I have learned new beliefs, hundreds of stories, and the experiences of our immigrants (not just Danes). I met a woman the summer of 2019 who was 107 years old and still lived in her own apartment. The afternoon with her flew by as we had a three-hour conversation. The wisdom passed on in conversation in our café everyday is so enlightening. I will answer your thoughts the way she answered me without a question, “oh I know what you’re wondering… how does a person live to the age of 107 years?” At this point I started laughing, I had thought this and would have probably asked. Her reply has stuck with me since:
“The way you live to 107 are still mobile and happy—purpose. No one can live without a purpose. Don’t take an elder’s purpose away. let us clean our floors. let us have our daily tasks and responsibilities.”
She immigrated to Canada from Ireland at the age of 12 alone; her parents had died on the way over. She could not read or write upon arrival to Canada. She got a job cleaning and taught herself to read and write quite well. So well, in fact, that she has written several novels. I was amazed at her story. She told me another problem we have is, “that we under-estimate self and what we are all truly capable of.”
Another thing I have learned is the act of correction in the Danish culture is never a negative thing. Nope it is a positive. Only in North American culture is correction thought of as rude. It has to do with our detention system being called “correctional facilities and correction system.” I had a lot of friends and community members concerned that I wouldn’t be able to stay and deal with the “Danes” my first year here. There have been many people still that have asked me why the Scandinavians are so rude, blunt, and forth coming. My reply today is simply because they are honest and care. It is easy to not tell you the truth and what you want to hear; it is an investment of time and self to offer advise and caring correction. One of the most heart-warming things is the amount of advice, input, and corrections I have gotten over the last four years. I know they are invested and that they care; what else would give reason for such an investment of their time (and most valuable resource).
One of the most important things I have learned happened this past winter of 2020-2021. I started writing the blogs on our website to connect with everyone and the intention of hopefully keeping the museum in the minds of our followers and members since no one could visit. In my research, I realized another key factor that has me feeling connected so deeply to the Danish culture and customs is its people. There is something to be said about Danish people; they understand on a different level the importance of connection. Trust is the foundation of the Danish people. It is a deep-rooted belief and practice that has been passed down for generations since the Viking era. I grew up in the north and lived in the Northwest Territory for 20 years. This belief and custom of trust among the Danish people is how I was raised. It is old and passed down without thought. It is another “it just is,” and is common in the inhabitants of northern regions.