Red Cross’ project ”Julevenner” creates joy for both Danes and asylum seekers. It gives refugees the possibility to step into the Danish Culture and experience the Danish traditions. Jacob Holdt who has become a host for refugees at Christmas year after year calls his guests “part of the family“.
Jacob Holdt is a Danish photographer, writer and lecturer. He has joined the Red Cross project “Julevenner” and has invited asylum seeker Visala Manieva to his home to celebrate Christmas Eve. Both of them agreed to share their experiences.
Visala Manieva is from Azerbaijan and has been living in Denmark since 2008 with her family. She has always wondered about the Danish traditions, and she celebrated Christmas for the first time with Jacob and his wonderful family in 2013. Since then they have become really good friends and now they celebrate Christmas together every year.
Red Cross’s project “Julevenner” is about asylum seekers, refugees and Danes to celebrate Christmas together. As a Dane you can be a host and invite asylum seekers and celebrate Christmas in a good company. Conversely, as a refuge or asylum seeker you can sign up to be a guest at Christmas.
“I am muslim and we do not usually celebrate Christmas. But since I came to Denmark and saw how Danes were looking forward to Christmas, I began to think that it will be nice to celebrate Christmas with Danes. The fact that Jacob Holdt invited us to his home made me happy and excited”, Visala Manieva says.
Danish Christmas traditions
Already in beginning of November almost everyone in Denmark begin to prepare for Christmas. The Christmas lights turns on in the cities and everyone is getting caught by the good atmosphere. It gets more and more interesting for those who are not used to celebrate Christmas.
“I was really surprised by the many traditions they had on Christmas Eve. For example dancing around the tree and singing, Danish Christmas Dinner and “Risalamande” which is kind of rice pudding served for Christmas. They put a whole almond in the “Risalamande” and the person who finds it gets an “Almond present”. It is really fun and entertaining. I think it is important to know Danish traditions and culture when you live here in Denmark. It is really different from my home country Azerbaijan”, Visala Manieva says.
Becoming a part of the family
The first time Jacob Holdt decided to invite a refugee for Christmas was when his children’s grandmother passed away. They were really sad about the fact, that she was not going to be there on Christmas Eve, so he decided to give them a worthy “substitute”.
“I was volunteering at the library, helping children with their homework. Then I asked if Red Cross would like to help me to invite some refugees for Christmas Eve. And when the guests came over we had a lot of fun and my children said that it was the best Christmas ever”, Jacob Holdt says.
Since then Jacob Holdt has invited new people every year for Christmas from different countries like Iraq, Azerbaijan and Syria. Different countries come together and enjoy each other’s company. It gives a lot of good experiences and very interesting conversations.
“It is kind of funny how they become a part of the family. We have been in touch and visiting each other often since. Every year I invite Visala and her family to celebrate Christmas, because it is fun for her and also for us. They spread happiness and make the day more special”, Jacob Holdt says with a big smile on his face.
Christmas is the perfect opportunity
Jacob Holdt believes that it is important for the Danes who want to teach Danish values and lifestyle to those who will inherit our society. There are different ways to do this, but Jacob Holdt is convinced that celebrating Christmas could be the best way. In this way, integration will be completed, he explains.
“I know that many Danes feel alone or tired of celebrating Christmas at the same place with the same people. When new people come into the picture it can turn the traditional Christmas celebration to something different and exciting, especially if they have children. It is fun to see children waiting happily for their present. I surely recommend others to do the same”, Holdt says.
Visala Manieva also recommends other asylum seekers and refugees to sign up as guests for Christmas. “It is a nice way to make a network and share happiness with other people”, she says.