For reasons that are not quite clear, there was no official holiday party in our department this year. Danish student K.-M. declared that this was silly, and that we should just make a pot-luck sort of event. She was going back to Denmark in early December, but then she was coming back, "... and for the party I will bring paper and we will make Danish paper stars," she announced at fika one morning. "Can't you get the right paper here?" someone asked. "In Sweden?" she asked, scornfully. "No, no, no!" I had no idea what "Danish paper stars" were, but I thought the party would be a good excuse for me to force my eggnog on a new set of people ("Egg... what?" people asked. "Nog? What is that? Does it have eggs in it?"), so the two of us became the de facto jul party committee.
On the evening of the 19th, I had the eggnog ready to go, K.-M. made a big pot of glögg, and somewhere near twenty people crowded into the upstairs break room. Everyone got a glass of something, then K.-M. passed around the paper, and started instructing people how to make Danish paper stars. "It will be easy, I teach children to do this every year at home," she had said earlier in the day. Perhaps so, but it's not clear if she had ever tried to teach this skill to a roomful of nerds. Nerds, if you are unfamiliar with the species, tend to be proud perfectionists, unwilling to admit that they don't understand something right away, but more than willing to work like slaves in pursuit of that understanding. Within 10 minutes, the room fell almost silent, and "Ultra-Lounge Christmas*" blaring from my iPod was the only sound to be heard, as almost everyone bent over the table, peering intently at their projects. No, I take that back, there was one other sound: that of people occasionally saying questioningly "K.-M.?" and of K.-M. hustling around to their seat, and saying "No, other way," or "No, almost, but go under that flap not over," or even the devastating "No, no, you had better rip it up and start all over."
No one was talking, no one was drinking. ("Would it help to drink more?" someone asked hopefully. "No, I don't think so," said K.-M. sadly.) Technician A.-S. finished her work and came to the party a little late; she helped herself to a glass of glögg. "This is a party? You all look like you are studying hard for an exam," she laughed. There was a smattering of self-conscious giggling that quickly faded as everyone bent back to their work.
I managed to complete one star and then start another before becoming caught up in conversation with a professor from another department; Joe made three of his own and then finished my half-star. "The first one takes an hour," he reports, "and then the second one takes an hour and a half because you think you know how to do it." Most people made at least two. Ours now hang proudly on our tree. Perhaps they're not quite as intricate as Grandma's tatted stars... but they're ours, all ours!
*By request, I had brought the very cheeziest American holiday music I could find. Believe me, it's a lot easier to take this stuff when you don't hear it all the time!