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Student Adjusts to Festivities on a Larger Scale


LAGUNA BEACH — Kira Leisau was shopping . . . in the middle of November . . . for Christmas gifts .

This was incredible.

For more than a month, Leisau, a sophomore at Laguna Beach High School, had been noticing Christmas decorations and advertisements. The initial holiday festivities surprised her.

Leisau, a foreign exchange student from Denmark, has had to adjust to an American Christmas. The differences from home are subtle, in many ways, but definitely noticeable.

"Everything starts so early here," said Leisau, who plays for the junior varsity basketball team and ran junior varsity cross-country. "It was November, and people were out buying gifts."

Not that Leisau minded. She just wasn't accustomed to it.

In her home town of Kolding--a city of approximately 57,000 located in southwestern Denmark--Christmas is similar, but the season is a little shorter.

Around the beginning of December, her family would begin preparing for Dec. 24, which is when they celebrate. Leisau would help her mother with baking cookies and marcipan, an after-dinner snack.

Each day during December, Leisau would open a a little door on a Christmas calender, behind which would be a piece of chocolate.

There would be shopping. But the intensity of the shoppers here has surprised her.

"Everyone seems so busy," she said.

On Christmas Eve, Leisau's family would put up the tree, which was illuminated by real candles. Her grandparents would come over for dinner.

"Christmas is a smaller event at home," said Leisau, who is an only child. "It's just the immediate family. We have dinner and then exchange gifts. After that, we join hands around the tree and sing Christmas carols. The next day we would go to my grandparents' house for a quiet dinner.

"Here, it's a big party. I like that, too."

There are many things about Christmas in Laguna Beach that Leisau enjoys. The sun, for one.

Although Kolding gets little snow, winters are cold and rainy. The temperature rarely gets above the mid-30s.

Laguna Beach, needless to say, offered a different climate.

"It's five days before Christmas, and it feels like summer in Denmark," she said.

These are some of the differences Leisau wanted to experience, which is why she came to the United States.

But she wasn't sure where she was going, even after she learned it was Laguna Beach.

"I had no idea where it was," she said. "I couldn't believe how close it was to the ocean. This is great."

Going to Southern California was an advantage, because her mother's aunt lives in Solvang. Leisau also has cousins in the San Diego area.

Leisau had few problems with the language, having taken English in school. But there were a few slang terms that confused her for a while.

"I had no idea what 'weird' meant or 'awesome,' " Leisau said. "But I've learned."

Athletics have never been a large part of her life, because girls' sports are not as big in Denmark. But she decided to try out for some sports because everyone else seemed to be involved.

Heather Holmes, the 15-year-old daughter of the family Leisau is staying with, plays tennis at Laguna Beach.

Leisau made the junior varsity in cross-country, a sport she had never tried before, and was voted most improved sophomore.

She also plays basketball, in which she had a little training at home.

"In Denmark when school is over, everyone wants to go home," she said. "No one wants to stay around the school. Here, everyone is doing something at school. It's fun."

There are other Southern California traits she has adopted. The dislike for walking is one.

Since foreign-exchange students are not allowed to drive in the United States, Leisau jokingly asked Julemand (Santa Claus) to bring a car for Heather.

"I'm tired of riding buses," Leisau said.

Especially on those early Christmas shopping excursions.

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