…Fa la la la la, la la la la!
It’s official! It’s Christmas! …Finally! My all time favourite holiday characterised by the Christmas spirit has arrived, and I can’t wait to dig into all the traditions that belong to the month of December.
Although I am not religious – rather cultural Christian if anything, I quite enjoy the traditions linked to Christmas. I do so for several reasons – all linked to the Christmas spirit. As such, I find that people, in general, are happier and more complaisant during this month. Coming from a culture that is characterised as cold and isolating, you can imagine that the Christmas spirit truly gets to the Danes. I mean, what an excuse to be the total opposite…and not being labeled as weird for acting so. Furthermore, being interested in multiculturalism, I find it rather interesting to look into foreign Christmas traditions. Hence, I wanted to share some Danish traditions with you here in this post. Then, hopefully, you might want to enlighten me with some of your cultural determined Christmas traditions as well in the comments section? I would love to learn more about foreign traditions – of course, also traditions during December that might not be linked to Christianity at all.
Danish Christmas Traditions
In Danish, Christmas is translated into ”jul.” What ”jul” means is ”feast.” Personally, I think that feast perfectly pictures what Christmas is all about in Denmark – namely, the Christmas spirit, ”hygge” and food…and lots of it. …Seriously, lots of it. We may be highly healthy in general, however, when Christmas comes… Let’s just say that the healthy diet is not linked to Christmas here in Denmark. …At all! (…Thankfully!)
Anyway, when it comes to Danish Christmas traditions, we have a few unique customs. However, we also share some with other Christian cultures out there. As a result, I here present you with, in my opinion, the most noteworthy Danish Christmas traditions.
Like most Western Christian cultures, the streets are decorated by the given municipality with spruce garlands and lights in all shapes and colours – there even are some occasionally Christmas trees placed in the city squares etc.
In our homes, we decorate with figures, paper cut-outs and lights – mainly shaped as pixies, Santa, angles, hearts, stars and baubles etc. Occasionally, you might also see a nativity scene with baby Jesus, Josef, Maria and the three wise men. Moreover, also the mistletoe and, especially, spruce are highly popular. We put pieces of spruce everywhere: On table decorations, outside around the house etc. Its pine cones are also used in table decorations and sometimes as garlands on the Christmas tree. One thing, though, that you’ll most likely see in a Danish home is the smell of Christmas: Oranges with cloves hanged from the ceiling or in the window in a red string – yep, this is the smell of Christmas. Furthermore, many Danish homes put figures of Santa and pixies in the garden along with fairy lights in the garden trees.
Candles are popular in Denmark around Christmas time: Not only do we Danes have a candle with 24 dates that we burn every day – one each day; we also have an advent wreath consisting of four candles – one for every advent. I’m not sure where this tradition originates from or why, however, it’s a Danish Christmas symbol and a perfect way to count down for Christmas Eve.
An important part of the Danish Christmas includes the baking of various and different traditional cookies – among other the pepper nuts, which can be traced further back than any other cookie. Moreover, marzipan in all shapes, colours and with or without chocolate and other toppings are a firm tradition. This is not to forget æbleskiver – delicious æbleskiver, which are Danish fluffy, round cake dough served with icing sugar/sugar and marmalade – sometimes even Nutella.
Christmas Chocolate Calendar
It’s mandatory for children (sometimes also adults) to have a Christmas chocolate calender – or…it’s not really mandatory, however, every child has one (or several). This chocolate calender is, basically, a calender with 24 windows. Behind each window is a piece of chocolate – one for each day of Christmas. Also, daily Christmas calender presents are popular in Denmark, where children (sometimes also adults) receive 24 presents – also one for each day of Christmas.
Some have both the chocolate as well as the daily present calender, while others only have one of the two. However, sometimes it’s combined with the advent present calender.
Advent Present Calender
Some children (even some adults) receive an advent present calender from their parents. Actually, depending on the family, sometimes Santa also brings them, which was the case in my family. As such, every advent Sunday, the child/children receive/s a present from Santa. In my family, we had a Christmas sock in which Santa would put a present every Sunday morning before my sister and I woke up. We were lucky, as ’Santa’ usually brought big presents, however, the amount of money spend on advent presents varies and depends on the family and whether or not they also receive daily Christmas presents.
Christmas Television Specials
Christmas Television specials is big in Denmark. We, among others, have a ”Julekalender.” A Julekalender is a Television series in 24 episodes made for Christmas. There are made a few every year mainly for children, however, there are also some for adults. It must sound strange to foreigners – I can even sense the weirdness writing this now, however, they are generally very good and is a good way to make Christmas a bit more special. Of course, we also follow foreign Christmas films etc., and Home Alone is part of the Danish Christmas tradition in most Danish homes as well. In my family, we always watch Home Alone 1 the 23rd of December, also known as Little Christmas Eve (I’ll come back to that in a moment), and Home Alone 2 during the day on Christmas day, the 24th of December.
Christmas Markets and Glögg
As in most Western countries around Christmas time, it’s the month of Christmas markets. Here, you can not only try various roller coaster rides, however, you can also buy all sorts of different things – also a lot of food and beverages, of course. Glögg, which is hot mulled wine with raisins, nuts, cinnamon and oranges, is very popular in Denmark along with the cold Christmas beer.
Christmas Company Parties
Christmas is not only celebrated with family but also friends and colleagues. As such, there are a lot of Christmas parties around the country at the time – even throughout November. Usually, people meet up to eat, drink, dance and socialise.
Originally, a Swedish tradition, Santa Lucia is celebrated on the 13th of December around the country at schools, daycare institutions, hospitals, nursing homes etc. Basically, she is celebrated by a group of young girls dressed in white holding a white candle who walks along the corridors singing the Santa Lucia song. I must admit that I’m not sure why we celebrate her: She died a Saint after a martyr death and is known as the Saint of Blindness due to the way she died.
Characterised as a rather cultural Christian country, Denmark and the Danes do not practice religion much. Except for at Christmas. Here, you see Danes visit the church especially around the 23rd, 24th and 25th of December depending on your family tradition. It’s sort of the one day of the year, where you honor the true spirit of Christmas – namely, Jesus (…although Christmas originally, of course, was a pagan holiday that the Christians later used to spread Christianity…)
Little Christmas Eve
We Danes celebrate ”lille juleaften” (little Christmas eve) the 23rd of December, which is the last day of work before Christmas. There are various and different traditions linked to this day depending on family traditions. In my family, we decorate the Christmas tree, bake and make marzipan for the following Christmas days. It’s very common for the cook of the family to make desert for Christmas eve this day, which is eaten for dinner. Other families also play the Christmas Present Game (I’ll come back to this later) and sing Christmas carols.
The Danish Christmas Tree
The Christmas trees in Denmark are decorated like most other Western countries do it: With figures, baubles and garlands – not to forget the star on top. However, Danes also puts lights (living candles) and garland(s) with the Danish flag on it.
In most Danish homes, Christmas Eve kicks off with dinner. During the day, the cook of the family will cook while the others help when needed. Otherwise, it’s a big Television day where lots of series and film are shown – and lots of bakery and candy is eaten.
For dinner, generally the main course is roast goose, duck or pork (sometimes all three kinds) with brown sauce/gravy, sour-sweet red cabbage and potatoes as well as caramelised potatoes. With dinner, most families drink wine, Christmas beer, snaps and/or soda. For desert, we either have rice pudding or ris á alement with cherry sauce served with a glass of glögg. In this sense, however, we have a unique tradition: In the desert bowl, the cook puts an almond – whoever finds the almond in his or her portion receives the ”almond present,” which traditionally is a marzipan pig.
In my family, we play a game of Christmas Present Game between dinner and desert. The game goes like this: Every person at the dinner has brought 3 presents – two useful and one funny. Then either you play with cards or dices until all presents have been given to people around the table. Then it ends and you can open the presents for keeps.
At last, when it’s time to open the actual Christmas presents, a Danish tradition is to dance around the Christmas tree. As such, all family members join hands in a circle around the tree and sing Christmas carols while dancing around it – and then the Christmas unwrapping can begin. Following, the evening generally ends with Christmas films and lots of candy and chocolate.
That’s all, I think – a bit of insight into the Danish Christmas. How do you celebrate Christmas in your culture?
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