“Marley was dead, to begin with.”First line in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Merry Christmas! I hope you all are having a wonderful time whether or not you celebrate the holiday. This post is just going to be a chatty, non-bookish one about how we celebrate Christmas in Denmark because it’s pretty different from what I see in all those American and British Christmas movies, so I thought it’d be interesting to share.
To get in the proper mood, you get my favorite Christmas song of the year: Jul Igen (Christmas Again) by LIGA.
Everything noteworthy about Danish Christmas happens on December 24th, not the 25th. The 25th is the day you spend on the couch because you’re not able to move due to all the food you ate the day before. Usually, you’d still be with family both on the 25th and the 26th and eat some more but all the excitement is over.
Counting down the days until Christmas is very important and is done in several ways. You have a “calendar candle” (see picture below) with numbers/dates on it so you burn one number per day in December until you reach the 24th. Personally, I’m very serious about my calendar candle. I mean, how will it ever be Christmas if I don’t manage to burn it all the way down?
Then there are also several “Christmas calendars” on TV which are series consisting of 24 episodes taking place in December, so the first episode takes place on December 1st and so forth. Usually, they are for kids but there are some specifically for adults too. I still watch the ones for kids, obviously. They are pretty hit or miss but always quite educational and about something relating to Christmas, which is always threatened of course.
There are loads of different Christmas cookies that people usually make themselves during December, but “pepper nuts” are probably the most popular ones. The name might not make them sound all that intriguing but once you get started, it’s very hard to stop eating them. And yes, there is pepper in them but not so much you can actually taste it.
In my family, my mother and I also make confectionary every year which is difficult but also fun. You can see our selection of the year below.
“Julefrokst” means Christmas lunch, but it doesn’t need to take place at lunchtime (it often involves a lot of drinking). Essentially, it’s what you’d call a Christmas party, but we’re just very food-obsessed. There is long list of food items that need to be included in a “julefrokost”. You can’t just serve anything you want because all the dishes are traditional Danish food. I’m not going to go through all of that because it’s a lot, but if you’re interested, this site is in English and tells you about some of the things we eat (although definitely not all).
“Julefrokost” doesn’t need to happen on a specific day. We actually call November to January “julefrokost” season because you go to several. There’s one with the family, one with your close friends, and of course the one with your colleagues.
When we’re done eating at the “julefrokost”, it’s not uncommon to play a game called “pakkeleg” (present game). Everyone will have been told to bring 2 or 3 presents for the game (very cheap ones) that will be laid out on a table. You get a present by casting a die and getting a six until all the presents are gone. Then a timer is set to something unknown and then you get to steal a present from someone else when you get a six until the time is up. It’s immediate chaos. Nobody actually wants these cheap gifts but it’s about winning the most anyway.
Christmas Eve Day
How you spend the day leading up to Christmas Eve is very different of course. The religious people go to church along with all the people who pretend they’re religious so the churches are generally packed all day.
In my own family, this is also the day we travel to the place we’re supposed to celebrate Christmas because we have family spread all over the place. So it’s also a day I connect with a road trip with Christmas music, and that’s always a good start.
Then there is not much else to do but wait and have a good time. You watch the final episodes of the Christmas Calendars and then the Disney Christmas Special where you can recite every single line because it’s the exact same thing you watch every year but it’s still one of the biggest highlights of the day.
We finally made it to the most important part! Food! It’s not that we eat a bunch of unusual stuff on Christmas Eve, we just eat a lot of it. It’s your standard potatoes but there are also some caramelized ones we call brown potatoes, although I’m not a fan of those myself (and people always look at me like I’ve grown a second head when I say that).
The meat we get actually varies a lot from family to family, and there are a lot of interesting regional differences there. In my family, we usually go with two kinds: roast pork and duck. Roast pork is considered our “national dish” by a lot of people, but I’m not touching it as long as there’s duck. It’s my favorite food and I only get it on Christmas Eve. Other kinds of meat I’ve heard served are turkey, goose and pork sausage.
Then dessert happens. We have Risalamande which is pronounced like it’s French, but it’s invented in Denmark. It’s made from what we call “risengrød” which translates to something like rice pudding/porridge but you add sugar, vanilla, whipped cream and, most importantly, chopped almonds. And then you put hot cherry sauce on top. Not only does this taste absolutely amazing, but eating it is also a game because among all those chopped almonds, there is one whole one and you need to find it to get the “almond present”. Winning this game that is 100% based on luck is very important because you get bragging rights for a year. If you get the almond, you need to hide it in your mouth until the rest of your family gets frustrated because they can’t find it. That means that no one trusts anyone for those 20 minutes as you try to guess who has found it. As an adult, dessert is my favorite part of the evening.
The Rest of the Evening
After dinner, we dance around the Christmas tree, and by dance I mean we walk in a slow circle because grandma needs to be able to keep up. There is one song that takes you on a tour of the whole house and that gets very chaotic, but children love it. The rest of them are your standard Christmas carols though, but we never sing them in their entirety. We gotta get to the presents at some point!
But yeah, then we open presents one at a time, so how long that takes depends on how many you are, of course. One year we weren’t done until 2 a.m. and I was literally dead on my feet.
That was a bit about Danish Christmas. There’s more to it but I think I’ve covered all the major things about it that could be interesting for foreigners. If you also have some of these traditions in your own country, please tell me about them. I’d also love to know if you have any unusual Christmas traditions that you also don’t see in all those Christmas movies. But that’s it for now. Merry Christmas everyone, or as I would say in Danish: Glædelig jul!