|Christmas in Denmark is a joyous and special occasion filled with old Viking traditions
and Christian customs. Winter is a dark time in Scandinavia, so the celebration of the
lengthening days after the winter solstice has become a yearly tradition. The Danes have
found a way to mark the season with a celebration of light.
Danes celebrate Christmas on December 24th. Preparations begin in Danish
households several weeks before Christmas Eve with the baking of cookies, breads and
candies, the making of gifts and the visiting of friends and family. Since it is the most
important Danish holiday, every Dane is well versed in the age old customs of the
traditional Danish Christmas.
According to Ghita Nørby, the grand dame of Danish theater, television and film, and
featured in the digital stories series from Denmark by the Danish tourist board, the first
Sunday of Advent is the beginning of Christmas. On each Sunday leading up to
Christmas Eve, a candle is lit on a special Advent wreath that contains four candles, one
for each Sunday leading up to Christmas Eve, she said.
In addition, Nørby said that a special Christmas candle is also lit each night at dinner.
The candle is a Christmas calendar marked with each date of the days until Christmas.
Only one date is burned each night to help mark the days leading up to Christmas Eve.
Nørby said that paper Christmas calendars with small windows that open to special
painted scenes of Christmas themes are opened each day by family members.
Everyone receives a small gift each day in order to share the joy of Christmas.
Nørby said that many foreigners are surprised that Danes have real candles on their
Christmas trees. “They don’t understand how the country keeps from burning down,”
said Nørby. She said “Americans are often surprised to see that the trees have no tinsel
on them and that many of the Danish Christmas ornaments are hand made.”
Ornaments are often created out of paper, straw, red ribbons, gold metal, felt and wood.
The Danes have Christmas elves who are called the Nisse who, over many hundreds of
years have been known to wreak havoc on the Danish farm. Danish children know these
mischievous spirits well. To appease the Nisse, a special porridge is prepared and
placed out for the Nisse by the children the night before Christmas Eve. Today, the Nisse
appear all over Danish homes as small wooden figurines, paper cuttings and mobiles.
Food is very important to the Danish Christmas celebration. The traditional Danish
lunch is offered on Christmas day. It can often last up to six hours due to the Danes’ love
of lengthy speeches, stories, jokes and announcements made with several toasts of
hearty Danish beer and chilled golden snaps. The Christmas lunch is served with a
smorgasbord of open faced sandwiches on dark dense rye bread and home made
white breads, cucumber salad, liver pâté, hard boiled eggs, pickled herring, pickled red
beets and red cabbage, cold cuts and stuffed rolled meats, small new potatoes and
sliced fresh tomatoes sprinkled with dill, salt and pepper. A course of fine Danish
cheeses and fresh fruit follows the lunch.
According to Nørby, public celebration accompanies private celebrations throughout
Denmark. She said in late November, Santa Claus marches into Copenhagen from his
home in Greenland and takes up residence in Tivoli, Denmark’s famous entertainment
park and gardens in the center of Copenhagen. Tivoli holds a special Christmas festival
and market each year, said Nørby.
The march of Santa Lucia is also celebrated during this time said Nørby. In this
Christmas tradition which originated in Sweden, the eldest daughter in every family
wears a crown of candles in a wreath on her head and is dressed in a white gown. She
is joined by her younger siblings carrying wreaths and singing a special song in a
procession through the Danish home or in parades through the streets of Denmark said
Restaurants throughout Denmark offer special holiday feasts and department stores
and shops prepare elaborate Christmas displays. “Danes like the safety of traditions.
Traditions are not to be broken,” said Cathy Halling Sørensen, the marketing director for
the famous Royal Scandinavia porcelain and glass manufacturers in Copenhagen.
“Christmas means a lot to the Danes. At Christmas, it is dark outside. Inside, it is safe
and cozy,” said Sørensen.
Glügg is the traditional Christmas drink. It is a mulled wine beverage made with red
wines, Muscatel, Aquavit and spiced with orange, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. It is
served hot over plump raisins and blanched skinned almonds after dinner.
On Christmas Eve, the special Christmas dinner of crown roast and dilled potatoes, red
cabbage and glazed mushrooms is finished with a traditional dessert of rice pudding
drizzled with black cherry sauce and whole black cherries. Inside the pudding is placed
a whole almond. The person who finds the almond first wins a small Christmas prize.
After dinner and dessert, everyone heads to the parlor where family and friends sing and
dance around the tree. Finally, gifts are exchanged and opened as glügg, Christmas
cookies, chocolate, nuget and marzipan are passed around for all to enjoy. Glædelig Jul!