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Gunild Pak

Danish Christmas Traditions

Danish Christmas Traditions
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Published by Today's Dallas Woman
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 Nørby.

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!

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Cooking/Foods/Nutrition , History , Multicultural , Travel
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From: Jenna Kalupa (Kalupa@aol.com) 2008-04-01

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