The holiday season is celebrated in quite a significant variety of ways, with this changing from country to country, and even state to state in some places. Despite this, there have always been a certain number of similarities when celebrating Christmas around the world.
The most notable of these include the Christmas tree itself and the giving and receiving of presents. However, the similarities between countries seem to end there, as there is quite a substantial amount of difference between how Denmark celebrates Christmas compared to the rest of the world.
Denmark is one country that has quite a variety of different Christmas traditions, with these being quite interesting from the outside looking in. While many people outside of the country may know some of these traditions, there are probably still a few that people might not know about.
Many of these might end up making you want to visit Denmark for the holidays, which can be highly recommended. I live here so I’m biased, but I really believe we have some of the most wonderful Christmas traditions. Let me show you a few things that makes Denmark magical during Christmas.
Christmas markets are perhaps the most well-known Danish Christmas tradition around the world, as these have been quite popular among locals and tourists for a considerable amount of time. These pop up all over the country and sell a variety of handmade treats and crafts.
While they can be found across the country, Tivoli has a Christmas market that’s quite popular. This makes it a recommended choice for anybody traveling to Denmark during the holidays.
Typically, these Christmas markets will start popping up around the country from the beginning of November and should last until a few days after the holidays. As a result, they’re something that the majority of people have come to enjoy as part of their celebrations.
These also help to add to the overall festivities leading up to the holiday, as they can help build the community spirit over the following weeks. The traditional goods that are sold at these markets sets a good mood, which is especially true when the smells of the foods are factored in.
Every country has its own tradition for kicking off the Christmas traditions, with the Danish doing this with the Advent wreath. The wreath features four candles, with owners lighting one every Sunday for the four weeks leading up to Christmas Eve.
Typically, the wreath is made out of fine spruce twigs, and are decorated with a variety of things. Usually, these decorations will include white candles, as well as a red ribbon to attach it to the ceiling.
It should also be noted that each candle isn’t lit for the whole time leading up to Christmas. Instead, they’re each only lit for a short amount of time before being re-lit the following Sunday. As a result, all four of the candles will be of a slightly different size when being lit on the final Sunday before Christmas Eve.
While there are quite a significant variety of Christmas wreaths on the market, they don’t seem to be replacing the traditional spruce version here in Denmark.
Another Christmas tradition in Denmark that many people may be surprised by is what’s known as a calendar candle. Like a tape measure, there are 24 markings on the candle, each of which are used to designate one of the days before Christmas.
Alongside the markings are a variety of other holiday-themed decorations, including pixies with red cheeks, fir motives, and other things. The calendar candle is lit from December 1 onwards, with a child in the family typically being in charge of blowing it out before it melts too far. Typically, the calendar candle will be lit every morning at the breakfast table.
However, this isn’t the only candle that will be visible in a Danish family’s home during the holiday season. In contrast, there will typically be several of them by the windows, which may also feature light chains and several red flowers.
An outdoor Christmas tree may also be visible in many family’s gardens, which is typically lit up with a considerable number of white lightbulbs. People who don’t have a garden usually decorate their balconies or window frames with a similar setup.
There are a variety of other decorations that can be seen around the home. In general, you should expect to see paper hearts and stars, music boxes, festoons, and glass globes. In many households, it can be common to see family artifacts that have been passed on from generation to generation.
The majority of public buildings will also feature similar decorations, which can be seen especially in schools, hospitals, and various other institutions.
The majority of companies in Denmark will treat their employees to a Christmas luncheon at some point over the holiday season. As a result of this, restaurants and hotels have developed quite a significant number of dishes for the period, many of which are quite traditional.
What many people may find surprising, however, is that these can often be served as a buffet. There are quite a significant number of dishes that can be included in this, such as medisterpølse (a form of fried sausage), and frikadeller (meatballs), which are the more conventional.
Alongside this are shrimps, fried plaice, and a few other offerings. However, some of the more common dishes that are typically served during these Christmas luncheons are herring and salmon, both of which are prepared in various ways. A wide choice of dressings would also be available with these.
As a result, the Christmas luncheon is a very enjoyable experience for anyone who participates.
Santa Lucia Day
Santa Lucia Day is something that many people outside of Denmark may not have heard of. According to the Catholic Church, Lucia is the saint of light and is typically celebrated on the night between the 12th and 13th of December. This is something that’s seen across all of Denmark, with this being done in various public and private institutions.
Like many other countries, baking is quite a large part of the holiday season in Denmark, although there are a variety of different things that are baked here. The primary reason behind this is that the traditional goods baked in Denmark haven’t changed much over history.
Typically, the baking period starts two weeks before Christmas, with children playing quite a significant role during the process. Ginger cookies are what the majority of families will bake, although they’ll be decorated in quite a considerable variety of ways.
There are different recipes that can be used to bake the ginger cookies, with the majority of these being quite traditional. Alongside these, many Danish families may also create a variety of decorations for the cookies, with these including vanilla biscuits shaped as hearts, as well as a variety of other themed shapes.
Fudge and other goods are also cooked during this time, the smell of which helps to add to the overall Christmas spirit.
The Christmas Tree
There are a few notable differences between Denmark and other countries when it comes to the Christmas tree. Danish families typically use a Norwegian Spruce for their tree and decorate it in a variety of ways. During this time, the most important aspect of decoration is lighting it.
This is much different than you might expect in many other countries, as the Danish use real candles to light it instead of bulbs. With how dangerous this can be, an increasing number of people have begun switching to light chains and bulbs, although it’s not uncommon to see real candles being used.
In contrast to many other countries, the Danish don’t top their tree with an angel; instead, they’ll use a gold or silver star. Alongside this will be a variety of other decorations, with some of the more notable including national flags, small toy music instruments, candles or cookies, and cornets with fruit, among others.
Once all of these have been added, the Danish Christmas tree will be covered in strips of tin foil or white fairy hair, which will help the light to glimmer much more.
Traditionally, it was the father of the family who was in charge of lighting the tree. In the past few years, however, it’s become increasingly more common for children to become involved in the process.
The Night Before Christmas Eve
December 23 can be just as important to Danish people as the rest of the Christmas season. This is primarily because this may often be the first day off they have for the holiday, which often gives them their first opportunity to see certain friends or family for the festivities.
In many cases, this may be one of the only days that they’ll be able to see them during the following days, thanks primarily to a variety of obligations over the Christmas period. During the day, many people will also give and receive gifts, which is another reason why the day may have some importance.
Alongside this, children are normally given æbleskiver, which is a traditional cake of batter cooked in a special pan. Many adults will also consume them along with hot gløgg, which is a conventional Danish drink for the season.
For Danes looking for something alcoholic, hvidtøl is also on the menu, with this being a low fermented household beer. Rice boiled in milk, or risengrød, should also be available. Remember to save some risengrød for “nissen”, which is one of Santa’s helpers, living in the attic of danish houses.
Christmas Eve and Day in Denmark
Danish people put a significant amount of time and effort into Christmas Eve, with the festivities surpassing that of New Year’s Eve. Many Danes will still spend a considerable amount of time shopping and getting things together, which means that the day can be somewhat hectic.
One tradition that may surprise you is that many families will give animals a special treat on Christmas Eve. This is primarily because local legends say that animals could speak on the evening, which meant that the majority of people wouldn’t want them speaking ill of them on Christmas Day or Eve.
Typically, many families will take them for an extra walk, give them an extra special treat, and more. This is usually done in the morning and followed up with an early visit to church to sing traditional Danish Christmas carols.
The majority of Danes will have their dinner early in the evening, with this typically being a roast duck. However, it’s not uncommon for roast goose or pork to be eaten. The roast duck will usually be stuffed with prunes and apples and served with a side of sweet potatoes, cranberry jam, white potatoes, beets, and red cabbage.
Alongside this will be a desert of cold rice pudding, which usually has an almond hiding in it. After Christmas dinner, the tree is often lit with the family then joining hands around the tree to sing traditional hymns.
This singing is typically done until the children are ready to open their presents. If there’s more than one child in the family, then one will be chosen to find the gifts and bring them out one by one until they’ve all been received.
When one present is brought up, the recipient will open it and show their appreciation, which then means the child can go find the next present. This will repeat until all of the presents have been opened.
After all of the presents have been opened, it’s time for biscuits, candy, and fruit, as well as the possibility of a few beers. Christmas eve in Denmark is typically a quiet and relaxing time spent with the family.
On Christmas day itself, the children will get up early to enjoy the presents they received the night before, with the day itself being somewhat quiet.
The Christmas season in Denmark is different than many tourists and visitors may expect. This makes it a recommended place to visit during the holiday season. Not only will you be able to experience another culture, but also take advantage of the various foods and products that are on offer during this wonderful season.