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Danish birthdays 101



Heather unlocks the Danish birthday experience: Traditions, cakes, songs, and flags.


Photographs: Pexels

Text: Heather Storgaard


The first birthday I spent with my Danish husband as a couple, living in Edinburgh at the time, I remember desperately googling to figure out Danish birthday traditions. I didn’t get very far, but I managed to source a Danish flag from a friend returning from Copenhagen and probably produced some kind of cake for him. If you’re looking to Daneifey your birthday or avoid faux pars with friends or family, here is an essential guide to Danish birthdays from someone who has witnessed quite a few of them.


Cakes

Layer cakes with Kagecreme and Cake Cream are popular for Danish birthdays. You can make them as simple or luxurious as you like - books such as Trine Hahnemann’s Scandinavian Baking offer great recipes and have been released in original English and Danish translations. My husband insists on her incredibly delicious three-layered cake with blueberries and cake cream, almond meringue, marzipan, and chocolate. Every year, he insists he has forgotten how complicated it was to make the February before!


Kagemand, Cake Man, is your other option. It is often made for children, shaped like a crude man, and typically covered in sweets. Be prepared for a typically Danish-ly violent cake, as the birthday boy or girl decapitates the poor Cake Man at the first slice. Some varieties differ throughout Denmark - on Fyn, they are made with Brundsviger, and a Danish politician from the island made headlines for returning home to buy a Fyn Kagemand a few years ago, as only the local version would do!


In Denmark and many northern European countries, you are expected to take your own cake to school or work for your birthday. This may feel a bit backward for some, but I had never considered it like that until discussing it as an adult. I learnt the hard way that this isn’t an international standard- the first time I did this in Scotland, I embarrassed my new colleagues, who felt they should have provided the cake for my birthday.


"In Denmark and many northern European countries, you are expected to take your own cake to school or work for your birthday."


Songs

With cakes come birthday songs. Danes love singing, with songs for almost every event in the calendar and times of year. They couldn’t stick to only one birthday edition and offer two versions. Many Danish friends of mine know the English and even Norwegian versions. My favourite Danish birthday song is the silliest, which involves miming and making the noises of instruments. Introduced to me as a song for children, it is a great one for an international birthday party where Danish language abilities are varied- even adults can pretend to be a saxophone or a trumpet player with gusto after a few drinks! The other, probably more common, starts “I dag er det [dit navn]s fødelsdag, hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!” (Today is [your name]’s birthday! Hurrah!). Again, even if you don’t know the words, everyone can partake in sing-shouting Hurrah.


Flags

Flags accompany any kind of Danish celebration, birthdays, perhaps above all. They guide the way to birthday parties, which can mean an abundance of bunting if you live in the countryside, where guests can get lost. Cake flags are musts, confetti-type versions and reusable wooden or plastic flags that can be gathered up and used on the next flag occasion sustainably. The Dannebrog is everywhere in my house and car, from transporting many homemade cakes around. If you’re hosting an international birthday party, adding extra flags from other countries to which the birthday boy or girl has a connection can be a nice touch.


Tillyke med fødelsdagen!

Ultimately, your birthday is about you! Introduce your traditions to your friends and family in Denmark, incorporate some Danish ones, and enjoy yourself.

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