Christmas traditions in Denmark. Are you confused or feeling culturally uninformed?
Our cultural detective, Jane, shares some advice.
Text: Jane Elgård Petersen
In Denmark, many (at least the young people) start celebrating the Christmas season at the beginning of November. Of course, that is early, and the main reason is J-Day. So many look forward to this day as this special Christmas beer from Tuborg is released and served for free in approximately 400 pubs countrywide. This usually happens on the first Friday of every November at 23:59 sharp. Celebrated with much festivity in the streets and many hangovers the day after.
It's more than just about J-Day
After the hangover has subsided, more social Christmas activities begin. Perhaps not as many pre-Covid-19. Some might also be cancelled or reduced due to the current financial situation. Even so, many organisations still arrange Christmas activities for socialising and team-building purposes.
One is the yearly Julefrokost (Christmas lunch), which has been very popular in many different versions. One is that all employees and their partners are invited to dinner, followed by dancing and a lot of fun. Food is the traditional Julebuffet (Christmas buffet) with all the traditional Christmas specialities. Here many newcomers can find it challenging as the food is very Danish and unknown to many internationals. For example, one dish is herrings accompanied by Danish Snaps. This is a big challenge to newcomers, both because of the taste and strength of the alcohol. Many Danes battle with this for the same reason – so you're not alone!
Unfortunately, some newcomers, often employees from the Asian culture, don't enjoy some Danish traditions and can be hesitant to try new foods. A great tip is for Danes to invite their new international colleagues to be part of the foodie experience. For example, helping to prepare a meal together, so they can learn new food traditions and share their own. Exposure to various foods is a great learning experience for all.
"Danes love anecdotes - and we have many of them in Danish. But unfortunately, Danish colleagues, including leaders, often use idioms that can be challenging to translate into English."
Danish Christmas humour
The Danes love a good joke and take every opportunity to joke with each other. This is, of course, done in a friendly way and even more so during Christmas.
One tradition is the Drillenisser (Secret Pixies) game. By the end of November, all colleagues put their names into a bowl or hat. Then, each colleague gets a turn by rolling a dice; when a six is thrown, they draw a name - this carries on until all names are drawn. But, be warned - as no one can know who your drillenisser is, this has to be kept a secret until later.
Now the fun begins. From the beginning of December, all drillenisser are allowed to play a daily prank on their secret pixie.
As inspiration, here are some ideas:
Put tape under a wireless mouse.
Empty your drillenisser's desk drawer and tape items on the wall as new decorations.
Decorate your fairy's bike or car with streamers.
Add food colouring to the milk.
On the last working day or at the Julefrokost, everyone has to guess who their Secret Pixie is - and if they guess correctly, they receive a small prize.
Décor and special events
There are many, but in general, offices are generally well decorated. The usual tinsel, Christmas flowers, hanging ornaments, and last but not least artificial candles. Candles are ubiquitous and often in meeting rooms and receptions.
Some companies also arrange a family day. The intention is to invite employees with their partners and children so they can see the employee's workplace and meet colleagues much more informally. Partners get a chance to chat with others and share experiences about living in Denmark. The children can make Christmas cards and decorations. During the day, the canteen will serve glögg (a Scandinavian Christmas punch, with or without alcohol) and æbleskiver (a Danish pancake pastry, which is served all through December in Denmark).
Many companies with international employees encourage them to share their Christmas traditions so Danes can learn how they celebrate Christmas. For example, most countries celebrate the 24th of December as Christmas eve and the 25th as Christmas day. However, Denmark (and other Scandi countries) celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December. Many families with two cultures celebrate both days in their unique way to honour both cultures.
However you choose to spend your Christmas, may it be relaxing, fun and enjoyable. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!