Updated: Jun 2, 2020
If you are new to Denmark, the holiday season can appear awfully strange and confusing. Here is a breakdown and a guide to Danish Christmas time for beginners.
Text: Bailey Jensen
The unofficial start of the Christmas season is the beginning of November in Denmark, which is kicked off by J-Dag when the Christmas beer is launched each year. Each city across the country dives into the holiday spirit by hanging up glowing Christmas lights all over the town. You can smell the mouthwatering scent of pancakes and caramelised almonds oozing from traditional Christmas huts in the center of town. Grab a mug of traditional Danish Gløgg (mulled and spiced wine), while taking in the holiday spirit under the array of lights.
You may have heard people talking about Danish Julefrokost, which is an annual Christmas lunch with family members, friends, or colleagues. While it is technically a lunch event, it often begins in the early evening and ends in the wee hours of the morning. There is guaranteed to be traditional Danish food, while the main beverage served is schnapps (aquavit). This strong liquor will be served the entire meal and usually leads to questionable late-night decisions. Don’t forget to say skål (cheers) each time you drink your snaps! Christmas lunch is a celebration of a successful year, a time to bond with others, and often results in an awkward Monday morning with your colleagues.
“Danes also take their love for candles to a new level, by lighting a numerical countdown candle and it is lit each day until you reach christmas.”
Advent and Countdown Candles
While Denmark is not a very religious country, it is common to countdown to Christmas through advent. Advent is each Sunday in December, where Danes get together with their family to enjoy some quality hygge (cosiness). With each Sunday Advent that passes, it is tradition to light a candle on an advent wreath. The second Sunday you will then light two candles, and so on until Christmas. With my Danish in-laws, we always have dinner each Sunday during advent, light the candles, and open up a small gift. Danes also take their love for candles to a new level, by lighting a numerical countdown candle and it is lit each day until you reach Christmas. You can find these candles anywhere, even in the grocery stores.
Finally, the grand finale event! Christmas Eve dinner is generally served with duck, boiled potatoes, pickled red cabbage, caramelised potatoes, and brown sauce. The dinner always ends with the Danish dessert known as risalamande, which is a creamy rice pudding with vanilla and almond slivers, topped with a warm cherry sauce. The host of the dinner hides one full almond in one of the desserts. With this cheeky game, the person who actually receives the almond usually hides it underneath their tongue or keeps it hidden from the others to heighten suspense. The winner of the almond game is immediately met with a present and smiles.
When I spent my first Christmas in Denmark, I was surprised by many things. First, instead of the string of Christmas lights, I was used to seeing on my American Christmas tree, Danes use actual candles. Once the candles are lit, all of the Christmas presents are put excitedly under the tree. Next is the quirky adorable tradition of joining hands and walking around the Christmas tree while singing songs and making sure not to catch your fire to your hair. For more of an insider’s look into Danish Christmas, my blog Dane In Training can provide some further insight!