Writer Conrad Moldon gives us a guide to Julefrokost.
Text: Conrad Molden
On a hot June afternoon, I was in Sønderborg, Southern Jutland, performing stand-up comedy to a crowd of wonderfully drunk workers from a telecommunications equipment supplier. It was 26 degrees, Mexican-themed, but it was a Julefrokost (Christmas lunch party).
And that's one thing we all need to understand about Julefrokost: It can strike at any time. This one was particularly mad because of COVID postponements, but it is not unusual for this special event to show its drunken face at random times of the year. Danes will use their bizarre week numbering system to sneak a Julefrokost into your life, even though it has not yet been Halloween. "There are many bookings this year," Helle will tell you. "So our Christmas party will be on Week 43." And you won't think much about it until you're eating duck with red cabbage before the clocks have even changed.
Another thing to understand is that it is a great honour to be invited by a Dane to eat with them at their Christmas lunch, but it is also possible a Julefrokost may just happen to you. I was once walking with a big group of friends on a Friday evening, the group expanding as more and more randoms joined (Aarhus is a small city). Soon enough, I ended up in a stranger's apartment, eating svinekød with boiled potatoes. In such a scenario, it's best to say that you know Søren, and sure enough, there will be enough people that know a possible reliable-Søren that it won't seem suspicious. And let's be honest - it's Denmark, so even if they did discover an undercover svinekød-eater, they'd most likely just be interested in what you're doing here.
“One thing we all need to understand about Julefrokost. It can strike at any time.”
However, there are taboos. Be aware that you will always be forced to eat something called ris à l'amande, a rice pudding dessert with whipped cream, sugar, vanilla, and chopped almonds. And, to make it exciting, there is a solo almond, somewhere in that mix, the finder of which will win a prize. However, if you sneak in your own almond and pretend that you found it in the food, the Danes will never talk to you again. That will be the end of your friendship. Absolutely do not attempt this. Apparently, there is a limit to their hospitality.
Something else to avoid: don't tell them that nisse are "just elves". Here I agree. These mythological creatures from Nordic folklore are far more sophisticated than the American-import once-upon-a-time German humanoids that decorate our globalised television screens. Nisse, do not hang baubles on the Christmas tree or bake you a nice apple pie. They engage in mischief such as tying cows' tails together, turning objects upside-down and breaking things. Nisse are real, they are called children.
Another Julefrokost tradition: you'll be forced to drink akvavit. Also known as "schnapps", this highly poisonous potion is distilled from grain and potatoes and pure evil. Just the smell from opening the bottle will make one's eyes begin to water. And your loving local friend will try to convince you that there are different flavours with distinct histories. But, sorry friend, I may not be from Denmark, but I do understand that every bottle of Aalborg Taffel Akvavit has the same flavour: benzine.
So whether it is October or March, enjoy your Julefrokost experience. Do drink one courtesy shot of distilled evil, leave your almonds at home and here's a pro tip: find some fun facts to make your hosts think you are really integrated into Danish julehygge culture. "Did you know they haven't changed the recipe for Aalborg Akvavit since it was first made in 1846? Yeah, apparently they tasted it and just thought: wow, it's so delicious, definitely can't improve on this, let's keep this recipe for the next 175 years."