What is Christmas in Denmark like? You might well ask. Some of the snow-covered, fir tree-decorated habits we have in this little kingdom are pretty similar to the other countries of Scandinavia. And then there are the ones that are just ours…
In common with much of Europe (but not the UK), Denmark celebrates Christmas on December 24, Christmas Eve. Traditionally, that means eating an elaborate Christmas dinner in the evening and opening presents, often late into the night, afterwards. In Denmark, the name for Christmas is jul.
Yes, the dancing. It’s a tradition in Danish houses to dance around the Christmas tree, holding hands as a family while you sing Christmas songs, before you start opening presents. Some families might do this before dinner instead.
Ah, the Scandinavian Christmas tree! It is a treat and a half. Imagine: a spruce tree you have cut down yourself from the forest (in Copenhagen you can even take a specially chartered train out to a forest for this purpose), that you cram into your lounge and decorate with real candles. Yes, real candles. They are an essential item for Christmas hygge – and we often burn an advent candle for one hour a day through December too.
Father Christmas certainly visits, but in a slightly different guise. In a less than poetic turn of phrase, Father Christmas/Santa Claus is named Julemanden in Danish (literally: The Christmas Man), and he is assisted by a group of Nisse, a sort of naughty elf that has a lot in common with the American ‘elf on the shelf’ (some people say they are the original version). Presents are brought for children by Julemanden and he arrives on December 24 to distribute them. No magic chimneys or middle-of-the-night magic required: he is typically one of the family (an uncle, dad or grandad) dressed up in traditional red robes.
Christmas dinner is a serious affair. Traditionally, you will be sat at a table for a good few hours, eating a meal of roast pork and duck plus boiled potatoes, red cabbage and gravy. Risalamande is the big Christmas dessert, a rice pudding topped with cherry sauce where a whole almond will be hiding. The family member who finds the almond in their bowl gets a prize or extra present.
There are plenty of other wonderful foods that we eat around Christmastime, including æbleskiver, little fried doughnuts sprinkled with icing sugar, Christmas Beer, gløgg, or hot mulled wine, and candied almonds.
That’s Santa Lucia. She arrives, dressed in white, in Denmark on December 13 to bring light to what is becoming a very dark land. She leads a procession of girls, also dressed in white, and has a crown of candles in her hair. Instead of a nativity play in schools up and down the country, children look forward to taking part in the parade through their school or in their local area.
It’s a simple six-letter thing: ‘God Jul’.