Christmas traditions in Denmark
Danish Christmas Traditions
Christmas in different countries differs widely from each other. This is something I learned from working with a multitude of different nationalities. When the talk falls on christmas traditions, people are often very surprised and some even a bit amused of the things I can tell about the danish ones. I figured it might be interesting to share how it is to celebrate christmas in Denmark with a broader audience and maybe even hear a bit about your own countries traditions.
In this lens I will have a look at danish christmas tree decoration, danish christmas food, danish christmas songs and then all the quirky little things that makes christmas, christmas for me and many other danish people.
Please keep in mind that Christmas traditions are often very different from family to family. I will share danish christmas traditions from my point of view.
I hope you will enjoy! :)
When is Christmas in Denmark?
First of all let us get something straight to avoid any confusion. Danish Christmas is celebrated on the evening of the 24th. That is when the families get together, eat their christmas dinner and open their presents. I am making this clear from the get go as I have been numerous "heated" debates with english, american and irish people on this matter. ;)
Counting the days to Christmas
A Calender Candle is something almost everyone in Denmark purchases when Christmas draws near. It is basically a candle decorated with numbers from 1-24. The candles are most often red, white or green and many features christmas motives like elves, snowmen, gifts or
The candle is often placed in a decoration made from clay and pine branches, bows, mushrooms, golden acorns and other christmas related items.
The idea is to burn a number every day starting from 1 and ending on with 24 on the day of christmas.
Some families will sing christmas songs while the number of the day melts away.
The Christmas Candle is such a simple thing, but one of the traditions I miss the most after moving to Ireland.
You can actually buy these on Amazone.
Christmas Advent candle
Help counting down the days to Christmas with and advent candle. Nothing is more cozy than sitting inside with candles lit when it is cold and dark outside.
If you have children they will love making the decoration for the candle.
Lego Christmas Countdown candle
If your child is too young to burn candles alone, but would still like to have a Calendar Candle in their room, you can get this awesome Lego version.
A very christmassy base and a flame on top makes the framework for the inbetween numbered blocks. Every day your child can remove a block themselves while counting down to the big day. This is certain to be an instant hit and building the candle at the last day of november could become a returning christmas tradition.
"Advent Calendar" on television and in real life.
The danish Julekalender
The "Julekalender" (closest translation is advent calendar, but it doesn't really cover it, so I will use the danish word), is another way of counting down days. A julekalender both refers to the paper calendars where you open a "window" every day of the christmas month, but it also is the name for the daily christmas shows that are produced just for christmas. The shows usually features one long story that unwinds during the month of december and culminates in a resolution on Christmas Eve. Most of these shows are tied to their own paper calendars, which chilren will open in the morning. The calendars usually provide picture hints on what will happen in the evenings TV episode.
Common for most of these shows is that they contain some level of singing, songs from the shows sometimes sticks around and becomes part of the Christmas song tradition for many families. An example of this would be the song "Det er RisengrÃ¸d" (trans.: "It is rice pudding") from "Nissebanden i GrÃ¸nland" (trans.: "Santas little helpers in Greenland)
The Julekalenders used to be mostly for children, however in recent times more satirical ones has been produced for a grown up audience and watching these is a very big part of the christmas month for many adults. The most famous of these is "The Julekalender" (yes that is the name) made by the danish comedy group "De Nattergale" (trans.: the nightingales). Read more about the Julekalender here
Some of the characters from the shows become wildly popular and results in a lot of merchandise like clothing, cd's and dvd's.
All in all Julekalenders are a huge part of december and something most people in Denmark associate with Christmas.
The songs from "The Julekalender" by de Nattergale
"The Julekalender" is very humerous. In every episode songs are included, some of them are very, very funny. While you might not understand everything, you can perhaps get an idea of how silly and entertaining the series is.
Christmas Angel Chime
My grandparents have one of these Angel Chimes. On Christmas day the 24th of December we decorate the tree, however before anyone touches any ornaments, the christmas angel chime is put together. Then accompagnied by the delightful chiming we decorate the Christmas tree.
It is a great little tradition. The combination of the lights, the gold colour and the crisp little chimes makes it almost magical.
Are Christmas Traditions important?
For many Christmas is all about traditions, but what is your opinion?
Christmas tree traditions
decorating and dancing
The Christmas Tree is one of the most iconic parts of Christmas for most danish people. Many will go and get their own tree from one of the many plantages and for those that can't do that, Christmas trees can be bought throughout the month from street vendors and from many bigger retail stores.
Christmas Tree decorations are traditionally glass baubles, heart baskets, round baskets, small figures(including drums and trumpets), tinsel, stars, candles and sometimes flags. Yes flags! In some danish families thread with small danish flags will be circled around the tree.
On the picture you can see examples of both hand made heart baskets and handmade stars. Both are very traditional and something that wil feature on most danish Christmas Trees. (I haven't seen either over here in Ireland, so I will see if I can't make a small guide or video on how to make them. It is really easy and fun, just need the right type of paper. :))
In the top of the tree most danes traditionally have a big star, it is not as in the UK and US common to have an angel as the Christmas tree topper. Our Christmas tree has sported a Georg Jensen designed star for some years now, which is quite beautiful.
Gifts are placed beneath the tree, but before they can be opened the entire family needs to get together and dance around the tree while singing. People will form a chain by joining hands. If there are enough people the chain will close a circle around the tree. Then while walking around in a ring the danes will sing the Christmas songs. The number of songs is dependant on the family, in mine everyone picks a song and only after all songs has been sung the dancing stops and the gifts can be unwrapped.
Straw Ornaments Assortment in Basket - Traditional danish christmas tree decorations
These straw ornaments are a traditional part of the danish christmas tree decoration. The box comes with 6 hearts, 6 stars, 6 angels and 6 snowflakes. Straw ornaments like these are very common on the danish christmas trees and you will also often see straw decorations in the shape of a goat decorating danish homes. See below
Christmas Straw Goat - Traditional danish christmas decorations
The tradition of having a Straw Goat for Christmas dates back long before christianity. During the viking ages one person would be nominated to be the Christmas goat. He would dress up in pelt and then enter the houses trying to scare people. The only way to appease the Christmas goat would be to give it nice food and sweets. (A bit like santa? :)) It is also believed that the goat was a reference to the Asa God Thor, who was thought to drive across the sky in a wagon dragged by two goats.
In the Christian world goats are of course associated with satan, however that is not the intended symbol of the Christmas Goat, so don't be confused or worried if you see one on a danish christmas tree.
Danish Christmas Decorations - Heart baskets and clove filled oranges
Woven paper hearts is as mentioned above a very traditional type of danish christmas decorations. Every year children and adults alike will get together an make heart baskets for the christmas tree. You can find my step by step guide on how to make woven paper hearts here. Traditionally the hearts were filled with raisins, small cookies or candy.
The heart baskets can have many different motives and range from very easy to quite tricky.
Crafting woven paper hearts is a great way to make the christmas day pass faster for your child and it is something that is really nice to do together while having the advent calender candle lit.
Another thing that is a danish christmas decoration must is Oranges with cloves. They are easy to make, they look wonderfully christmassy. Additionally they will make your entire house smell lovely.
Georg Jensen Christmas Ornaments - Add design to your Christmas
Christmas lunches and Christmas Beer
Directly translated "Julefrokost" means Christmas lunch and that technically covers what it is, however I think many non-danes will get a bit surprised if they arrive to a Julefrokost with no further explanation.
The tradition is carried out throughout the entirety of December and involves big quantities of christmas food and almost always also big quantities of alcohol, particularly Schnapps. The lunches are shared with colleagues, friends or family. It is not uncommon that people have their weekends booked up with these christmas lunches throughout december.
Pickled Herring is a "must" for these lunches and it is consumed on ryebread, for some danes it is tradition to take a shot of schnapps every time they take a bit of herring. This maybe explains why the police are always applying extra alcohol checks throughout december.
Another alcohol related tradition is the release of the Christmas beer. The date has been named "J-dag" (=Julebrygs dag trans. Christmas Beer day). J-day is very popular in Denmark, especially among young people and students in particular. In all its simplicity, the day is celebrating the release of another years Christmas beer (and in extension Christmas) by drinking a lot of the newly released beers. Christmas beers are
The release of the Christmas beer is always on the 1. friday of november (this year it was november the 4th). It was originally a wednesday, however it was moved as it was having an impact on attendance in especially the highschools.
The day is so big now that the Tuborg commercial for Christmas beer for many danes has become equivalent with the Christmas month (much like the Coca-Cola Christmas commercial seems to be for some people.
Danish Christmas food
Traditional Christmas food and the small traditions that follows.
There are a few different opinions on what a traditional danish Christmas dinnner entails. Some will argue that it is Roasted Pork, some that it is duck and in my family it has always been chicken or pot roast, however once the fight over the main course has ceased most danes will unite and agree that the only true Christmas dessert is Rice "pudding" or Rice a la mande. Rice pudding is eaten with a bit of butter added to the middle of the portion and then covered with cinnamon and sugar, while Rice a la mande is usually consumed with warm cherry sauce. Both share one very important thing though.
Before the bowl is put on the table a whole almond (with out skin) is stirred in. The person that finds the almond wins wins the "almond present". Back in the days, the present was the almond itself as it was quite a luxury, however now a days it is usually a real present, a box of chocolate or something similar.
All the way until I was 20 my grandmother used to sneakily add whole almonds to all the plates of her grandchildren to ensure we all won a present. :)
Another thing that is very traditional food for december is Ã¦bleskiver (trans. Ableslices) the name is a bit deceiving as it is small ball-like pancakes. (see the picture) Traditionally a slice of apple was added to the center, hence the name. Some people still do this and some add prune jam, however most people just eat them as it. They are consumed by dipping them in Jam (strawberry, raspeberry etc.) and icing sugar.
This recipe was originally my grandmothers, however I have made a few changes over the years to make it a little less fattening. The Aebleskiver still tastes delicious and comes out beautifully crisp and golden.
Aebleskiver is a traditional danish Christmas cake and dessert.
- 250 g Plain White Flour
- 11 Eggs
- 2 and a half dl Buttermilk
- 100 g Margarine
- The seeds from 4 pods of Cardamom or half a teaspoon of ground Cardamom
- 2 Spoons of Sugar
- A quater of a teaspoon Baking Powder
- Divide the eggwhites from the yolk.
- Add the sugar to the yolk and whip it until it becomes light yellow.
- Melt the margarine over low heat so it doesn't burn and become black.
- Mix the buttermilk with the margarine and add the Cardamom. Now add it all to the sugar and yolks.
- Stir in the Baking Powder and the Flour.
- Finally whip the eggwhites so they are completely stiff (ideally you should be able to turn the bowl upside down without the whites falling.)
- Gently add the eggwhites to the rest of the ingredients by folding them in.
- You should now have a very nice and fluffy dough.
- Heat up the Aebleskive pan. I use the heat level 4 on my stove, but it might be different for you depending on the pan and your stove. Experiment a bit. The main thing to look out for is that you don't want the crust to get black and you don't want the dough to become firm before the aebleskive is ready to turn as then you wont get the nice round shape.
- For the first batch of dough you might want to add margarine to each hole so they are easier to turn.
- Fill each hole to just below the edge and let the aebleskive cook long enough for the outside to get golden. Turn it using a fork or ideally a knitting needle (creates a less visible hole).
- Now let it fry until it is golden on the other side as well.
- Serve piping hot fresh of the pan with sugar and jam. (Icing sugar is extremely yummy with Aebleskiver, but normal casting sugar is great too).
- Aebleskiver can be re-heated both in normal oven and in microwave and still tastes great.
- You get between 35 and 40 Aebleskiver from this recipe
Ãbleskive pan and Recipes - If the picture made you want to taste.
Danish Christmas Songs
The songs of Christmas
We have so many danish Christmas songs and while there is an influx of english songs (like Jingle Bells and White Christmas etc.) I must admit that personally I prefer the old danish ones.
It is so hard to pick a favourite, however I guess "Juletræet med sin pynt"(Mogens Lorentzen 1939) is the highest ranking for me. Directly translated it means "The Christmas Tree with its decoration". The song is about the tree bringing hope of lighter days and warmer weather.
Below is a list of what I believe are the most well known danish christmas songs. I might have left something obvious out, if you can see I have, be sure to leave me a message. :)
Juletræet med sin pynt video
Danish Christmas Songs
Below you can find a link to some very traditional danish Christmas songs.