Unique Danish Christmas Traditions

When it comes to Christmas Traditions the Danes have a few unique customs, and being the only Dane at bab.la I feel it is my duty to introduce them to you all.

In Denmark we celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December, and counting the days until we finally get to eat a delicious Christmas meal and open up all our presents is one of the things we do best. The two most important things when counting the days are the Calendar Candle and the Advent Calendar. The Advent Calendar is a widespread phenomenon in German and English speaking countries as well, but the Calendar Candle is a pretty unique Danish tradition. Every evening we light the candle and watch the days until Christmas melt away.

Another way of counting the days is the Julekalender – a “made for Christmas” TV series in 24 episode, one airing every night. Usually the two biggest television networks in Denmark, DR1 and TV2, show one each, and since these shows are usually targeted towards children, if you are lucky, some years there is also a “voksen-julekalender” – a Julekalender for adults. A personal favourite of mine is Skibet i Skilteskoven (literally: the ship in the signpost forest) from 1992, which is basically about an old sailor living with his talking parrot on his ship in a pine forest and trying to keep an “evil” fragrance manufacturer from turning all the trees into Christmas-in-a-can. His closest allies are a girl with a chemistry set, a lady with toothbrushes in her hair, and three “nisser”, who frequently indulge in taking bubble baths together. And they sing a lot, too.

Then, when Christmas Eve finally arrives, focus is on two things: 1. food, and 2. the tree and the presents underneath it. Traditional Danish Christmas food involves lots of pork and/or poultry, cabbage, potatoes and gravy. For pudding the traditional dish is “risalamande” – cold rice porridge with whipped cream, chopped almonds and cherry sauce. After eating and before opening the presents, another unique Christmas ritual has to be followed: Dancing around the tree. Everyone joins hands in a circle around the tree; if one’s family isn’t big enough to reach all the way around then it’s ok to bring in teddy bears or dolls to complete the circle.

Walking around the tree, we sing traditional Christmas songs until the candles on the tree burn out, or the youngest child present throws a hissy fit.

Happy Christmas!


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