Christmas in Denmark is a lovely time of year and the most Danes love this season. The days are shorter and we come together with friends, colleagues and family to enjoy the many celebrations that belong to December. But also to indulge in a bit of quiet time for reflection.
Singing in the streets
For many years I would be singing in the centre of Copenhagen together with my vocal group. The crowds would often be so large that you couldn't pass through. Yes, they loved it all right.. We recorded a CD with the best of those original Danish Christmas songs we used to sing for people in the streets.
Listen to sound clips from this album
On the evening of the 24th of December it's Christmas in Denmark. The food comes on the table. The candles on the tree are lit. We walk hand in hand around the tree singing the traditional Christmas songs.. and presents are exchanged and unpacked. A time where all is well with the world.
We don‘t wait with gifts until the morning of the 25th as e.g. the Americans do. You would have a serious problem with about 1 million Danish kids if you postponed that part of Christmas until the 25th ...
.. how do American kids sleep the night on the 24th anyway.. ?
December 25th and 26th
So.. don't the Danes do anything on the 25th and 26th? Oh yes.. most families not just in Copenhagen but everywhere in Denmark meet on the 25th, our "1. juledag" to have a traditional Danish Christmas lunch together and some even meet also on the 26th depending on how much family they have..
We call them 1. Christmas Day and 2. Christmas Day. These are often the days where people catch up with the rest of the family that they didn't see on Christmas Eve December 24th.
The week between the 24th and New Year is usually a very quiet time and is being spent close to friends and family. A lovely time where things seem to slow down a bit and you can reflect on life and make decisions for the coming year.
One of the most important aspects of Christmas in Denmark, as it is in other European countries and the U.S. The Christmas food traditions are many and are certainly not to be taken lightly..
.. and there‘s no risk of that.
Danes eat differently in December than the rest of the year, simply because the Christmas food traditions in Denmark are so many and varied.
The big Christmas food decisions ..
Duck or roast?
On Christmas Eve the Danes have duck or pork roast. Some have both. A few prefer goose but not many. Different kinds of potatoes are also tradition such as sugar potatoes which is still very popular. A traditional dinner when it's Christmas in Denmark is not exactly a vegetarian experience.. if you catch my drift. But it tastes heavenly.
Ris a la mande
Christmas in Denmark - the dinner is not complete before the Ris a la mande is served (from French Riz à l'amande = "rice with almonds"). This is perhaps one of the most typical and loved dishes when we talk Christmas in Denmark. An absolutely to die for dessert and you are just down-right gonna pass out for sheer bliss when you taste it.. if it‘s made well, mind you.
Foto: Malene Thyssen
"Mandelgaven" - The Almond Gift
So.. the fun part is who gets "Mandelgaven", the Almond Gift. Here‘s how it works: A whole almond is hidden in one of the plates with the ris a lamande dessert and since this dish contains about 30% chopped almonds - it's important that this one is whole. The one who gets that almond wins a special almond gift. This is usually a well chosen but inexpensive present bought especially for this purpose.
Special rules: The one who finds the almond must hide it until everyone has eaten up their portions before it's revealed. This can be a lot of fun, since it's not easy to keep the secret to yourself - especially if you're.. say 10 years old. However, cheating is often observed at the table. Not so seldom is a grand parent seen sneaking a whole almond into the portions of the grand children.. which of course is the kind of foul play that is easily forgiven.
Gløgg - The national drink of December
Copenhagen Christmas means gløgg. Very important element at the time of of Christmas in Denmark! Gløgg is based on redwine and served warm with special spices. Gløgg is the thing that everybody drinks in December, e.g. during shopping in town or visiting friends.
It's served at cafes and restaurants everywhere, even on the street you get a cup of gløgg for a quick warming break.
Christmas in Denmark also means party for most Danes. Especially the traditional Christmas lunch party with friends and colleagues called the "Julefrokost" - is extremely popular and something hardly anyone wants to miss out on. Copenhagen lunch restaurants are easily filled up in December. For these celebrations the food is as traditional as almost everything about Danish Christmas.
Rye bread with hering and onion rings is the typical starter of the Danish "Julefrokost". With it belongs of course snaps and beer. Our "Snaps" or "Aquavit" is nothing like the American Schnapps, but rather a strong spirit usually 80-100 proof (45 % alchohol) and spiced in special ways with herbs and berries and served appropriately in small glasses especially for snaps.
Caveat: In appropriate amounts snaps tastes delicious and lifts the spirit. Without the proper "self dicipline" however.. it hits like a hammer. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Check out this extensive resource on Schnapps.
Note that the original Danish spelling is "Snaps".
The abundance of food on the Danish julefrokost table can be a cornucopia of delicious courses, pickles, breads, fruits, sweets and deserts. Not compatible with any diet! But it's only for a few weeks in December, so
.. what the heck.
.. the "julefrokost" table
The Christmas tree
Christmas in Denmark is so obviously connected with a tree standing in a central point in the living room. We took the Christmas tree over from our neighbours from Germany who actually originally invented this custom. Their first trees reported used for Christmas time in Germany was around 1605. It was an attempt to bring nature into the living rooms. The candles should symbolize the stars in the heavens.
The first time a Cristmas tree was lit in a Copenhagen apartment was in 1811.
People thought it was a trendy new thing
to have a real evergreen from the forest
in their living room. Some however thought it was rather strange.
A tree you buy for Christmas in Denmark
is always a real living tree. Plastic is an absolute no go! Danes wouldn't know whether to laugh or be offended - if you suggested that they buy a plastic tree.
The smell of a Christmas tree fresh from the forest is so lovely.
Also the candles on the tree are real candles of course.. that burn beautifully for about 2 hours. Time enough for plenty of singing and dancing hand in hand around the tree.
... and yes, it is indeed a good idea to have a bucket of water around - just in case.
An old tradition most Danes still do with passion.. is holding hands in a circle while walking around the Christmas tree, singing all the Christmas songs that every child knows.. or ought to know (according to my mother). In our home we have always been dancing and singing songs until my grandmother had to sit down...
.. and then - it's time for the presents !!
The traditional songs
Christmas time the Danes will take out their Christmas songs. There is a strong tradition of singing all the good old carols as we walk round the Christmas tree. In Copenhagen this also means singing in the streets. When you walk around the streets of the inner city you hear Christmas singing from many directions.
Particularly Strøget and Købmagergade are preferred places when it comes to singing at Christmas time. As I mentioned earlier I did this for many years with my vocal group VoiceByChoice. If you like you can listen to sound clips from our album with
the best Danish Christmas songs.
Ever experienced a Christmas church concert in Copenhagen? I warmly recommend to get tickets for one of the many concerts given in Copenhagen in December. By far the most loved piece of Christmas music performed in Copenhagen is Handel‘s "The Messiah".
Look out for posters advertising for "Händel's Messisas". There are many choirs which perform this classic oratory. Particularly the choirs "Sokkelund Sangkor" and "Akademisk Kor" are famous for the high quality of their concerts. If you are in Copenhagen in December, do go. You won't regret it.
Tivoli at Christmas
Tivoli Gardens opens for the Christmas season every year from mid November until 30th of December. A gorgeous place with ice palaces, a frozen lake, German Glühwein or Danish "gløgg" and lots of "hygge" - which is Danish for having a cosy time. Don't miss it.
More about Tivoli.
Tivoli Gardens at Christmas
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