Danish Christmas Traditions

13th November 2018|Holiday Season|

Christmas Decoration the Danish Way

 Danes are extremely good at surviving the dark and cold winter by creating a “hyggelig” atmosphere, especially around Christmas time.

As from December 1, Danes usually start counting down the days to Christmas with advent calendars and advent candles.

Christmas decorations in Denmark tend to be quite traditional, with lots of lights, candles and Christmas greenery. As from the end of November, the main shopping street will be decorated with lots of twinkly lights and Christmas decorations. Nearly every square in most towns in Denmark will have its own Christmas market with stalls laden with handmade gifts, Danish Christmas treats called “æbleskiver” (fried dough balls with jam and icing sugar on top), and Danish-style hot mulled wine, called “glögg”. The whole country starts to smell of cinnamon and pine trees, the festive scent of Christmas that everybody loves. This is when people know that “Christmas is on its way!”

At the beginning of December, Danes decorate their homes with many traditional Danish decorations such as red and white stockings, or Christmas elves called “nisser”, but normally most people wait to decorate their Christmas tree until the last minute, to avoid the tree drying out before December 24. Once the Christmas tree has been decorated, all the Christmas gifts have to be placed under the tree, before it is time to unwrap them!

Many people spend the weekends in December on finding Christmas gifts for their loved ones. Nowadays, most retailers offer their own Christmas gift boxes or gift-wrapping service, but some people prefer to buy their own Christmas wrapping paper and wrap the gifts themselves. For many Danes, this is also one of the “hyggelig” moments to spend during the Christmas season. Wrapping each Christmas gift for your parents, children, girlfriend or boyfriend, while hoping that they will like the gifts, is a heart-warming experience that everybody loves in December.

Christmas gifts are unwrapped on Christmas Eve

In Denmark, Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve (December 24). For most Danish families, this is the busiest and most festive day of the year.

Many people attend a Christmas service in church before Christmas dinner on December 24. This is not because Danes are particularly religious, but many just enjoy the Danish tradition of singing Christmas carols and greeting neighbors in the community on Christmas Eve.

Dinner is served quite early. Most people eat roast duck or “flæskesteg” (roast pork with crispy skin), followed by the dessert, a Danish style rice pudding called “ris à l’amande” (strangely it has a French name). Inside the creamy-white rice pudding, a peeled almond is hidden, and the lucky finder of the almond gets an extra gift after dinner. This is also one of the unique Danish Christmas traditions.

After dinner, the candles on the Christmas tree are lit and everyone joins hands and dances around the Christmas tree, singing Danish Christmas carols. Many Danes believe that only real fresh trees and real candles, as opposed to plastic trees and electric lights, can create the authentic Danish Christmas atmosphere, which is the epitome of Danish winter “hygge”.

After singing several Christmas carols, it is finally time to unwrap the gifts. Usually, depending on the family tradition of course, one of the youngest children is chosen to pick the wrapped presents from under the tree and hand them over, one by one, to the recipients. Everyone unties the ribbons, rips open the wrapping paper, and opens the gifts in front of everyone else. This is the highlight of Christmas Eve, to which all Danish children look forward throughout December.

How about in your country? Do you open your Christmas gifts on December 24 or wait until the next morning, December 25?

About hygge

“Hygge” is a Danish word that cannot be translated into one single English word, but it roughly means coziness and well-being. In 2016, hygge was nominated as The Word of the Year by The Oxford Dictionaries and was acknowledged as an English term which is now widely used in many English-speaking countries.

According to an interesting article in the New York Times: “Hygge roughly translates to coziness and well-being and encompasses an entire way of living that promises warmth, safety and, most important, community.“ Helen Russell, a British journalist who wrote “The Year of Living Danishly,” also defines ”hygge” as “taking pleasure in the presence of gentle, soothing things”.

In the past few years, “hygge” as a unique concept of Scandinavian coziness has been gaining increasing international attention and many books about “hygge” have been published, especially in the US, the UK, and Japan. This has been trending for so long that “hygge” has almost become a publishing genre.

As you may have heard or read about in the news, Danes were named as “the Happiest People in the World” in 2013, 2014 and 2016 in an annual UN survey. The “hyggelig” lifestyle seems to be one of the key reasons that Danes are happier than other nationalities in the world. This feeling of togetherness must be doing something that improves the individual’s sense of well-being.