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University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Top 10 ways to celebrate Danish Christmas

This guide is essential, if you are staying in Denmark for the Holidays. Here is everything from Christmas hearts to Christmas infidelity

Whether you are planning to spend Christmas with friends, you are visiting a Danish family, you should be prepared to experience it in the traditional Danish way. The University Post wants to help you out with a list of the most characteristic elements of the Danish Christmas month.

10. Economy meltdown

Spending, spending, spending! Santa Claus, the white-bearded, red-coated guy who is said to bring gifts to children, is not always there to help your credit card bill, so buying presents becomes an expensive affair for most Danes. Around this merry time most Danish media start publishing guides on how to avoid spending too much money. Still, it is predicted by Center for Retail Research, that an average Dane will spend DKK 4,444 on Christmas presents and food this year.

Want to give to charity and buy Christmas presents at the same time? Join a peculiar Danish trend by buying a goat for Christmas. Don’t worry, it’s not for your family, but for a family in need in Africa. This is an initiative by Dan Church Aid (in Danish: Folkekirkens Nødhjælp) that has become popular with Danes. Many chose to do it as a present buy buying a goat on behalf of someone else and giving this person the credit for the good deed for Christmas.

9. Julemarked

Many Danes will spend at least some of their Christmas shopping budget at a Christmas Market. Originally a German tradition, the yearly Julemarked comes in many forms. You will find one of the most popular in Christiania. It smells of both gløgg and incense and everyone is here for real Christmas hygge. You can taste traditional Christmas food and buy home-made arts and crafts.

8. Let there be light

The Tivoli gardens theme park, the streets, and the suburbs are lit up with millions of electric lights during December. All the other months Danes are very eco-friendly, but around Christmas CO2 emissions are forgotten, and streets and gardens are lit up with Christmas decorations. Tivoli overdoes them all. Each year they open for Christmas with a julemarked, theme and lightshow.

If you are not a fundamentalist environmentalist, then join the bright light movement, as it is going to be dark. December has on average just 43 hours of sunlight.

If you are an environmentalist, then settle for an advent candle. You must light it up each day till Christmas as a countdown.

7. Julekalender

Every day in December you can count down to Christmas with one of the many different Christmas advent calendars. Advent is the month before Christmas. Following tradition the two Danish channels DR and TV2 show a TV Julekalender programme both for children and for adults. One of the most iconic adult Christmas TV calendars is ‘The Julekalender’ which is told half in English and half in Danish – follow it every night on TV2.

There are also tasty versions of the advent calendar. Nearly all Danish sweet stores will have one for sale in December filled with anything from liquorice to chocolate.

For the street smart, 24 Danish artists have each created a numbered street art piece, which are placed throughout Copenhagen during December. Spot and capture the street art numbered with today’s date and send it to Streetheart.

6. Nisser

These highly temperamental folkloric creatures are one of the most used decorations for Danish Christmas and are part of many of the other traditions.

In case you have not noticed them yet, they look like very small people (usually elders), wear red Christmas hats and usually dress in typical red clothes. They live in the attic with their families, help Santa with your presents and love “risengrød” (another one of the very traditional Christmas plates which is made of rice). Remember, they will get very angry and pull pranks on you if you don’t provide them with it.

You can see ‘nisser’ all around Denmark during December, in various sizes and shapes – people even dress like them – and you shouldn’t forget them when you decorate your place.

5. The Christmas tree

Most of us are familiar with Christmas trees, however, the traditions surrounding the Christmas tree in Denmark are definitely unique.

It all starts by finding the perfect tree. You are probably used to going to the local Christmas shop and buying a tree (sometimes made of plastic) that suits your size needs. In Denmark, you go through the process of driving to a forest where they sell ‘juletræer’, finding the most beautiful tree you can get and then proceed to cut it down yourself and take it home.

Once Christmas Eve arrives and you have your perfect tree (nicely decorated of course), you have to dance around it and sing before opening the presents. However, if you don’t have a tree, do not despair; sometimes you can even people dancing and singing around an ‘imaginary tree’ out in the street.

4. Julehjerter

If you don’t know how to decorate your new tree, go to the closest bookstore and ask for ‘glanspapir’. With it, Danes create hearts by cutting the paper and braiding it, and then hang them on the Christmas trees with delicious Christmas sweets inside.

3. Christmas Sweets

During the December holidays the Danish healthy eating habits disappear. Danish Christmas is always filled with all sorts of delicious cookies – where pebernødder is king, followed closely by the very famous ‘gløgg og æbleskiver’.

Gløgg is a mild alcoholic drink made of warm wine, gløgg extract, species, almond, raisins, and usually complemented with snaps. Danes tend to drink it while having a cosy time with friends or family and often accompany it with æbleskiver, which are best describes as Danish pancake balls, powdered sugar and marmalade. If you plan to order it in a café or restaurant, just remember to call it ‘gløgg og æbleskiver’ instead of the other way around, since alcohol always comes first.

2. Julefrokost

Following the chain of thought of unhealthy eating, one of the most important traditions is the Christmas lunch. It can take place at any point in December and is probably the year climax for all meat-lovers, especially pork-lovers.

Julefrokost consists on a large fest where flæskesteg (roast pork), snaps and beer are protagonists, and are enjoyed with family and friends. You can have it at home or at a restaurant and if you want to experience Danish Christmas, this is the one you cannot miss. One word of advice: If you are arranging one with your friends, and you plan to do it at home, try cooking it yourself. Don’t buy the pre-made cheap stuff! Your Danish friends will be disappointed.

1. Lots of love

In the end, Christmas is all about family, friends, and love affairs. Yes, you read right, it is not only about family love. In Denmark, it is commonly accepted, that the Julefrokost is unrestrained and can get quite wild. In December, look for guides of how to ‘Save your relationship’ and ‘Not get fired’ in the Danish media. One of this year’s adult TV Julekalender is called ‘Help, it’s Christmas’ (in Danish: Hjælp, det er jul!) and is created to help couples through this difficult period – and make a bit of fun with their Christmas infidelity.

If you are not planning to go to a Julefrokost, but still want part of the fun, the infamous Distortion festival, is having a Christmas event called ‘Juledistortion’. This fest will both have a rave, a Christmas cinema and a Julemarked.

Learn more about Christmas in Denmark by checking out some Weird Danish Christmas traditions.