Step-by-Step Guide to a Danish Christmas

Events, Kid Friendly — By Jane Graham on December 20, 2010 at 7:32 am

In Copenhagen over the holiday period and not sure how it’s celebrated here? Just follow our step-by-step guide to enjoying Christmas like the Danes.

1. Get the works party out of the way early.

While a large-scale office party or Julefrokost is gotten out of the way earlier in December—starting in the middle of the afternoon with plenty of food and civilized seating arrangements before the entertainment and the drinking start in earnest, these parties generally last well into the night—Christmas itself is a time spent with the family. It is a time where strong traditions continue to be upheld even amongst the most untraditional of Danes.

2. Celebrate it on Christmas Eve.

To celebrate Christmas like the Danes, the real festivities have to be held on Juleaften, or December 24. The ritualistic order of events is kept by all families, and starts with the dinner, which is eaten in late afternoon, and is a big, sit-down affair with duck or goose, roast pork and such Northern European delicacies as pickled red cabbage and browned, braised potatoes. And of course, the enormous feast has to end with ris a l’amande, rice pudding, with a wish in store for the lucky finder of the single almond.

3. Dance around the Christmas tree.

No matter how stuffed you are after all this food and accompanying drinks, it is absolutely obligatory to join hands and dance around the Christmas tree, accompanied of course by singing: Outside is best, but indoor Christmas trees can also be used.

4. Open presents.

Then, and only then, are the youngsters allowed to open their presents. Somehow, after all this excitement and sweet food, children manage to crash, exhausted, for a somewhat quieter day of playing, visiting family and of course eating the following day.

5. The Julestue.

In the old days some houses would open up a ‘Julestue’ on Christmas Day, where games (sometimes rather naughty ones) would be played, in a chance for the rather serious adults to really let their hair down. Stories and urban myths abound of how these Julestue would often get a little out of hand.

6. Play pranks with the nisser.

Danish children enjoy the excitement of nisser during December. These traditional, red-clad Christmas elves are mischief makers who like to play all sort of pranks on their household and will supposedly give you small gifts if you leave them risengrød or rice pudding.

For those wanting to find out more about old Danish Christmas traditions, visit Copenhagen’s National Museum or workers’ museum Arbejdermuseet, where the apartment of the Hansen family is authentically displayed for a Christmas around 1950. Both museums are closed on December 24-25 (Arbejdermuseet 23-26), but open all other days over the holiday period.

See also: Christmas Dinner in Copenhagen.

Photo courtesy of Morten Jerichau and Wonderful Copenhagen.

Tags: Christmas, Danish traditions