The countdown till Christmas already begins in mid-November. The streets are already getting lit, and the peak of “hygge-season” is approaching.
At home, the countdown officially begins on 1 December. Typically families have a calendar candle (kalenderlys) which has the numbers from 1-24 written on it and the point is to keep the candle lit for a little while every day, so that it burns off one number every day.
One candle obviously isn’t enough to light up the dark December month, so many Danes also have an Advent wreath (adventskrans). The wreath consists of four candles. The last four Sundays before Christmas are each called First/Second/Third/Fourth Sunday in Advent. So the first Sunday you light one candle, the next Sunday you light two candles and so on. In 2020, the First Sunday in Advent is on November 29.
A popular way for the children to count down till the big day is by following the Danish “julekalender” (Christmas calendar) on TV. Every day from 1-24 December they show an episode on TV. Usually it’s possible to buy a paper calendar with 24 “doors” to open that matches the TV show (usually DR1 or TV2). Each door will reveal a hint of tonight’s episode.
The new shows in 2022 will be:
DR1: Julehjertets Hemmelighed
The final countdown tradition we’ll be writing about today is the “pakkekalender” (gift calendar). Some parents give their kids a gift each Sunday in Advent, but other parents prepare 24 small gifts, so the kids can open up one every morning before they go to school/kindergarden. It’s definitely something that makes it a little bit easier to get a tired son/daughter out of bed in the morning!
In Denmark we really appriciate our “nisser” (Christmas elfs). They come in all shapes and sizes, usually dressed in cute red clothes. We decorate our houses with the elfs and they’re a big part of the homely Christmas “hygge”.
We also do a lot of paper decorations, such as drawing the elfs and cutting them out, and we fold stars and hearts.
Many houses also buy a mistletoe and hang up at home. The rule of the mistletoe is that if two people are standing below it they must kiss.
The Christmas Cookies
It wouldn’t be Christmas without homemade cookies and sweets! There are many different types of cookies that’ll get any Dane right into the Christmas spirit, such as: brunkager, marcipankugler, klejner, vaniljekranse, or pebernødder. You can easily buy any of these cookies at the grocery store, but we have also found some recipes for you, so you can try to make your own:
The marcinpankugler (marcinpan balls) are so simple and fun to make (also for kids): All you need is marcipan, dark chocolate for melting and perhaps some nougat. First you melt the chocolate. Then you roll the marcipan into small balls and if you’d like you can add a little nougat inside the marcipan balls. Then you dip it into the melted chocolate and let it cool off in the fridge. Very simple and delicious!
A final food-neccessity for the month of December is the “gløgg” (mulled wind) and the “æbleskiver”. The æbleskiver is a type of pancake batter fried into balls. Back in the days there would be small apple pieces inside the balls hence the name æbleskiver (apple slices). They’re usually served with jam and icing sugar. Both gløgg and æbleskiver can either be bought at the grocery store, at cafés in December or made at home.
The Christmas Lunch
Many workplaces or friends gather around the “julefrokost” (Christmas lunch) in December. It’s a nice type of Christmas party, centered around specific Christmas foods and and the “julebryg” (Christmas beer). Usually at the julefrokost-table you’d be able to find things like: eggs, prawns, tartlets, all sorts of herring, rye bread, liver pâté, smoked eel, rolled pork, brawn and of course schnapps.
Or as we say it in Danish: æg, rejer, tarteletter, karrysild, rugbrød, stegte sild, leverpostej, røget ål, rullepølse, sylte and snaps.
The Christmas Tree
The “juletræ” as we call it in Danish, is one of the most important things when it comes to getting in the Christmas spirit. It’s very normal to buy the tree halfway through December so that it’s still green and fresh by Christmas Eve. We decorate the tree with paper hearts and various ornaments, we put lights on it and we have the star on the top. Many families put presents underneath the tree the 24 December.
On Christmas Eve our Christmas tree plays an important role! After the big Christmas dinner, many Danes gather around the tree, hold hands and then sing Christmas carols as they walk around the tree. To avoid dizzyness we change direction after every verse.
The 23rd of December – Lillejuleaften
The big Christmas day in Denmark is 24 December. What we call “Juleaften”. The day before we call “Lillejuleaften” (little Christmas Eve). We usually eat “risengrød” (rice pourridge/pudding) with cinnamon, sugar and butter and we drink it with Nisse-beer (hvidtøl) which has a very low alcohol percentage. If there’s any risengrød left, some families make a little bowl of it and put it for the elfs to eat it during the night – kind of like putting out cookies and milk for Santa.
You can learn how to make risengrød here!
The 24 December is as mentioned the biggest day for the Danes. Some people start the day off by going to church in the morning. Most families meet up around 4:00 pm, because that’s when the annual “Disney Juleshow” on DR1 begins.
For the grand Christmas feast it’s typical to eat duck or roasted pork or both. We eat it with lots of gravy, different kinds of potatoes, red cabbage, and for dessert we have risalamande. Risala mande was invented in Denmark and you use leftover risengrød to make it. So that’s why we eat risengrød the 23 – to have enough for the risalamande.
You can check out a recipe for risalamande here.
After dinner the Danes usually dance around the tree (like mentioned in the section about the Christmas tree) and then we open presents.
Christmas Day and Second Day of Christmas
The 25 and 26 December are still days of celebration even though the 24 is the biggest day. These two days are usually reserved for “julefrokoster” (Christmas lunches) with family members or close friends.
Lastly it’s important to remember that in Denmark, Danes believe that Santa Claus (julemanden) lives on Greenland and not on North Pole!
Written by Laura Pilmark