Sunday, November 27, 2011

Christmas Traditions in Denmark

Christmas is like fashion today. The traditional colours, white candles, green spruce and pine cones and red bands are mostly replaced by this year's fashion, one year purple, next year gold, then silver and so on. One year all decorations had to be white there was snow outside and when you came into the house all was white. There are so many variations in the decorations that it would be impossible to describe them all. So I have just collected the most usual Christmas traditions in Denmark. They might not be so different from other countries. 

Advent's wreath with purple bands in Mellerup church 26 November 2011

The Advent's Wreath
The Danish jul starts with an Advent's wreath with four candles, where the first candle is lit the first of four Sundays before Christmas Eve, 24. December. Adventus is Latin, meaning coming, and this custom is the countdown to Christmas, a custom which is marked in almost every Danish home. The Advent's custom had a single candle around the 1899-1900s, but it was replaced by a new fashion from Austria and Germany with a fourcandle-wreath, decorated with purple bands in the church. The custom was not introduced to the Danish homes until the 1930s. The wreath is traditionally bound in spruce, eventually decorated with pine cones and red berries and equipped with white candles and red bands for hanging up. The candles are lit one at a time and on the fourth Sunday all four candles are lit.

The Calendar Candle
The Advent's wreath is often  supplemented with a calendar candle. The candle is divided in 24 fields, often decorated with pixy- and spruce motifs. The calendar candle is lit from 1. December and each day, where it is creating a cosy center around the breakfast table. It's usually the children's job to blow out the candle, before it reaches the next date. At the same time the windows of the house are decorated with candles and flowers, often poinsettia, hyacinths or Christmas cactus, and as December goes, the decoration is supplemented with baubles, crawling pixies and homemade decorations. These Christmas decorations are also used as a gift when people visit in the Christmas time. Usually there are moss, pine cones, spruce and candle arranged in a foundation of clay. But the decorations can be much more ingenious than this with new ideas each year. Kindergartens, schools, institutions and workplaces are decorated for Christmas - and in town squares in almost every Danish town is placed a huge Christmas tree, on the town square in Copenhagen the biggest of all.

Christmas Brew of the Year.
 But also the Danish beer has its time around Christmas. Like the presentation of  Beaujolais Noveau in November, the Carlsberg-Tuborg breweries release the Christmas brew of the year in December, often brought out by the Jutland horses . This is a beer, which is a little heavier, darker and often stronger than usual.
Christmas in Randers

Christmas lunch in firms
Beer and snaps are popular in the yearly Christmas lunch, which is celebrated in most Danish companies. Many hotels, inns and restaurants offer traditional Danish julefrokoster every day in December, and all canteens in the whole country are preoccupied with the important topic - what to serve for our Chrismas lunch this year? In a traditional Danish julefrokost are various dishes like salmon and herring and warm dishes like fish fillet, a  Danish sausage called medisterpølse, meat balls, roast pork, apple bacon, fillet of pork, blood sausage, liver paté with bacon, chopped steak with fried eggs, roast duck and various cheese with fruit and a dessert, rice á la mande with cherry sauce. A sumptuous selection, which demands strong physics to survive the next period of Christmas culinary customs.

Christmas calendar.
The children have one or more Christmas calendars,  supplemented with electronic Christmas calendars in the Tv-channels. Many children have also a calender with 24 little Christmas gifts 

Christmas Cards and Stamps
christmas card collection in the window
Christmas stamp 2011

A good tradition is the contact to family and friends by sending them a Christmas card  - the card is equipped with special Christmas stamps besides the common stamps. The Christmas Stamp Foundation is one of the oldest charity organisations in Denmark - they publish a new Christmas stamp each year. The idea came from a Danish postmaster, Einar Hollbøll, who took initiative in 1904 to publish the first Christmas stamp. The motif is different each year, and everyone is free to send suggestions for the design of this year's Christmas stamp. The Danish queen Margrethe II was one of the designers. The surplus from the sale goes to Danish Christmas Stamp Homes, where 700 children with a difficult childhood are living on a free stay for a time each year.

Sancta Lucia 
According to the Catholic church Lucia is the saint of light (lux = light in Latin). She is celebrated between 12-13 december, especially at schools, old folk's homes and institutions all over the country, by parades with songs, glögg and Christmas cakes. According to the legend Lucia wore a garland of light upon her head,  so her hands were free to illegally give other Christians food and drink, while they were hiding in the catacombs of Rome.

Christmas preparations
When Christmas is coming near the Christmas preparations increase significantly in most Danish homes, because people from childhood were "programmed" into the rituals, which are necessary to create a real old-fashioned Christmas. No doubt that Christmas has become commercialized, but the free, cosy Christmas preparations are still number one priority . In the last two weeks before Christmas big supplies of traditional Christmas baking like brown cakes, vanilla cakes, honey cakes, pepper nuts and *klejner are being baked, and the children are now the main producers in the kitchen together with Mom.
*klejner are baked a pot with hot lard 

Christmas trees ready for sale, Gl. Ry

 Christmas tree
In December are made decorations for the Christmas tree, braided Christmas hearts, decorations in gold and silver and coloured paper, and the homemade Christmas candy is made with marzipan, soft nougat, nuts, almonds, dates, candied berries and chocolate. And now it is time to go out to buy the Christmas tree. When the custom began about 200 years ago, the usual Christmas tree was a spruce, but today the most popular tree for Christmas is the Norman type. It's needles are more bluish and soft and they last longer than the common spruce. Many find it a lovely tradition to go out and choose their tree and cut it down themselves.

If the tree has to be decorated according to traditions there must be a star in the top. There have to be garlands of little Danish flags, paper cones and hearts filled with candy, little toy instruments and "fairy's hair." Although the live candles are preferred on the Christmas tree, the electric light garlands are gaining ground  because of the danger of fire. In the old good old days it was the head of the family, who was the leader of the Christmas tree project. The gorgeous Christmas tree was presented to the rest of the family by him, when the food had been consumed - and the children were so tired and sick with expectations that they did not get the optimum pleasure of this wonderful event.

Christmas Evening
Today it's common that the children participate actively in the decoration of the Christmas tree. It is first of all the children's feast. The time for the Christmas dinner has also been moved to an earlier time, so the children get the best opportunities for a wonderful Christmas. The great feast in Denmark is Christmas Evening 24. December. Most families have a light lunch in the morning and try to have the children get a little sleep at noon, but this is not always a success - the kids are too excited. Many families go to church in the afternoon before dinner. This tradition is more for maintaining the good and solemn Christmas atmosphere than for Christianity. 
 Most Danes have roast duck on Christmas evening, but roast goose or roast pork are close in popularity. The dinner has usually no first course, but the old tradition was to have rice porridge with butter in the middle and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. The duck or the goose is served filled with prunes and apples and with accompaniment of red cabbage, beetroots, and white and sugar browned potatoes. The dessert is mostly rice á la mande with hot cherry sauce. A whole almond is hidden in the dessert, and he/she who finds the almond, gets an almond gift, bought for the occassion. If there are children present, it's not unusual to have more than one almond gift. No one must be sorry.

In the old days there was a tradition for giving the animals an extra treat of fodder on Christmas Evening. According to superstition they can talk on that evening, and it was not a good thing if they talked bad about their people.

Dancing around the Christmas Tree
When dinner is over, the candles are lit in the Christmas tree and the family dance around the tree - if there is place enough - and sing Christmas songs. There are lots of Danish Christmas songs and psalms - they have been sung for generations and are a part of the private Christmas ritual. When the children have no more patience for this dancing and singing - which happens - there is time for unwrapping gifts. Someone in the family is chosen as the lucky one, who hands over the gifts - often the family father, dressed as Santa Claus. And it is best to give and take and unwrap and thank you, before the next gift is chosen - but this is not always possible! Depends on how small the children are.

After all gifts have been unwrapped is often served some fresh fruit, candy, Christmas cakes, coffee and a little avec. The family usually goes early to bed on Christmas Eve. They can sleep a little longer, and the children can enjoy their gifts in peace and quiet! Hmm! Not always! But on the 2. Christmas day it's time to have the yearly Christmas lunch with the closest family and eventually closest friends.

Source: Visit Denmark: Jul i Danmark, Danske Juletraditioner


Gerry Snape said...

lovely lovely customs. I love advent really more than all of the palaver of christmas and the connotations of money, money!

CherylK said...

You've certainly put me into the Holiday spirit, Grethe! I loved reading about your traditions. Some are similar to ours, of course but with a Danish flair.

The food all sounds just delicious! I don't know what klejnar is so I think I'll go look it up! Whatever it is, I'm sure its delicious, too!

Out on the prairie said...

The traditions do blend and carry over.

Michael and Hanne said...

We read and enjoyed your Christmas blog and now we are in the mood for Jul. Is it tomorrow? Why not? We can't wait!

Carolyn said...

Hi beautiful blog person ;)

What a treat to read all this... thank you for sharing!

Marilyn said...

How wonderful to have so many Christmas traditions. We have some similar ones such as the four Advent candles (on Sunday the first candle was lit in our church, also the Advent calender- I always had one in our house when our children were little and they would take turns in opening one of the small windows. Christmas cards and stamps we have and Christmas trees, but I am very surprised to see how the trees in your photo seem to be wrapped. I have visions for very flat trees!

Most traditions of my childhood came from England and Europe - warming foods etc but I think as a nation we developing our own traditions more suited to summer Christmas.

Thyra said...

Gerry, I loved Christmas in my childhood. The commercial and "fashion" part came later , in the 1960s I think. I like the lit candles in December and these Advent's Sundays. So cosy. And people have got little lit (electric!) Christmas trees outside their house. It's a joy to take a walk late afternoon. I think I've got a Christmas fever now!

Cheryl, to get into a holiday spirit is a great feeling! I've got a recipe for klejner. I can send it to you if you want.

Hej Steve, yes, it's a big part of the world who's celebrating the dark period in December, not only the Christians. Traditions are really similar.

Michael and Hanne, you've got a serious Christmas fever! And you'll not recover until A.C. You'll need to take some medicine. Doctor's advice: Lit lots of candles and take a glass of glögg, and you'll fall happily asleep in the sofacorner! ´)

Hej Carolyn, thank you for visiting! I hope you are well and kicking!! I see that you are in a hot place on earth now by the sea. (And I see you like Pink Floyd too!)

Marilyn, I can imagine that you've got to have some various traditions, when you're celebrating a Summer Christmas. One of my friends left for Australia, and she and her family had Christmas Eve at the beach on a very hot day. Actually they had roast pork and all the accompaniment!
The flat Christmas trees do unfold, when you remove the plastic. First time I saw this new way of treating a tree I was sure the tree was damaged. The industry is enormous and with a big export.

Cheers to all of you
Grethe ´)

Wanda..... said...

Enjoyed the reading of Christmas traditions, Grethe, most are similar to the ones here. I love fresh pine trees, but have succumbed to the artificial ones, mine does look awfully real though! I have a Christmas clock that chimes a carol on the hour. I love it so much, I left it up all year.

Thyra said...

Hello Wanda! This Christmas clock sounds exciting. I haven't heard about such a clock before. Maybe it's from Austria.
The artificial trees are so similar that you cannot see the difference "when the music's playing!"

It's like a big part of the world is cosy in December....
Grethe ´)

Kittie Howard said...

What a wonderful post! You really put me in the Christmas spirit. The customs and traditions are beautiful. Years ago, Danish friends had a traditional Christmas tree - the room filled with awe when the candles were lit. Magnificent!

Thyra said...

Thank you Kittie. You know the special feeling when the candles on the Christmas tree is lit. Memories - and a lump in the throat.
See you!

Rachel Harwood said...

What a fabulous post about celebrating the Danish Christmas! I am writing about Christmas in Denmark as part of a Christmas Around the World Series. I'm not familiar with Denmark, but have several friends from there living in China with my family.

Would you be willing to share this post as a guest on my blog? I share at Please let me know... I don't think I could do half as well as you in sharing what Christmas in Denmark is like.

Thanks so much for sharing!

Carolyn Wilhelm said...

So lovely and really full of holiday spirit. I so enjoyed reading this.

Thyra said...

Rachel I haven't found out about this sharing. It seems that I'll have to join the g+ and this will change something on my blog which I'm not sure I want. Couldn't you just make a link or just use the contents and say the source is me in your other references. I'm sorry but I'll have to examine this google+ first. Thank you very much for your interest. I'm sure you'll make a fine report.
God Jul.

Thyra said...

Hello Carolyn, thank you so much for your kind words. Have a very Merry and Lovely Christmas!
God Jul!
Grethe ´)