When it comes to Christmas, Denmark knows how to do it right. They have many different traditions throughout December, turning the month into its own celebratory event. The season is filled with food, family, and friends. Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens is even transformed into a Christmas wonderland of lights and good cheer. Some of their traditions are similar to those in the U.S., and others are quite different.
It all starts toward the end of November. Christmas markets begin popping up in cities, towns, and castles (yes, actual castles) around the country. You can enjoy a glass filled with gløgg (similar to mulled wine—just with the addition of almonds and raisins), Danish snacks, like the sweet dessert æbleskiver, and all kinds of local gifts and decor.
Then there’s Julefrokost: Christmas lunches often with co-workers and friends, which are apparently much more than just a midday meal. There’s a lot of traditional Danish food, including fish, pork, and potatoes. You could even call it a feast. As with any great celebration, there’s a go-to Julefrokost drink: snaps, also called aquavit, which is a caraway-flavored spirit. And, it usually starts being served as soon as the first course.
Once December rolls around, the Christmas countdowns begin with two Danish holiday traditions: the Advent wreath and the calendar candle. The Advent wreath is traditionally made with spruce twigs and cones, berries, and four candles, one for each Sunday before Christmas Eve. The calendar candle marks the 24 days leading up to Christmas. Each day, usually over breakfast, families light the candle and let the wax burn down through the current day. This gives people a moment of quiet in the otherwise busy holidays.
Then, every night from December 1-24, families watch a Christmas calendar TV show. Every year since the ‘60s, there’s a new holiday-themed series with 24 episodes. Each episode marks a day leading up to Christmas. There are even two different versions of the series: one tailored to kids and one to adults, making it more enjoyable for everyone. Watching the series is a great way to relax with family, get in the holiday spirit, and have something to discuss with friends the next day.
All these celebrations lead up to the big day, which, in Denmark, is actually Christmas Eve. One of the stars of the day is dinner. Most often, families eat a roast duck, though, goose and pork are also popular. Then, there’s the traditional dessert (which I’m definitely making this year): ris à l’amande—a creamy rice pudding with almonds, vanilla, and heavy cream, all topped with a hot cherry sauce. In this dessert, there’s one whole almond hidden in the bowl. And, people are supposed to keep eating this treat until someone uncovers it. Apparently, some who find the almond will hide their discovery just so people have to keep eating—all in good fun, of course.
Finally, there’s the event all the kids wait for. The moment when everyone heads over to the Christmas tree, which is usually decorated with lit candles. Families hold hands as they sing and walk around the tree. This can be a few quick minutes or, for the more dedicated families, last much longer. Then, it’s present time. One gift is opened at a time so everyone is able to appreciate the moment. When the last one is unwrapped, Christmas Eve is still not quite over. The night comes to a conclusion after sharing coffee, fruit, and cookies. A peaceful ending to an otherwise busy day.
And, with all the excitement on Christmas Eve, everyone is able to take a bit more time to relax on Christmas day.
So, if you’re looking for a cheerful, celebratory way to spend the holidays, it might be time to plan a trip to Denmark and experience their world-renowned Christmas season firsthand—it’s definitely going on my bucket list. Until then, I’ll be borrowing a few of their traditions to make my December a bit more Danish (and fun).
And, as they say in Denmark, Glædelig Jul!
Are there any Danish traditions you’re hoping to incorporate into your holiday celebrations this year?
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