Holiday traditions in Denmark


Danish Christmas

Of all the holiday traditions in Denmark Christmas is without a doubt the biggest and most celebrated one of the year.

The Christmas holiday traditions in Denmark are really a mix of pagan and Christian traditions. However, to most Danes Christmas means candle lights (lots of them!), soft playing Christmas songs (all the songs we know so well and have heard a million times before), the scent of spruce, oranges and newly baked Christmas cookies.

The joy of decorating the house, finding the right Christmas tree, seeing friends and family, shopping for presents and for those who are not too busy working, the baking of Christmas cookies is part of all the fun and joy.

The Christmas holiday traditions in Denmark starts on December 1st and will last all through December, but the actual celebration is a four day event starting with "Little Christmas Eve" on dec 23th. where friends and family gather around a special kind of home-made doughnuts we call "Æbleskiver" accompanied by "Gløgg". Christmas Eve, December 24th is the night of being treated with a special Christmas dinner , dancing around the Christmas tree singing Christmas carols, getting the presents, eating candy, chocolate and cookies.

Where do all the traditions come from?

Danish Cristmas tree
The Christmas tree tradition is adopted from Germany in the middle of the 18th century. The church even adopted the tradition and some priests started decorating trees with candles in the churches.

In old songs we can find descriptions of "brances on a broom stick" representing the poor mans Christmas tree from that period. The traditional decoration of the tree over the years has been a reflection of the time. Silver trumpets, drums and pictures of soldiers started at the time of the battle in Dybbøl in 1864 and the Patriotism even put flags on the tree and to some other cultures that might seem a bit weird. The top decoration has changed several times through history. The most used decoration is probably the star, a symbol of the star of Bethehem, but angels, spires, goblins cut out of paper and even carbon storcks have been used.

The big treat for children in the early years of the Christmas tree was to "plunder" the tree of goodies stuck away in braided paper hearts shaped as littel baskets or cone shaped paper baskets containing nuts, candy or pebernødder. Cookies and fruit (like apples and oranges) were tied to the tree with red or white ribbons and served as decoration, too. In the middle of the 19th century the glass balls and porcelain decorations started taking over.

Danish Christmas calendar candle
In the 1930's some people started buying a big candle and using it as a calendar candle, lighting it every day of December. Now we buy ready-made candles like that with the dates printed on them. For the kids, this tradition is a great way to do the count-down till Christmas Eve, which will always be THE event, that the kids are looking forward to.

Danish Christmas Calendar
The Carbon Christmas calendar is a calendar with 24 little gates; one for each day of December until December 24th. and you are only allowed to open one a day. Some Christmas calendars even holds candy or chocolate behind the little doors. This is another count-down element for the children, and they really enjoy that,- especially if the Calendar has chocolate behind the doors! The first printed Christmas calendar was made in 1932 and the tradition of putting little "presents" on the calendar started after the WW2.

Danish Christmas wreath
The Advent wreath is now seen as a very Danish Christmas tradition, but actually is was imported from the nortern Germany as late as the beginning of the 19th century, and it wasn't fully adopted by people until 1940, where the dark years of the WW2 started and people welcomed another tradition that brought light and coziness to the home.

The almond present (in danish: mandelgaven) is a present you get when you find the almond in the traditional Christmas dinner dessert rise porridge. Nowadays we have "ris ala mande" instead of porridge, but we still have the almond present.

The mistletoe was originally a celtic tradition. The mistletoe protected people from evil spirits, and in the end of the 19th century the tradition from England took over, allowing a man to kiss any woman standing under a mistletoe, - a far more romantic tradition in my humble opinion!

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