Yes, it’s that time of the year, and that particular day, December 24 if you are Danish, is coming up rapidly. Christmas Eve is the culmination of weeks of festivities and preparations, and it is by far the biggest holiday in Denmark. While there are minor individual differences and variations, here are some of the Christmas traditions embraced by most of the people celebrating Christmas in Denmark:
Christmas Calendars, Advent Calendars and Calendar Candles
Most kids have Christmas calendars and Advent calendars with candy or small presents. The Christmas calendar is opened each day while the Advent calendar is for each Sunday and usually has larger gifts than the Christmas calendars.
Throughout December, the TV channels are broadcasting a Julekalender (Christmas calendar), which is a Christmas-themed TV-series for kids with 24 episodes. When I was a kid, there weren’t that many TV channels to choose among, so everybody would watch the same Christmas calendar on DR, and talk about the episodes the following day in school.
In December, most people have a Kalenderlys (calendar candle) with numbers; 1 at the top through 24 at the bottom. You light the candle for a short while each day, to count down for Christmas. Each home also have Adventskranse (a wreath with four candles, to be lit on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. One candle is lit on the first Sunday, two on the second Sunday, and so on.
Sankta Lucia – St. Lucy’s Day
On December 13th we celebrate Lucia (St. Lucy’s Day). While the St. Lucy celebration is not as big as it is in Sweden, you will still see a lot of young girls walking in procession, dressed up in white gowns, carrying candles in their hands. The girl walking at the front of the procession has a wreath on her head with four candles. Historically, this day marked the Winter Solstice, though after the introduction of the Gregorian calendar this does not hold true anymore.
When I was a kid, I had a pony, and each year at Christmas time, the riding school arranged a St. Lucy procession. Ponies, candles and fluttering gowns…not the most thought-through idea, but it was a lot of fun.
During December and November, the Danish Christmas parties, Julefrokost takes place. Directly translated, Julefrokost means Christmas lunch, and the parties often start early in the afternoon. Most companies arrange a julefrokost for their employees, but many people also arrange a julefrokost with their friends or with family. You eat traditional Danish lunch dishes along with a couple of julefrokost classics such as æbleflæsk (bacon in apple sauce) and julekål (creamed cabbage), and drink a lot of alcohol, especially Danish snaps and juleøl (Christmas beer).
This is the day when Tuborg’s classic Christmas beer is released and it is celebrated on bars and nightclubs all over the country. It is highly commercial but has nonetheless turned into a Christmas tradition for most Danes. J-Dag used to be on the second Wednesday in November, but in 1999, the celebration was moved to the first Friday in November instead, after high schools and universities were complaining that many of the students were missing out on classes the following day.
It varies a lot how people in Denmark celebrate Christmas Eve. I have asked 5 of my friends, and it turns out we all celebrate Christmas in different ways, so in order not to make it too confusing, I will only share how Christmas Eve is celebrated in my family:
Some people would bring in the Christmas tree early December, while others would wait until the Sunday before Christmas. in the beginning of December. In my family the tree is not brought in until December 23rd, but that would be considered very late. After the tree is brought in, we decorate the tree with old decorations (most of them dating back to when my sister and I were in kindergarten) and place the parcels under the tree. On December 24 we relax and eat konfekt (Christmas candy made from marzipan), æbleskiver (little donut-like things)and cookies, while watching tv and waiting for the time to pass. Late in the afternoon, we go to church to attend the Christmas service, more out of tradition than out of religious faith. Denmark is a Christian country, but most Danes are not very religious, and for my family, Christmas is the time only time of the year we go to church.
When we are back from church, it is time for the Christmas dinner. In my family we eat goose roast with caramelized potatoes and a thick, cream gravy. For dessert we eat risalamande, which is a rice pudding with whipped cream, chopped almonds and vanilla, eaten with warm cherry sauce. One whole almond is added, and the person who gets the almond, gets the mandelgave (almond gift).
When my granddad was still alive, he would show up after dinner, dressed as Santa, with a sack full of presents, and while the rest of us is working on recovering from food coma, my dad lights the candles on the Christmas tree. We only have real candles on the tree for Christmas Eve, the rest of the time, we are using electric lights for safety reasons.
Then it is time to dance around the tree. In my family, we sing 3-5 Christmas carols, and change the direction of the dance after each carol, so we don’t get dizzy after all that around-and-around walking. When we are done with the dancing, we open the presents, send Merry Christmas text to our friends and eat a little more konfekt, before going to bed.