Danish Christmas

Glædelig jul! (Merry Christmas!)

Overall, Christmas in Denmark isn’t that different from Christmas in the US. There are differences, but they’re fairly subtle. Except for the tree. That’s not subtle. But in terms of Christmas being a special time, in which family gets together and eats entirely too much — that’s the same.

Naturally the food is different. I’ve gotten so used to the food that I don’t think about it very much anymore, but the Danes have a lot of of specific foods that they only enjoy on special occasions, so there were two dishes I hadn’t had before. The first was brunede kartofler, which translates to roasted potatoes, but are in fact caramelized potatoes. I’m of the opinion that you can’t improve on the potato, be it mashed or merely boiled, so I wasn’t particular impressed by the description, but they’re very good.

Talent shows early, often, and loudly

The second new dish is julekål, or Christmas cabbage. Julekål is minced, boiled white cabbage, with cream, butter, and pepper. It turns out surprisingly like mashed potatoes, which is a good thing because there were no mashed potatoes. That’s right — I don’t think I’ve ever visited Lisbeth’s parents without having mashed potatoes, and then — for Christmas — there are none. But the julekål is very tasty and really fills the empty space left by the mashed potatoes quite nicely, which I would not have thought possible.

And then there is the tree. One of the most lasting memories I have of Christmas as a child was spending what seemed like an eternity untangling huge, hastily packed clumps of Christmas tree lights. Back in those days the bulbs burnt out and broke easily, and often the whole string stopped working if a single light was out. Often, after all that effort, it would turn out that the string no longer worked, or only worked up to half the length of the cord. The upside, of course, is that when you do get the tree up, it was fantastic, with all those colored lights.

There is nothing electric on this tree DSC_3261.JPG

This tree, in contrast, was simple to set up. That’s because there were no cords, or lights whatsoever. Only candles. I’d read about such things, but figured that this was something that probably stopped around the turn of last century. Not so — quite normal in Denmark I’m told.

Ellen had to learn about fire sooner or later Christmas by candle light Marie plays for the Christmas hymn singing

It doesn’t provide the same effect as electric lights, but it is undeniably classic and cozy. Which leads to another custom that is new to me. With the family finishing up dinner, Frits lit the candles so that when the family came into the room they’d see the tree lit up. The family then joins hands and walks around the tree and sings Christmas hymns. (They say they “dance around the tree” but I was relieved to see that it is actually just walking, especially given the actual candles.)

Karen, Frits, and Rikke-Naja watch gifts being opened Ellen with her first Christmas gift DSC_3447.JPG

And then it’s time to open gifts. This part was entirely familiar to me, except that there are fewer gifts. It might be about the same number for the adults (the number of gifts do seem to decline as childhood fades), and it’s just silly to buy lots of gifts for babies like Ellen and Storm, but my nieces got fewer gifts than I expected.

The final difference is that Danes celebrate Christmas on the 24th. Christmas day is just just another day. There is no actual tradition on Christmas day — except maybe for enjoying the gifts you got the day before, and eating a lot of leftovers.

One Thought on “Danish Christmas

  1. Hi Adam,
    Really enjoyed reading this and seeing the delightful atmosphere and expecially your precious little girl.

    I hope the coming year is filled with blessings and joy for your entire family.

    Aunt Doey

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Post Navigation