Around the World!
A Danish Christmas
Per Krogh Petersen aka Mr Sputnik
(photo below with Danish Santa)
The Danes’ Christmas begins with the Advent wreath. The
wreath has four candles, each of which is lit every one of the four Sundays
leading up to Christmas Eve the 24th of December. Adventus is Latin and means
come and it is of course the count down to what comes at Christmas, namely the
birth of Jesus, which in this way is celebrated in virtually all Danish homes.
Traditionally the Advent wreath is made out of fine spruce twigs and cuttings,
often decorated with red berries and spruce cones, white candles and red ribbons
for attaching the wreath to the ceiling. Every Sunday a new candel is lit
together with the one(s) already lit the previous Sunday. This means that all
four candles - each one obviously shorter than the other(s) - are burning all
together on the forth Advent Sunday.
Nowadays you’ll find many inventive versions of the traditional wreath, using
all kinds of material and decorated in more modern ways, including colored
candles. That’s just fine but they can never replace the spruce original.
The Christmas brew plays a major role in many of the traditional Danish
luncheons that every single company with more than one employee carry out every
year in December. Most hotels, inns and restaurants offer special Christmas
dishes on their menus and every single canteen from Skagen in the far North of
Denmark to Gedser in the far South is occupied with this very important
question: -What are we going to have for our Christmas luncheon?
The answer is really quite simple: The traditional Danish kitchen offers a wide
variety of cold and warm dishes which all belong to this famous ritual, normally
offered at a buffet:
Salmon and herring prepared in different ways and with different dressings,
shrimps, lobster and crab, filet of fried plaice with tartare sauce, fried
sausage (medisterpølse) and meatballs (frikadeller) with red cabbage and
beetroots, roast pork and bacon with fried apples, sirloin of pork with soft
fried onions, black pudding with sirup, liver pâté with bacon and mushrooms,
roasted duck, a variety of cold cuts, chicken- and fruit salad,v arious kinds of
cheese with fruit and ris à l’amande (vanilla rice pudding with almonds and
whipped cream) with cherrys auce. All the above is eaten with white and rye
bread and butter and to go through it all demands both a strong physique and
To make it all go down well you not only have the beer (or wine - or even
sparkling water for the drivers) but also the Christmas snaps, which like the
beer is presented every year before Christmas.
All Danish kids get one or more Advent calenders - or Christmas calenders as
they are called in Denmark. The two big television channels each year produce a
special new Christmas series divided into 24 episodes to keep the children's
excitement in a high gear. The more fortunate children also get a gift calender
consisting of 24 small presents, one for each day before Christmas, individually
As Christmas approaches all kinds of preparations accelerate in each and every
Danish home. Remarkably, the old Scandinavian tradition has survived more og
less untouched even in these modern times. Although, Christmas has been
commercialized in Denmark like everywhere else all Danes - even young and hard
core computer freaks - give in to their heritage at this particular time of the
year. Everybody tries to participate in the preparation for Christmas Eve,
however humble the effort.
The last two weeks before Christmas the great baking period begins and naturally
the kids play a major role. Every family is busy baking their favourite cakes
and cookies using traditional recipes hat have been handed over from generation
to generation. Some of the most popular Danish Christmas cookies are: ginger
cookies, deep fried crullers, vanilla biscuitsor gingerbread shaped as hearts
and decorated with ribbons.
While the oven is working over time everyone is busy making Christmas
decorations for the house or the tree and sweetmeats or candies out of marzipan,
chocolate fudge, almonds, dates, hazelnuts and crystallized fruits and berries.
The Christmas tree
Traditionally the Danish Christmas tree is the common spruce type, some call it
the Norwegian spruce. In the old days, before central heating, this was fine.
All homes were cold and moist and therefore perfectly suited to maintain the
green needles of the spruce.
Nowadays most people prefer the Normann spruce. It not only has softer needles,
it also withstands the normal room temperature of modern homes much better. But
beware: A true old fashioned Christmas enthusiast will scorn you for choosing
anything but the common spruce. Even if it scatters needles all over your house
and looks rather poorly at New Years Eve.
Families fortunate enough to live close to the woods try to pick and cut their
own tree. Already when the fall sets in, the days shorten and the gales roam
it’s time to choose the most beautiful tree of the forest. The ideal setting for
any happy family is a weekend outing in mid December with daddy pulling the kids
on the sledge with one hand, carrying the axe in the other, and mummy with the
sandwiches and the thermo in the backpack - all on the lookout for that perfect
tree. And you have to believe this: They always find it!
But of course, most Danes have to buy their Christmas tree just around the
corner. During December you will find people - often boy scouts -selling
Christmas trees on the streets all over the country collecting money for a good
Decorating the Christmas tree
The lighting of the Christmas tree is considered as one of the highlights of
Christmas Eve. Many Danes insist that you have to use real candles and not
electric lights on the Christmas tree. Today, however, a lot of people have
treacherously swapped the candles with the easier and much safer electric
option. Electric lights don’t drip, they don’t make a mess and they don’t set
the house on fire. But, surely, they are not quite able to create that
traditional Christmassy atmosphere.
The Christmas tree itself is decorated with a silver or gold star on the top
(never an angel), festoons of national flags, cornets with fruit, candies or
cookies, small toy music instruments and the entire tree is often given the
final touch with scatters of white fairy hair or strips of tin foil, reflecting
the light from the glowing candles.
For the people who would like their Christmas tree to look more posh the company
Georg Jensen, renowned for its Danish design, produces very elegant and
exclusive Christmas decorations every year, appreciated by collectors and
connoisseurs all over the world.
Previously it was the father in the family who was in charge of lighting the
Christmas tree. After dinner he would go to the adjacent room on his own and
light up the candles. Then he would invite the rest of the family to join him
and admire the splendour of the tree. Today it is more common for the whole
family actively to take part in all the traditional Christmas rituals.
Christmas day and eve
In Denmark Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve the 24th of December.
Everybody is busy buying present and preparing dinner on the day of Christmas
Eve and the children are extremely excited waiting with great anticipation for
the evening to arrive.
In the old days it was common to give the animals a special treat on Christmas
It was widely believed that all animals could talk on this special night, and
nobody would like the animals to speak ill of you. Today some families continue
that tradition. They go for a walk in the garden, in the park or forest and
bring along small goodies for the animals on this very special occasion.
A lot of people attend an early Christmas mass in church before the Christmas
dinner not necessarily because they are devoted churchgoers, but because they
enjoy the tradition of gathering in church and singing Danish Christmas carols
as part of the Christmas spirit.
Dinner is served quite early. Most people eat roast duck on Christmas Eve but
roast goose or roast pork with crackling rinds is also commonly served. The duck
or goose is stuffed with apples and prunes and served with boiled and sweet
potatoes, red cabbage and beets and cranberry jam. The dessert consists of‘ris à
l’amande’ (rice pudding with whipped cream, vanilla and almonds) with hot cherry
sauce or ‘risengrød’ (hot rice pudding). A peeled almond is hidden in the
dessert bowl and the lucky finder of the almond gets a present.
A good claret goes extremely well with this dinner, and maybe an old Port or
Madeira with the dessert.
Santa's & Mrs Clauses dancing around the tree!
Denmark 2010 Christmas in July festival
Per Krogh Petersen
Dancing around the tree
After dinner the tree is lit, at last, and everyone joins hands with one another
and dances around the tree singing traditional Danish Christmas hymns and
When the children have had quite enough of the singing (and that doesn’t take
very long) it is finally time for the unwrapping of gifts.
Normally, one of the children is chosen to select the wrapped presents under the
tree and hand them over one at the time so everyone can watch each individual
present being unwrapped.
After the last present, it is time for fresh fruit, cookies, candy and coffee.
On Christmas Day only the children get up early to enjoy their presents from the
night before. This day is a very quiet time in most families as the more formal
visits with luncheons and other activites normally don't begin until the 26th of
Christmas in July Danish Festival
Appointing the King of Santa's each year!
Christmas in July news! The Danish Santa Claus King has been announced for 2010
- A woman .... Anne-Lise Jakobsen, she's very active in the Santa world & helped
to found Danish Christmas's Guild in 1994. Congratulations to King Santa Anne!
Photo by our
friend Per Krogh Petersen ...
Appointed King of Santa's 2010:
Anne-Lise Jakobsen - Denmark
To see more great photos and videos
from the Santa Claus Congress in Denmark
Christmas in July festival visit our
Krogh Petersen website: