Christmas Traditions
Around the World!

A Danish Christmas

by 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 determination.

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.

Present calendars

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 bought and

Traditional baking

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 cause.

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 Eve.
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
Photo by
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 carols.

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 December.

Christmas in July Danish Festival
Appointing the King of Santa's each year!

Exciting 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
 Per Krogh Petersen website:

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