Christmas traditions of a Dane

Lin Alexandra Mortensgaard (Denmark AC 09-11)

Christmas in Denmark officially starts December 1st, but many businesses choose to ignore this and start their Christmas campaigns late in October. The same goes for many firms where the annual Christmas lunch is often held in November. Such a ‘lunch’ takes place in the evening. It involves all the employees of the particular firm, extreme amounts of alcohol and food, inappropriate flirting with colleagues and a massive hang-over the next day. 

On December 1st the children of Denmark open the first ‘window’ of their Christmas calendar. There is a window for each day until the 24th and it is a joy to reveal what is hidden behind the small paper square, which covers the secrets of the calendar. Sometimes these calendars relate to an ongoing television Christmas shows for children. Each day there is a new episode and before this episode you open the corresponding day of your calendar to get a hint of what will happen in the show.  These Christmas shows are normally about elves and Santa Claus. The plot is always the same; for some reason Christmas is about to be ruined, but is saved on the 23rd of December by the hero of the show. This might sound stupid and unoriginal, but is actually far from it.

In schools the daily routine continues except for certain events. In most schools the famous Secret Santa game is played. It is an excellent game of expectation and detective skills. Only if you posses certain these skills will you be good at this game. It takes practice.

The 13th of December is Saint Lucia’s Day. We celebrate this day to bring light into a time of darkness (December is a cold winter month!).  This day is mostly celebrated in schools and churches. It was originally brought to Denmark from Sweden around the Second World War and was implicitly meant as a passive protest against the German occupation of Denmark and has remained a tradition ever since. On the day a Lucia procession takes place. This is a line of people all in white robes. They are each carrying a lit candle except from the Lucia bride in the front. She is wearing a ‘crown’ with candles in. This line walks through the school whilst singing the Lucia song.

When students go on Christmas break the real Christmas starts. It is time for Christmas shopping, baking, candy making, Christmas tree decorations and all the other small things that preceed the perfect Christmas Eve. In my family we have a tradition of making our own Christmas cookies and candy. Cookies are normally small and round or flat and creatively shaped. They are called pepper cakes and they taste of Christmas to me. The candy we make is made of marzipan and chocolate. Ever since I was a little girl we have made our own imaginative marzipan candy. My brother and I sit in the kitchen each with three different marzipan clumps; a red, a green and a white. My mom is standing at the kitchen table making cookie dough. We listen to Christmas music as we produce innovative marzipan figures – each made with love – and dip them in chocolate. If in the mood we add a little decoration such as colourful sprinkles. When our creativeness has run out and we show our production to my mom, she always wonders how so much marzipan resulted in so few final pieces. I believe the answer is that the marzipan is lost somewhere in the process of production.

Another Christmas tradition in my family is getting a Christmas tree. This is also a thing that has to be done with love and thorough consideration. Therefore we chop down a tree ourselves. We know a special place where this is allowed. On the 22nd my brother, my dad and I drive to this place and walk into the forest to start looking for the perfect tree. This can take hours. It cannot be too tall because it would not fit into our apartment. It cannot be too small because that would mean a lack of space for the presents. My dad is an architect, so he wants it to be symmetrical (and so do I) and my brother normally sets his heart on one tree and refuses to compromise his first choice. I do not know how, but in the end we always agree on a tree, chop it down and drive it home. Later we decorate it with homemade paper hearts, Christmas balls, Danish flags, angels and on the top we place the golden star.

On Christmas Eve we go to church at four. Beforehand everything is a bit hectic. The food has to be ready, we all have to shower and dress nicely, set the table for the guests and so on.  There are always lots of people in church on the 24th and therefore it is not seldom to meet a bunch of friends and acquaintances here and wish them ‘God Jul’. When we get back from church it is time for the profuse Christmas dinner. In my family we eat duck, but pork and turkey are also popular Christmas meals. With the duck we eat potatoes fried in sugar, cabbage and gravy. It is a wonderful meal, which means that everyone eats too much. It is actually really stupid to overeat on this particular day, since the dessert involves eating until someone finds the almond. This requires an explanation: The dessert is called Risalamande and is best described as a vanilla-and-almond-flavoured cold version of rice pudding. On this Risalamande we pour warm cherry sauce. In the pudding there are lots of small pieces of almond, but there is also one whole almond. The one that finds the almond gets a price, which is usually chocolate.

After having eaten this extensive meal most people would probably like to relax. In Denmark we ignore this and instead we dance around the Christmas tree whilst singing. We form a chain around the Christmas tree by holding each other’s hands. Then we walk around it and sing Christmas carols. When we are done with the carols we move on to the more cheerful songs about elves and Santa. One of them requires you to sing the same stanza repeatedly, but a bit faster each time. You then have to dance around the whole house and the faster you sing, the faster you dance/run.  This is quite exhausting after all the food, which is why we finish off with this song and move on to the pleasure of opening presents.

God Jul (Merry Christmas) everyone!

– United World College Student Magazine –

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