Danish Language Blog

The Temptations of the Table Posted by on Dec 22, 2011 in Traditions

So what do Danes do in December if there’s no snow and the chill nevertheless is creeping into your bones as soon as you leave the doorstep? For many people, the julefrokoster are the height of the Pre-Christmas season. Instead of watching tv or arguing with your family, you get together with your colleages or former classmates. And get drunk.
A julefrokost (literally ’Christmas lunch’) is a formalized way of saying goodbye and glædelig jul (’Merry Christmas’) to non-family people who mattered to you during the year. The workplaces and institutions not organizing a julefrokost can be counted on few hands…
Most julefrokoster follow the same formula: People meet, eat, and drink. In the meantime the atmosphere is getting merrier and merrier… At the end of the evening everyone is on the same footing, the boss exchanging jokes with the cleaner and old enemies finding themselves the best of friends.
Julefrokoster have achieved something of a bad reputation, according to popular myth they are nothing but an excuse for gluttony and infidelity. And true enough, from a foreigner’s point of view the amount of food and alcoholic beverage consumed during a Pre-Christmas feast may seem excessive. And if the boss and his secretary were ever playing with the thought of an affair, it is here it is most probable to happen.
That being said, there’s no reason to pass an invitation to a julefrokost! In a family-oriented society where people go out less than in, say, Africa or Southern Europe, julefrokoster are important social events. People are wearing their best clothes and are eager to co-review the year that went by. (Of course, the alkohol helps opening up.) And who knows? It might be just here that you find your next job or new kæreste (girlfriend, boyfriend).
Many julefrokoster are sammenskudsgilde|r (”Dutch treat|s”, says my dictionary – hey, what’s so Dutch about that?!) The guests bring a dish each, and a buffet is stitched together. Typical dishes include kartofler (potatoes), sild (herrings), rødkål (red cabbage), frikadeller (meat balls), leverpostej (liver pâté), flæskesteg (roast pork) and kager og slik (cakes and sweets) for dessert. In addition to øl (beer) and vin (wine), a glass of snaps is often emptied with a skål! (cheers!)
The more active and sociable you’ve been during the year, the more invitationer to parties you’ll receive in December. For some Danes, then, the days before Christmas is one marathonic slalom between everyday responsibilities and the temptations of the table…
Experiences and cheers, however, are not the only currency at the julefrokoster – the giving and receiving of gave|r (gift|s) is an important part of the evening as well. It is often expected that each guest bring a small gift or two. When the time is due (that is, when people are neither too sober nor too drunk…), all the gifts are placed in the people’s midst, and the pakkeleg (gift game, literally ’parcel game’) may begin. There are many different rules, but most often a terning (dice) is passed around in the circle. As I know the game, those who get a six may pick a gift from the table, while those who get a one may also pick a gift, but have to give it to someone else… The fun part begins when there are no more gifts on the table, and everyone starts taking each other’s gifts…

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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.


  1. Alisa Hellemose Hansen:

    I absolutely love your blog! As an American just coming into Denmark (5 months ago!) I find your posts very informative and useful. I have experienced a couple of “julefrokoster” and they are exactly as you described! When I played the gift game though, nothing happened on a 1, just a 6.

    So glad I found your blog. Thanks for your knowledge!

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Alisa Hellemose Hansen Thanks, Alisa! Good to hear you like my blog. Stay tuned for more posts in 2012! Godt nytår! 🙂