Danish Language Blog

Unwrapping the gifts of Christmas Posted by on Dec 30, 2013 in Traditions

gift_boxHvad fik du i julegave i år? (What did you get for Christmas this year?) Most Danes are crazy about giving & getting gaver (gifts). Too bad you can only celebrate fødselsdag (birthday) once a year. Heldigvis (fortunately), julen (”the Christmas”) is there to save every Dane from despair…

During the December days leading up to juleaften (Christmas Eve, December 24th), many children have a pakkekalender (”parcel calendar”) to ease ventetiden (the waiting period). Each day they’ll get a small kalendergave (calendar gift) as a forsmag på (foretaste of) the bigger gaver [GAEH-war] they’ll eventually find below juletræet (the Christmas tree). (Christmas stockings are not common in Denmark.)

It is also common for adults to get a pre-Christmas gift or two, for example a firmagave (”firm gift”) from their workplace. (And, of course, every decent julefrokost party has a pakkeleg – a game where the goal is to grab as many gifts as possible!)

Oddly enough, a poetry collection – by the debutant Yahya Hassan – has been a favorite among Christmas gift shoppers this year.

Oddly enough, a poetry collection – by the debutant Yahya Hassan – has been a favorite among Christmas gift shoppers in Denmark this year.

Både børn og voksne (both children and adults) make ønskesedler (wish lists) with all their juleønsker (wishes for Christmas). Common ønsker are

bøger (books – mind you, many Danes do read a lot!)

gadgets (iPads, mobiltelefoner)

tøj (clothes)

smykker (jewellery)

legetøj (toys)

gavekort (gift cards)

It is common to speak about hårde og bløde gaver (hard and soft gifts) – hårde gaver typically being bøger and elektronik. I’d guess anyone who’s been a child in Denmark knows the combined frustration of waiting for that special LEGO zoo/space station and feeling yet another ”soft package” through the wrapping! 🙂

As Danes have become quite wealthy since WW2, it can be quite a challenge to gift-shop in the days leading up to Christmas. As the saying goes – hvad skal man give til manden/kvinden, der har alt? (What do you give to the man/woman who has everything?)

In recent years, an increasing number of Danes are giving each other oplevelser (experiences) instead of ting (things). This could be everything from a safari in Kenya to a romantic weekend at a Danish beach. Another trend is aiding people in poorer countries. Folkekirkens Nødhjælp – the humanitarian aid organization of the Danish Church – has had a very succesful campaign called ”giv en ged” (give a goat). You literally buy a goat to a family in need, typically in a poor area of Africa or Asia, and receive a card as proof that your Danish friend is now the owner of a faraway goat…

Do you celebrate Christmas? Do Christmas gifts matter to you? Did you get any interesting gifts this year? Feel free to share your thoughts with the other readers.

With this, I’d like to wish each an everyone of you a

Godt nytår! (Happy New Year!)

See you in 2014.

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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. Dina:

    Hi Bjørn:

    It is a good story, thank you for sharing.

    Godt nytår