Danish Language Blog

Christmas in Denmark Posted by on Dec 24, 2021 in Holidays

(Photo by Sofus Rose from Pixabay; no copyright.)

Hurra, så er det jul! (Hooray, then it’s Christmas!) For billions of people, that means glæde (joy) and spending time with familien (the family). But what is special about the højtid (feast, literally ’high time’) in Denmark?

Jul [yool] is a very old tradition in Danmark – in fact, even the Vikings had a party this time of year! They called it jól [yohl], and it was a celebration of vintersolhverv (winter solstice): From now on, the days would get longer. After the Viking Age, the ancient jul was replaced by a kristen fest (Christian festival) celebrating1Of course, many modern Danes celebrate Christmas even if they’re not religious. the birth of Jesus. But the name stuck! 🙂

Nisser also survive from ancient times. The little ”hobgoblins” with røde huer (red caps) appear in Christmas decorations everywhere in Denmark. And some children put on nissehuer and become like nisser themselves. Julemanden, the Danish version of Santa Claus, is like a big version of a nisse. Julemanden brings en sæk med gaver (a sack full of gifts), saying things like: ”Ho, ho, er der nogen søde børn her?” (Ho, ho, are there any kind children here?)

Most of the presents, however, are placed under juletræet (below the Xmas tree) on juleaften – Dec. 24th. This is the big day of julen (the Xmas), where people eat julemad (Xmas food/dinner) and unwrap their gifts to hinanden (each other) later in the evening. The dinner typically consists of a main dish – gås, and, kalkun eller flæskesteg (goose, duck, turkey or pork) – served with for example rødkål (red cabbage) and brunede kartofler (caramelled potatoes). If you’ve never tried risalamande [reesalamang] it’s hard to explain what the dessert is – the dictionary says ”Danish rice pudding with almonds”. And mandler (almonds) it certainly contains, including one hel mandel (whole almond). The lucky person who finds it in her/his bowl, will receive a little mandelgave (”almond gift”).

Before getting to the presents, most Danes also går rundt om juletræet (walk around the Xmas tree) while singing traditional julesange (Xmas carols). The tree is lavishly decorated – often with levende lys (lit candles, literally ”living lights”) and hand-made julepynt (Xmas decorations). A Danish favourite is det flettede julehjerte (the ”braided” Christmas heart), said to have been invented by the famous writer H. C. Andersen in the 1850s.

Må alle dine ønsker gå i opfyldelse! (May all your wishes come true!)

Glædelig jul og godt nytår!

(Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!)

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    Of course, many modern Danes celebrate Christmas even if they’re not religious.
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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.