If there’s one thing Danes are serious about – it’s Christmas. Christmas officially starts on the first Sunday in Advent, four Sundays before December 24th. This year, quite perfectly, the first Sunday of Advent is December 1st. Some might argue that Christmas starts on J-dag, the day when Tuborg introduces its Julebryg Christmas beer. Whether you’d like Christmas to last for one or two months is completely up to you.
Besides the ambiguity as to when Christmas arrives, the Danes have a multitude of Christmas traditions. About what to eat, what to drink, what to do and where to go. We’re here to give you the full rundown on ten Danish Christmas traditions you need to know.
1. Lighting the kalenderlys (calendar candle)
As the Danes say, “julen er hjerternes fest” (Christmas is ‘the festival of hearts’), which is clearly reflected by the plaited heart-shaped decorations everywhere. In other words, Danish Christmas is all about ‘hygge’, spending time with your loved ones, snuggling up indoors, lighting candles (Danes love candles) and eating hearty food.
So, to really start the Christmas season off in the right way, you need to invest in a candle to spread true ‘julehygge’ – a word that combines Christmas and hygge. Calendar candles, displaying a vertical numbered list of Christmas days until the 24th, cost approximately 30 kroner and you’ll find them in supermarkets and stores like Flying Tiger or Søstrene Grene. Then simply burn the candle one number every day, starting on Dec 1st, and watch Christmas Eve on the 24th get closer and closer.
2. Celebrate søndag i advent (Advent Sundays)
The candle story doesn’t end with a kalenderlys. You’ll also need four more candles – one for each Advent Sunday. If you’re truly into Christmas, you won’t stop with the candles, you’ll also get spruce and clay to make a whole Christmas installation for your Advent candles.
On the first Sunday of Advent (December 1st) you light one candle. On the second Sunday of Advent, you light two candles. And you get the picture. It’s a weekly countdown to Christmas.
3. Watch the annual TV julekalendere (Christmas calendars)
Every year, multiple Danish TV channels create julekalendere. These TV series consist of 24 Christmas-themed episodes shown one every day at a specific time. It’s mostly for kids, and you can be sure that by 6 pm, most Danish kids are sitting with their eyes glued to the screen, excitedly watching the newest season of their favorite annual julekalender show.
Besides kid-friendly julekalendere, which are mostly fun for grown-ups too, there are also julekalendere targeted at grownups.
If you don’t speak Danish, make your own special julekalender. Choose any show you like and stick to watching one episode at a set time every day until the 24th.
4. Julebag – host a cake-baking day
A vital part of ‘julehygge’ is to prioritize time for your loved ones. So why not have a day of ‘julebag’, which translates as Christmas baking? Get a group of friends together and be prepared for a full day of baking your favorite Christmas cookies. If you’re not sure what cookies to bake, the Danes have plenty of recipes; vaniljekranse, jødekager, pebernødder, brunkager, klejner, finskbrød, Kong Håkonskager, specier and the list goes on.
If you want to try the advanced level, get into ‘konfekt’ – a variety of chocolate-covered marzipan and nougat treats.
You’ll end up having a fun, ‘hygge’ day with your friends and family, get to taste all your delicious Christmas treats, and can gift-wrap little bags of goodies for friends and family this Holiday season.
5. Enjoy Winter Wonderland in Tivoli
If you’re in Copenhagen, don’t miss a Christmas trip to the magic Winter Wonderland season in Tivoli. The theme park transforms itself with enchanting Christmas decorations every year and has a sparkling glow that will put you in the perfect Christmas spirit. Enjoy the rides, and if you’re into it, see a show. The Crazy Christmas Cabaret, which is always hilarious and in English, or the classic Nutcracker Ballet are just two ideas!
6. Ice skating sets the right mood
Call your BFF, pour hot cocoa in a thermos, dress up in several layers to stay warm and head for the ice-skating rink. Quite perfectly, one of the loveliest rinks in Copenhagen is located just a stone’s throw from CBS, in front of Frederiksberg Garden. Ice skating is a lovely age-old Christmas tradition.
7. Enjoy the Christmas markets
Christmas vibes aren’t exclusively found at home, in Tivoli or on a skating rink. Copenhagen has several Christmas markets in and around the city that are key to getting in the right Christmas mood. Visit the Christmas market at Christiania for creative gifts for your friends, head north to Elsinore for the Christmas Market at Kronborg Castle or visit the iconic market at Nyhavn. Indulge in Christmas treats, warm your hands with a cup of hot chocolate and get your gift shopping started.
8. Julefrokost – it’s all about the food (and schnapps)
Danish Christmas traditions when it comes to food almost deserve a chapter of their own. The truth is, Christmas in Denmark involves a very long list of foods. We’ve covered the cakes above. But tons of savory stuff plus more Christmas desserts are equally important.
If you can, snag an invite to a ‘julefrokost’. You’ll get a chance to see how a true Danish Christmas party goes down. It entails sild (herring – and lots of it!), snaps (liquor that you either love or hate), flæskesteg (roast pork), fiskefilet (fried fish filet), and ryebread – of course. Finish off with risalamande, cold rice pudding with tons of cream, crushed almonds and cherry sauce on top. Yum!
9. Pakkeleg (pass the parcel with a twist)
Hate it or love it – ‘pakkeleg’ is a game often played at julefrokoster or any other social get-together during the Holidays. Every participant must bring a gift to the table (usually something small, inexpensive and fun). Every player throws two dice, and depending on what number you get, you can either take, steal or lose a gift. Be prepared that the game can become rather competitive. Check out the game rules here.
10. Gløgg + æbleskiver
Warm, mulled wine with almonds and raisins, and pancake balls with icing sugar and jam? Yes, please. That’s the straight-up recipe for Danish Christmas.
‘Gløgg’ and ‘æbleskiver’ come in several forms. You can buy the gløgg in a box and bags of frozen æbleskiver directly from the supermarket and enjoy them at home, or you can visit the Christmas markets and enjoy them freshly made by experts. Either way, it’s an absolute must if you’re doing Christmas the truly Danish way.
With this list of 10 Christmas traditions, you’re fully covered to enjoy a Danish Christmas with heaps of hygge. Merry Christmas!