Eating white rice pudding and desperately searching for a full almond inside, enjoying sweetened caramelized potatoes, and dancing and singing around the Christmas tree might seem absolutely normal amongst Danes. Only Danes.
Denmark, the country described as a mixture of Lego bricks, beer and bacon, is, after all, a charming country with slightly quirky Christmas traditions. Christmas in Denmark is based on relatively old and well-preserved traditions that have never really changed. It’s still rough, and still very Viking-like. While other parts of the world might be looking for their lost “roots” of Christmas traditions, Denmark is one of the few countries celebrating Christmas almost like their ancestors did.
Fights for an almond
Reality in Denmark is hard: everyone stands out for themselves. Same rules apply during Christmas, where you eat much ‘Risalamande’, i.e. white, weird looking rice dish with small pieces of almonds. Your goal is to fight for a single full almond, which is put in there. If you find the almond, you’ll win a small prize, such as a chocolate heart or a marzipan pig (as if Danes didn’t have enough pork…).
Besides, they leave a portion of ‘Risalamande’ for the ‘Julenisse’ (read further). As if imaginary elves would starve (?).
Nisse The Elf
During the years I’ve lived in Denmark, I’ve realized that Danes believe in humanoid mythical creatures from Scandinavian folklore, called ‘nisser’. Danes believe that those little creatures protect them from misfortune, and therefore, they decorate their homes with little elf-figures during Christmas time.
Some Danes even get really obsessed about collecting small Nisse-figurines and small ceramic houses and, right before Christmas, they decorate the biggest table with more or less a whole-plegged Nisse-society, called ‘Nisseby’ (city of Nisser).
Baking and decorating traditional gingerbread cookies is another old-fashioned tradition. The dough for the cookies is usually made some weeks beforehand. Sometimes, families will put Christmas cookies on the tree (as if bought decorations would not be enough), and afterwards destroy and consume them quickly.
The holy Christmas tree
In Denmark, Christmas trees mean everything. Therefore, it should be treated in a very special way. It’s usually decorated with the star on top (not an angel, like everywhere else) and, on Christmas Eve, both adults and children will hold each other’s hands and dance around the Christmas tree with no special intention, singing happy songs.
Talking to animals
In the old days, people believed that they should treat animals in a special way during Christmas Eve: Talk to them, give them nice food, and pet them. Today, Danes do the same. They take walks in the gardens, where they talk and pet their furry friends, expecting that animals are happy about their lives and that they don’t gossip about their landlords.
Christmas last for about six months
For most people (except Danes), Christmas itself is a family event. But in addition to that, Danes enjoy having as many Christmas dinners, so-called ‘Julefrokoster’, with friends, workmates and other people.
Knowing that Christmas dinners start from around mid-October and might continue up to the beginning of February, it might seem that Danes value Christmas more than anyone.
Therefore, if you happen to forget about the 23th or 24th – the two most important dinners of all Christmas dinners – you shouldn’t be too sad about it. You’ll still have about 10-15 more options to attend various Christmas lunches, even though Christmas might’ve passed.
Ho ho ho!