1. Every day from 1 – 24 December, Danish children open the windows of their advent calendars to find a small gift: a piece of chocolate or perhaps an inexpensive toy. Whatever it may be, it certainly makes the Christmas countdown a little more bearable!
2. Christmas is celebrated on 24 December in Denmark, with a Christmas dinner for the whole family. Presents are traditionally unwrapped after dinner.
3. Gifts are kept under the Christmas tree, around which the family walk hand in hand singing the traditional Christmas songs. It is called ‘dancing’ around the tree.
4. The traditional Danish Christmas tree is lit with real candles not coloured bulbs. Woven between the homemade paper hearts, hanging baskets filled with chocolates and ornate paper stars, strings of tiny Danish flags complete the decoration along with a star in the treetop.
5. Christmas lunch on 25 December is usually enjoyed at home with friends and family with an enormous cold table that usually includes any titbits left over from dinner the night before. The following day, Boxing Day, the family can be seen trooping off for a similar gastronomic orgy offered by friends or relatives repaying the hospitality of the previous day. For obvious reasons on these two days shops and offices are closed, although cinemas, museums and places of entertainment are open on 26 December.
6. Once a year, Denmark is overrun by a host of little folk known as nisser. You will see them everywhere; in shop windows, on the windowsills and walls of every home, and precariously hanging by their fingertips from picture frames. Some people have even claimed to have seen them riding the buses or trains on the way back from their Christmas parties….. Nisser are Scandinavian relatives of the pixie and imp. Although having a similar taste in clothing to Santa Claus or Father Christmas, Nisser tend to favour the more practical look, preferring grey trousers (or skirt for Mrs. Nisse), wooden shoes and a long pointed red cap. But watch out! Nisser have a tendency to misbehave if they don’t get their way, and for generations Danish children have been pacifying them with little bowls of risengrød or rice porridge hidden in the attic. In fact the only real proof of the Nissers’ existence is that somehow the porridge is gone the next morning!
7. Out in the crisp fresh air, Copenhagen’s nights sparkle with tasteful decorations. You won’t see any gaudy coloured lights or plastic Christmas trees here. Twinkling white lights illuminate the outdoor Christmas trees, and suspended across the streets, giant garlands of real spruce surround huge red hearts. Green, red and white are the decorative colours of Christmas.
8. In the town itself, various shops have their own traditional ways to celebrate Christmas. Royal Copenhagen’s showroom at Amagertorv, filled with beautiful porcelain, silver and crystal, is the place to acquire a Christmas plate. It can be a Bing & Grøndahl (the first one was issued in 1895) or a Royal Copenhagen plate (first one issued in 1908). Another tradition started in 1910 is the specially designed (but not inexpensive) holiday dessertspoon and fork. In the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain House, well-known Danes using Royal Copenhagen finery, each year with a different theme, create elaborate Christmas tables. (The 2007 theme is yet to be revealed)
9. Denmark was the first country to start decorating Christmas mail with special Christmas stamps. The first ones were introduced in 1904 and profits from the sales have ever since gone towards the four “Christmas Stamp Homes” for underprivileged children. Today, the Christmas Stamp Homes function as a place for children to spend a couple of months recuperating from various trouble and get new inspiration.
10. Danish breweries add to the spirit of Christmas in their own inimitable ways… As early as a night in mid November you may see, at one minute to midnight, horse-drawn Tuborg or Carlsberg wagons decked out with garlands and Danish flags delivering the year’s specially brewed Julebryg, or Christmas brew, with Santa capped staff handing out free samples. Tuborg’s Christmas beer weighs in at a powerful 5.7% alcohol, and its arrival is yet another reason for a party. Almost every Danish brewery now launches a Christmas beer, some of which are even stronger than Tuborg’s. However, for the ladies, Carlsberg have considerately been providing Julepilsner, (a mere 4.6%) since the 1920s.
11. This is the time for gløgg, a potent variant of mulled wine, served steaming hot and heavily spiced with raisins, almonds, cinnamon sticks and cloves steeped in pure aquavit or snaps. It’s just the thing for cheering up a dark and cold day. For Copenhagen’s best gløgg, make your way to Hviids Vinstue. They make theirs from red wine, port, cognac and rum. Raisins and spices are left in the wine for eight days and then removed before serving, to be replaced with almonds, fresh raisins and spices on serving. Gløgg may be served with Christmas doughnuts, though never Hviid’s gløgg!
12. Christmas lunch at work means PARTY! Often held in the office, Christmas lunches are notoriously controversial because wives and husbands are rarely invited. Starting in the afternoon and often continuing until dawn the next morning, at the very least lunch can be expected to last seven hours… and as if that is not enough, there are also numerous lunches with family and friends to survive. A traditional Christmas Lunch table could consist of herring in a variety of guises, cold marinated salmon, country style liver pate with crispy bacon, comfit of duck, roast pork, a selection of cheeses and a special Christmas rice pudding, all lubricated with beer and snaps. At the end of the meal people ready themselves for their journey home. Special buses and trains are laid on throughout the capital to prevent drunk driving, and throughout the early hours these are packed with homebound partygoers. The ride is a continuation of the party for some, whereas others just cannot help sleeping the whole way home. Because of these Christmas lunches, Fridays in December are heavy party-nights in the city, with all the bars packed.
13. Christmas lunches for those sticking to the old traditions, begin with risengrød (rice porridge), but increasingly the order is becoming reversed with the rice coming at the end of the meal as a dessert in the form of a Danish speciality dish known as ris à l’amande which is boiled rice swathed in whipped cream and vanilla, mixed with chopped almonds and served cold with a hot cherry sauce. Whether the rice comes first or last, a very old tradition calls for mum to slip in just one unchopped whole almond. Somehow the laws of chance seem always to dictate that this almond will end up on the plate of the youngest child, qualifying the lucky recipient for the almond gift. This is traditionally a small pig shaped from fine marzipan. In some more generous households, it’s not unheard of that everyone finds an almond, in which case it’s prizes all round.
14. Christmas dinner is a serious meal for the Dane. The choice for the main course can be roast pork with crisp crackling, roast duck or roast goose. Now, you can have pork and duck at anytime of the year; what sets the Christmas dinner apart are the special seasonal trimmings – sweet and sour red cabbage is indispensable for Christmas, as are potatoes, either white or with a caramelised sugar glazing drenched in a rich brown gravy based on the juices from the roast pork, duck or goose. The duck or goose itself is stuffed with apples and de-stoned prunes, and if that’s not rich enough, extra flavours are added with jam or seeded and sweet pickled cucumber.
15. Christmas is not the time to start a diet! Sweets and cakes abound and once-a-year specialities appear in the baker’s window, filling the streets with their spicy smells. These treats include, klejner, (flour, butter, egg and lemon cut into elongated rectangles, knotted in special way it’s impossible to describe, and finally deep fried), brune kager (gingerbread dough sliced thinly, flattened and sprinkled with finely chopped nuts) and pebbernødder (small round cookies made of dough spiced with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and baked hard). Add to these, marzipan animals, fruit and ?nisser’ and the traditional accompaniment to gløgg, æbleskiver, which are a special kind of doughnut usually, served with a dusting of icing sugar and a heavy dollop of blackcurrant jam.
16. Not to be outdone, Aalborg Akvavit come out with a limited edition of Christmas snaps (with of course a marginally higher proof) every year to ensure the Christmas party goes with real swing.
17. Christmas in Copenhagen starts as early as in July. On 24 July exactly five months before the day the World Santa Claus Congress takes place at Bakken, Copenhagen (see also: www.bakken.dk). This is – besides Christmas itself – the most important event for the Father Christmases of the world, and the only time when they can meet. This year app. 100 Santas from ten different countries participated. Important issues as better rooftop parking conditions and stronger ropes for roof-elves are discussed during the four-day congress.