Danish Christmas Traditions

Christmas in Demark: 14 Amazing Danish Christmas traditions

Danish Christmas traditions could be just the thing you need to bring a touch of hygge to the holidays. Christmas in Denmark, like in many parts of the world, is a wonderful time, all about family, fun, and generosity. 

The Danes also share many of their traditions with other Scandinavian countries. 

Similar to locations like Sweden, most of the Christmas celebrations in Denmark happen on Christmas Eve, when the family gets together for a delicious meal. 

On the 24th of December, Danes also share presents, and spend the night dancing, much like people in the US and UK do on New Year’s Eve. 

If you’re keen to replicate Christmas in Copenhagen at home, or you want to know what to expect when visiting Denmark during the holiday season, you’re in the right place. Here’s your simple guide to celebrating your own Danish Christmas…

How do people in Denmark celebrate Christmas? 

The Danes are often plagued by long winters, dark nights, and cold temperatures during the final months of the year. It’s no wonder the locals are keen to brighten up their frosty nights with plenty of festive celebrations. 

From counting down the days to Christmas with advent calendars, to drinking plenty of gløgg, Christmas in Denmark is a month-long celebration.

In Denmark, like many other parts of Europe, the main celebration for Christmas happens on Christmas Eve. During the 24th of December, Danish God Jul begins, with huge feasts full of fattening food, including the traditional Danish Christmas dinner

Religious families in Denmark usually go to a church surface on Christmas Eve at around 4pm, and it’s a custom to give animals a treat on this day too, so you’ll see a lot of people out walking their dogs or feeding the birds. 

While many Danish Christmas customs now blend with more modern festive celebrations, there are still plenty of fun traditions to explore. One particularly appealing thing about Christmas in Denmark, is the locals actually get some time off. 

Like elsewhere in Scandinavia, most offices and stores close on the 24th, 25th, and 26th, so people can genuinely relax. 

Danish Christmas Traditions

1. Danish Christmas candles

Most countries have a specific ritual for counting down to Christmas. Many of us use advent calendars to get a dose of chocolate each morning through December. The Danish prefer to stick with one of their favorite home accessories: the candle. 

If you’re familiar with Danish hygge, you probably also know candles are ideal for making a space feel warm and homey. 

Danish advent candles build on this idea. The special kalenderlys is a huge candle featuring the numbers 1 through to 24. Each day, the Danes burn the candle down to the next spot. 

Some families will also offer a Danish advent calendar to children, where they can open a door to get gifts or candy each day. 

Speaking of candles, they’re also used frequently in Danish Christmas decorations. Trees in Denmark are more traditional than they are elsewhere in the world, with plenty of natural tones. One common addition is the use of real candles (which seems dangerous), or fake candles on the tree. 

2. Christmas markets and Tivoli Gardens

Denmark is a beautiful place to explore any time of the year, but it’s particularly magical during Christmas. Virtually every square in Copenhagen will have its own Christmas market leading up to Christmas. 

These markets often include stalls packed with hand-made gifts, so you can stock up for the season. You can also find a lot of delicious holiday snacks too. 

If you really want an amazing place to visit during Christmas in Denmark, it’s worth checking out Tivoli Gardens. This Danish theme park inspired Walt Disney to create his resorts, and there are few things like drinking a warm cup of gløgg as you check out the winter wonderland during December. 

Danish Christmas Traditions

3. Christmas tables

One of the most important Christmas traditions in Denmark is setting the table. Most people will sit down on Christmas Eve between 6 and 8pm to eat their Christmas lunch, and the table needs to be decorated to perfection. 

This often means using plenty of tablecloths, ribbons, flowers, and candles to bring the space to life. Don’t forget to hang up plenty of paper star lanterns with flickering battery-operated lights inside. These are much more popular than the fairy lights we know elsewhere in the world.

As extra proof of the importance of setting the Christmas table in Denmark, there’s actually an event called the “Copenhagen Christmas Tables”. This is where Danes visit the flagship store of Royal Copenhagen to see their tables decorated by well-known locals. 

4. Danish Santa Claus

Father Christmas is a little different in Denmark compared to elsewhere in the world. Santa Clause in Danish is Julemanden, otherwise known as the “Christmas Man”. This unique character is often assisted by a group of elves known as “Nisse”. 

The Nisse are slightly naughtier elves than you might associate with Christmas in most parts of the world — and they have a lot in common with the “Elf on a Shelf” craze, watching kids and messing around in the home.

Presents are brought in for children on the 24th of December which have been delivered by Julemanden. There’s no magic chimney involved. Instead, after the Christmas lunch, a member of the family dresses up in traditional red robes to hand out the goods. 

Danish Christmas Traditions

5. Presents on Christmas Eve

Similar to Sweden, Denmark bypasses the early morning wakeup call from excited children on Christmas morning, by handing out gifts the night before. 

According to the locals, the Christmas dinner in Sweden, though delicious, is also a time full of anticipation for children, who know they’ll be able to open their gifts straight after. 

While in Sweden, it’s common to wait for the sun to set before the gift exchange begins, Denmark is a little more flexible. As long as you’ve already had the traditional Christmas lunch, you can start handing out the goods. 

6. St Lucia

St Lucia and the Lucia celebration on the 13th of December are better-known in Sweden, but Lucia is also pretty common in Denmark too. On the 13th of December each year, many families encourage their daughters to dress up as “Lucia”, a saint who was accused of witchcraft in Italy. 

One girl dresses up as Lucia, with (fake) candles in her hair and a white robe. 

The St Lucia celebrations are similar to the kinds of Christmas nativities and plays we see in other parts of the world. Children look forward to taking part in the parade throughout their local area, and one special girl gets to play Lucia each year.

7. Walking around the Christmas tree

As lovers of all things natural, it’s probably no surprise the Danish take their Christmas tree pretty seriously. On Christmas Eve, before you open your presents, and after you eat the Danish Christmas food, the family joins hands and walks around the Christmas tree. 

While the tradition usually involves singing Christmas hymns as you walk around the fir, many families have adopted more fun and popular songs over the year. 

According to Danish stories, walking around the tree gives Santa Claus time to pop in and deliver his gifts. Since the tree will usually feature several real, burning candles, it might be a little tricky to walk briskly around the fir when you’re nervous about burning the house down. 

If you can get it right — it’s a lot of fun. 

Danish Christmas Traditions

8. Gløgg

Gløgg is a pretty common drink throughout Scandinavia. At Christmas, it accompanies Aquavit, the standard Danish snaps, as a go-to drink for celebration. Gløgg is a kind of hot spiced wine which may include almonds and raisins, as well as cinnamon sticks. 

While kids drink hot chocolate, the adults stock up on warm spicy punch for a giggly Christmas Eve. 

Although there’s generally a lot of drinking in Denmark on Christmas, there’s no pressure to get involved if you’re not interested in alcohol. There are tons of other delicious drinks available for those who prefer to stay sober. 

9. The Danish Christmas tree and decorations

The Danish Christmas tree and its decorations are a huge deal in Denmark. Commonly, people living close to a wooded area will go and cut down the perfect tree themselves — although this isn’t always entirely legal. 

Once you’ve brought your tree home, you cover it in real candles for hygge, and deck the house in pine-inspired décor. 

The Danish Christmas decorations you’ll see in most homes will usually be quite subtle and organic. Danish Christmas tree decorations are scarce, as the candles are the most important feature. 

Around the home, the most common accessories you’ll see at the Julehjerter, Julestjerner, and Julepynter. These are Christmas hearts, stars, and other ornaments made from folded paper. 

For those with a fan of florals, Christmas decorations in Denmark can also include amaryllis and hyacinth bulbs. 

Danish Christmas Traditions

10. Danish Christmas food

The traditional Danish Christmas dinner is probably the most important part of a God Jul to many locals. Danish Christmas food is wonderfully decadent. In fact, you’ll usually start eating festive meals several weeks before the holiday begins. 

Long lunches and dinners are held by friends, families, and even workplaces. The Julefrokost is a common occasion for many Danes. 

Julefrokost is a common name for the Danish Christmas dinner, but it can also apply to the long meals held before Christmas. This buffet-style meal is packed with calories, with crispy pork rind and roast pork, red cabbage, caramelized potatoes, and so much more. 

By the end of the Christmas meal, if you’re not in need of a lie down, something has probably gone wrong. 

11. Risalamande

A delicious Danish Christmas dinner wouldn’t be complete without an amazing dessert. Risalamande is Danish rice pudding, and it’s the most important part of the Christmas meal for many families. The pudding is usually served cold, and it’s made with vanilla ad almonds. 

On top of that, you pour plenty of hot cherry sauce for a decadent treat. Usually, risalamande will be made the day before the feast or on the morning. You’ll also set the rice out for the Nisse, to stop them from playing pranks.

One game Danes like to play with their rice pudding is to place an entire blanched almond within the pudding. If you find the almond, you get a prize. This is similar to the Swedish tradition, which suggests anyone who finds the almond in their pudding will be lucky in love the next year. 

Danish Christmas Traditions

12. Aebleskiver

If Danish Christmas lunch isn’t enough to satisfy your foodie needs, Christmas breakfast should get the job done. The aebleskiver breakfasts held by most families involve making delicious crispy pancakes in the shape of little balls. 

Sometimes made with apple, these donut holes/pancakes are topped with jam and powdered sugar, and often washed down with plenty of gløgg. 

The texture is amazing for aebleskiver, and it’s sure to appeal to anyone who might want to take their love of pancakes to the next level. There’s a special pan available to help you make it too. 

13. Christmas treats

There are tons of sweet things to enjoy as part of your Danish Christmas celebration. It’s no wonder the Danish are such happy people

A popular choice alongside your pancake balls and rice pudding is marzipan. A lot of Danish families will make their own marzipan and decorate them with extra treats like nuts and nougat. 

Chocolate is also pretty common in Denmark around Christmas — much like many other parts of the world. However, it’s often accompanied by a range of different cookies, offered in flavors like gingerbread and peppermint. 

Danes even have their own peppery cookies, made with white pepper and served alongside port or coffee. 

Danish Christmas Traditions

14. Christmas beer

We’ve already mentioned the passion Danes tend to have for their alcoholic beverages — particularly around the festive season. Gløgg is definitely the most popular drink paired with Danish snaps, but there are plenty of other options available too. 

The first Friday of November is the day Tuborg Julebrygg appears in bars and stores. It’s only available for ten weeks a year, but it’s also the fourth best-selling beer made by Carlsberg. 

If you really want to get a taste of the excitement brewing in the air around Christmas time in Denmark, we’d definitely recommend visiting a local bar, where you can hang out with new friends and old. 

The Danes are a very welcoming bunch, and there’s plenty of dancing to get involved with after a beer or two.

Christmas traditions in Denmark

Christmas traditions in Denmark revolve mostly around food, drink, and being together with your family. 

From the beautiful decorations children and parents sit down to make together on the lead-up to Christmas, to the huge meal where everyone contributes to cooking something, togetherness is definitely a theme in the Danish holidays. 

Just like other parts of Scandinavia, Danish locals believe the Christmas season should be as bright and festive as possible to help chase off some of the coldness and dark of the winter. Having a “God Jul” in Denmark is pretty easy because everyone is even kinder and more welcoming than usual. 

The more time you spend in Denmark, the more you’ll find yourself creating your own versions of the amazing Danish traditions we’ve covered here. 

Whether you’re visiting Denmark this Christmas, bringing Danish Christmas traditions into your home, or just learning more about this amazing culture, we wish you a God Jul! 

Scandification: Discovering Scandinavia.

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