I thoroughly enjoy all of the festivities around a Danish Christmas and, now she’s old enough to begin to appreciate them, I’m looking forward to introducing my daughter to our Christmas traditions.
Although there are plenty of parties in the leadup to Christmas, festivities proper begin on 24 December, Christmas Eve, when families get together to eat a huge meal and give presents.
This year, my family will come to Mallorca, which is a great reason to teach my daughter more about her Danish heritage. We bought and decorated a Christmas tree – a first for me – and made our home festive.
Instead of Father Christmas, we have Julemanden or Yule Man, a character rooted in Danish mythology but who only began to appear after WWII.
Before then, we had Nissefar, Nissekongen or Julenissen who was similar to Father Christmas but slightly different. Nisser are elves who are just as likely to bring disaster as they are good fortune.
Julenissen’s role was to bring families good fortune, including presents for children, so he would have to be treated nicely. Traditionally, some form of porridge – oatmeal – would be left in the family attic for Julenissen as this was where he supposedly lived.
If Julenissen felt that he had been treated well enough, he would bring good fortune and presents.
As winter in Denmark is long and dark, candles play a large part in how we decorate our homes.
Along with advent calendars with chocolate behind every little door, some houses have a kalenderlys, a gigantic candle with the numbers one to twenty-four down the side. Every day we burn the candle down to the next number.
There are also calendar TV series with 24 episodes that run from the beginning of December to Christmas Eve. My daughter and I have been watching these. She has an advent calendar as well and I have been rationing out a piece of chocolate every day.
It was also traditional to have real candles on the Christmas tree although, nowadays, most people probably use electric lights for safety.
After we’ve eaten the Christmas feast on the 24th, it’s traditional for Danes to walk or dance around the Christmas tree a few times singing songs that can be either hymns or popular songs. This is supposedly to give Julemanden time to deliver the presents but it’s probably also to walk off some of that feast.
It’s good fun for the kids too and tests their nerves as it’s the last thing standing in the way of them being able to open their Christmas presents.
As gløgg – hot, spiced wine – is consumed in large quantities on Christmas Eve, it’s a good idea not to walk too fast around the tree.
Unlike other countries, Danes begin eating seriously for Christmas early in December.
Our Christmas dinner is called the Julefrokost and we’re likely to eat it several times before Christmas.
A traditional Julefrokost will be roast pork, red cabbage, caramelised potatoes, herring, and a whole lot more. Dessert will be risalamande, a delicious rice pudding made with vanilla and almonds served cold with hot cherry sauce poured on top.
My family is coming to Mallorca for Christmas so we’ll be making our own risalamande for sure. We may even make aebleskiver, delicious ball-shaped pancakes eaten on these days around Christmas.
It’s common to have a Julefrokost meal with your workmates, with school friends, with friends from university, with friends from your sports club and with [insert social grouping of your choice]. Some years, I’ve had seven or eight of these lunches before Christmas Eve.
As they’re also occasions for serious drinking which may include quaffing strong Christmas beer like Tuborg’s Julebryg and of course some good, Scandinavian Snaps, you can imagine the colossal hangovers that ensue.
Fortunately, this year I’ve only had to go to one Julefrokost with my friends in the Danish community here in Mallorca. We had this in November so we could recover in time for Christmas Eve.
As I began by saying, Christmas this year will be very much about my daughter and her Danish family. Now she’s growing older, I’m keen for her to know about her heritage. My dream is for to attend a Danish højskole or folk high school when she comes of age, as I did. Højskole are beautiful institutions.
Until then, I’ll be introducing her to our traditions of eating gigantic amounts, enjoying presents, Julemanden and the warmth and love of her Danish family. And maybe Julemanden will answer her letter.