Sex, snaps, skål: Danish julefrokost traditions

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Charles Ferro - [email protected]
Sex, snaps, skål: Danish julefrokost traditions
From the sild (herring) to the snaps and the sex, we take one last look – for this season, anyway – at the Danish julefrokost. Photos: Colourbox, Simon Knudsen/Scanpix

You may have caught our ten tips for surviving a Danish Christmas party, but what's behind the weird traditions and wild stories? As the party season rolls on, we explain the foods, drinks and behaviours that you'll encounter at a julefrokost.


The atmosphere crackles with electricity. Women flaunt drop-dead outfits and the nerd in accounting is suddenly a dandy. Sex, food – along with splashes of alcohol - and Rock ‘n’ Roll await. The workday is over and now it’s time for the julefrokost. The Danish word literally means Christmas lunch, an innocent term for what can become a wild holiday office party.
The annual ritual of (over) eating and drinking often astonishes the novice. Fridays up to Christmas are the most common date for a julefrokost. Trying to hail a taxi on these nights can prove near impossible in the hours around midnight as revellers continue to the next watering hole and wallflowers head for home. For many Danes, the time up to and during a julefrokost can be just as exciting as the promise of gifts under a Christmas tree.
Forget about  New Nordic Cuisine – this is down-home food
Although thirsty souls may disagree, food remains the centrepiece of any julefrokost, and the Danish julebord (Christmas buffet) is the easiest, most common way to present a mind-boggling amount of food. 
The classic Danish treats always begin with pickled raw herrings, Scandinavian sushi if you will. Depending upon the host’s ambitions, the selection stretches from a minimum of three to as many as a dozen different types of herring. From there, you eat your way through an overwhelming selection of fish, hot and cold meats, and finally cheese. A delicate light dessert should follow, but it doesn’t. 
Instead, ris à l’amande is the dessert of choice. Basic rice pudding got its fanciful French name – which can be (mis)spelled around seven different ways - after the Danish upper crust of the early 20th century added chopped almonds and topped it with cherry sauce. To add excitement, your hosts may insert a whole almond in one portion. Remember to chew carefully; the person who presents the almond intact gets a present.
And forget the wine while you’re at it – this is beer food
A growing number of Danes have begun to drink wine at a julefrokost. Purists lose their appetites at the notion because wine is definitely not a staple of the traditional Danish table.
What’s more, there are knowledgeable palates who would defy anybody to find a wine that complements pickled herring. Still, as the Danes say: “the herring need to swim in something.” Make it beer. But beware, another Danish beverage will also be on the table.
Snaps, called aquavit or the “water of life”, is what Danes use to breathe real life into the party. There are two good reasons to drink snaps: first, it puts life into the party; second, you novices may be eating such yummy delicacies as pickled herring, blood sausage and head cheese, so you may need something strong.
Learn the proper way to toast your table mates
Skål means “cheers” and is vaguely related to the word skull. The Vikings allegedly drank from the skulls of their enemies, which may tell you something about the company you’re keeping. 
It’s not polite to drink until somebody says skål.  Always skål with somebody like this: lift your glass, look the person in the eye, drink, and look him in the eye again before placing your glass on the table. If you’re looking into four eyes, it’s time to go easy on the booze.
Skål also offers the ideal opportunity to flirt, and here is where trouble starts
During julefrokost season, media unfailingly unleash a barrage of stories, often either accounts of scandalous behaviour or advice on how to avoid it. One tip sheet in a women’s magazine advised on how to resist infidelity. Topping the list was, “Drink less”, wisdom presumably aimed at stereotype blonde readers.
How to subdue jealousy is a common topic as 17 percent of subjects surveyed feel jealousy when their partner attends a julefrokost. There may be good reason: as many as one in ten has admitted to julefrokost infidelity at some point. One very logical tip we spotted was to take preemptive physical action with one’s party to reduce urges that may arise as they are alone at the party. Follow up tip: hint that the same reward awaits after the ball.
Ask the Dane on the street and you will get some steamy anecdote about a julefrokost, even if it isn’t based on personal experience. But if you dig deeper, you’ll get the sober truth about these bacchanalian marathons: the vast majority of Danes eat a lot, drink until they get a little blush on the cheeks, and then head for home sweet home.
Charles Ferro is a freelance copywriter and seasoned julefrokost veteran. He specializes in lifestyle and travel.



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