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Why do Danes eat duck and pork at Christmas?

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Why do Danes eat duck and pork at Christmas?
Duck, the Danish Christmas number one. Photo: Thomas Borberg/Polfoto/Ritzau
17:05 CET+01:00
Christmas Dinner is associated with some variation of turkey and roast potatoes for millions, particularly in Anglophone countries.

Not so for the Danes, who generally eat duck or pork at Christmas (and their celebrations take place mainly on Christmas Eve, rather than December 25th).

Denmark’s tradition of eating pork is connected to the Scandinavian country’s history as an agricultural society in the 19th century.

Pork was stored in brine by pig farmers and was preferably eaten before spending too long in the salty preserve.

With November the traditional month for pig farmers to slaughter livestock, flæskesteg – the pork roast with thick, salty crackling (flæskesvær in Danish) became a staple of Danish Christmas lunches.

Like households in the English-speaking world, Danes tend to stick to their Christmas traditions, keeping to the same festive routines for decorations, exchanging gifts and raucous work parties known as julefrokoster (Christmas lunches), where roast pork is usually served.

Although it is a Christmas Eve favourite, pork is not actually the most common meat Danes serve at Christmas. That honour goes to duck, which is eaten by an estimated three out of four Danes on December 24th (compared to the 60 percent that eat pork, meaning many actually eat both).

During the 1800s, goose, and later duck overtook pork as the Christmas cut of choice in well-off Danish homes, inspired by German and French yuletide traditions. Farmers in Denmark began to breed and then sell the birds for eating at around the same time of year – partly due to the celebration of Mortens aften in November.


Not turkey: a classic Danish flæskesteg (pork roast) with boiled and sugar-browned potatoes and red cabbage. Photo: Camilla Stephan/Polfoto/Ritzau

Around one in ten Danes partake in turkey at Christmas. Southern Jutland in particular shares the tradition for eating the fowl at Christmas time with the United Kingdom, United States and others.

It’s not just the centrepiece of Danish Christmas dinners that makes them stand out from Christmas lunches in the UK or US.

English-speaking visitors to Denmark are unlikely to find Yorkshire pudding, cranberry sauce or stuffing, not to mention the wide variety of roast vegetables commonly served in other countries. Instead, Danes keep things simple with boiled or sugar-browned potatoes and boiled or sautéed red cabbage, although gravy made from roast juices is a common element.

However you feel about the merits of Danish Christmas dinner, one thing is for certain: dessert is unlikely to be a disappointment.

Risalamande, a cold rice pudding mixed with whipped cream, vanilla and chopped almonds served with a cherry sauce, is thought to be eaten at nine out of ten Danish Christmas dinners. 

READ ALSO: World's biggest aircraft performs Christmas stunt over Denmark and Germany

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