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My five favourite Danish childhood Christmas memories

Growing up in Denmark has made Christmas a magical time in my childhood memories. Here are five Danish customs I look back on fondly.

My five favourite Danish childhood Christmas memories
File photo: Thomas Lekfeldt/Ritzau Scanpix

The Disney Christmas Show

Christmas always seemed to begin at 4pm on Christmas Eve as the Disney Christmas show flickered on to our TV screen. Everyone in the house put on smart clothes and sat on the sofa with a cup of warm gløgg [traditional Nordic mulled wine, ed.] or hot chocolate.

From All of Us to All of You is known more simply in Danish as Disney juleshow and was first broadcast in Denmark in 1967. The cartoon has become a regular Christmas tradition for many Danes, and for me it remains the sound of Christmas.

Christmas Eve dinner and the excitement about present-opening time

Roast duck, brown potatoes, boiled potatoes, gravy, red cabbage and the ‘Christmas salad’ we invented in my family were the taste of Christmas Eve at my childhood home. The dishes were all arranged in our best china and placed on the Christmas table with its candles and decorations.

READ ALSO: Why do Danes eat duck and pork at Christmas?

It looked and tasted great and very seasonal, but for us kids, it was hard to stay calm and enjoy the food, because we knew what the evening would bring – or at least what we all hoped it would. Gifts are given on the evening of Christmas Eve in Denmark – that can make the day feel long when you’re small.

File photo: Jonas Skovbjerg Fogh/Ritzau Scanpix


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. 

It was always brought to our table in an orange bowl which only ever came out at Christmas: a family heirloom from my grandmother. I remember how the lights from the candles glinted against the colour of the bowl.

Before the adults put anything on their plates, my brothers and I were given ours and began chewing. Our mom had to tell us not to chew too hard or we wouldn’t find the one unchopped almond in the dessert (the one who finds the almond wins a little present). Strangely enough, I found a whole almond in my portion every year – and so did my brothers.

Meanwhile, the adults always ate so much risalamande that they ended up needing to lay down on the sofa.

Dancing around the Christmas tree

Our Christmas tree was decorated by my grandmother, with snowballs in natural designs and pretty angels. The adults took my hands and I remember having to stretch to keep hold – I felt like I was permanently making the ‘Y’ in ‘YMCA’. I can clearly remember the rough feel of my carpenter grandfather’s hand and the whole family going around and around as we faced the Christmas tree.

Suddenly we’d go one way, then the other, then back the other way. My dad always said he was getting dizzy and everyone else laughed.

Danes dancing around the Christmas tree, around 1960. File photo: Åge Sørensen/Ritzau Scanpix

A visit from Father Christmas

Santa always came to our house early on Christmas Eve – and always when my dad had to use the bathroom. There was the loud noise of a knock at the window, then at the next window and the next one. Santa was running around the house! I remember trying to run after the noise and being scared at the same time.

Suddenly a tall man in a red Christmas outfit would be standing in the doorway. He’d walk in and loudly pronounce, “Ho ho ho”! Our guest would be carrying a large bag, speak in a mumbling voice and give the children presents from his sack. One year my brother tugged at the beard, which made me feel very awkward. But Santa didn’t seem to mind.

“There are many children and I must go,” he’d say and head out into the dark. Shortly after, Dad would reappear in the kitchen, checking how the Christmas dinner was coming along.

READ ALSO: How to navigate Danish holiday traffic over the Christmas break

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For members


When are Denmark’s public holidays in 2023?

If you're using your time off to plan some of your holiday activities for 2023, then it's always a good idea to check the dates of the public holidays, and the days they fall on.

When are Denmark's public holidays in 2023?

There are multiple benefits to planning your time off – and your holiday trips – ahead of time.

To start off, you’ll be able to book popular destinations that tend to get fully booked quite quickly (especially if you’re planning on travelling during peak season for tourists).

You’ll also be able to save a lot of money if your time off work involves paying for accommodation or transport – both hotel prices and aeroplane tickets are known to increase as one’s travel date draws near.

Last but not least, planning ahead will help reduce the stress that is usually related to last-minute preparations. So, overall, planning out your holiday time early and having a clear overview of public holidays in Denmark will pay off as early as April – when the Easter holiday season starts.

In this article, we will go through all the public holidays in 2023 and note the days they fall on so that you can plan out all your time off without any doubts.

New Year’s Day: January 1st (Sunday)

In Denmark, there is a host of customs and traditions associated with the celebration of the New Year. You can find out more about them here.

Now that the coronavirus restrictions have been lifted, expect the Danes to go all out when it comes to partying on New Year’s Eve – major cities in particular (like Copenhagen and Aarhus) will be crowded with partygoers once again.

With that in mind, January 1st will mostly be a day of rest, an opportunity for people to sleep in and recover from the celebrations.

Palm Sunday: April 2nd (Sunday)

On Palm Sunday, Christians in Denmark remember Jesus entering Jerusalem. According to scripture, Jesus was greeted by the people waving palm branches on this occasion.

Christians use this opportunity to prepare for Easter celebrations.

While some churches in Denmark will hold services to celebrate this holiday, others will organize processions with believers reenacting Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

You’ll easily recognize this procession as many participants carry palm branches.

Maundy Thursday: April 6th (Thursday)

The Easter period in Denmark includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday. These are national holidays in Denmark when schools are closed, and most people do not work.

Maundy Thursday falls on the Thursday before Easter and marks the beginning of the three days of reflection in the run-up to Easter.

The holiday commemorates the Last Supper, and churches hold services to celebrate the occasion.

Generally speaking, Maundy Thursday is a time for Christians in Denmark to reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice and start seriously preparing for Easter.

Good Friday: April 7th (Friday)

On Good Friday, which falls on the Friday before Easter, Christians in Denmark commemorate the death of Jesus and his crucifixion for the sins of humankind.

Expect churches to hold special services on the occasion that are likely to focus on the parts of the scripture that cover the story of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Easter: April 9th (Sunday)

As one of the most important Christian holidays, Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus.

It is a public holiday in Denmark, and churches mark the occasion with a number of services.

The Christian community in the country celebrates Easter through family gatherings and exchanging Easter gifts.

In Denmark, people often exchange chocolate eggs, Easter baskets, and other traditional gifts with friends and family to mark the special day.

Many Danish families also have big meals (often traditional ones) together.

Easter Monday: April 10th (Monday)

Also a public holiday, Easter Monday is celebrated after the Easter weekend – as a day of rest.

As is the case with Easter, people often tend to spend this day with families and friends.

On this day, the Danes that don’t take part in traditional Easter activities tend to opt for spending time outdoors – walks, hikes, and picnics are all popular options.

Some Danish towns also hold Easter events – usually parades or pop-up markets – to mark the occasion.

Great Prayer Day: May 5th (Friday)

The Great Prayer Day falls on the fourth Friday after Easter; it is a day of national prayer observed by the Christian community in Denmark.

The idea for Great Prayer Day came from Hans Bagger, a Roskilde bishop from 1675 to 1693. Within his first two years of service, he implemented three additional days for praying and fasting into a calendar already full of holy days.

When all of that time spent fasting and praying began to interfere with actually getting things done, some of the lesser days were rolled into one of Bagger’s three additions and Great Prayer Day was born. It was instituted into law by King Christian V in 1686.

The holiday gives everyone who works in Denmark an additional long spring weekend, which many young Danes use to attend their traditional confirmation ceremonies.

Ascension Day: May 18th (Thursday)

On Ascension Day, the Christian community in Denmark commemorates the ascension of Jesus into heaven. The day falls on the 40th day of Easter, and many churches in Denmark hold special services to mark the occasion.

These services often include reading the Ascension story from the Bible, and some congregations even organize processions, during which they reenact the ascension of Jesus.

Christians in Denmark take time to reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus and pray

Whitsunday and Whitmonday: May 28th (Sunday) and May 29th (Monday)

Christian holidays Whitsunday (or Pentecost) and Whitmonday commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles.
The Pentecost holiday falls on the 50th day of Easter.

Many churches in Denmark will mark the occasion by holding special services, often including readings of the Pentecost story from the Bible. Some congregations may also hold processions and reenact the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Overall, Christians in Denmark use Whitsunday as a time to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and reflect on its role in their lives.

The Pentecost holidays allow for a long weekend, which Danes often use to spend some time outdoors.

Christmas Day: December 25th (Monday)

Christmas is celebrated with a number of traditions and customs in Denmark. The celebration of Christmas Eve is particularly important – in fact, it’s more important than Christmas Day itself (as is also the case in Norway).

Many Danish families will gather for a special dinner on Christmas Eve, after which children will get to open their gifts.

Carol singing is also a popular Christmas tradition in Denmark; people often sing them in churches and in the streets.

Expect to see a number of cultural and community events to mark the Christmas holidays, as well as Christmas markets and street decorations in most cities and towns.

Boxing Day: December 26th (Tuesday)

Boxing Day – also known as St. Stephen’s Day – is not a big deal in Denmark.

Some people will exchange gifts and spend time with families on this day. Others may attend church services to mark the occasion.

Note: This year could be the last time we see Great Prayer Day (Store Bededag) on the above list.

The new government wants to abolish one of Denmark’s annual public holidays – most likely to be Great Prayer Day – in a measure it says will enable more spending on defence.

The change would likely take effect in 2024.