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Danish word of the day: Julekalender

Advent calendars in Denmark come in all shapes, sizes and formats.

What is a julekalendar?

Julekalender is a relatively straightforward word to decipher. It’s a compound of the Danish words for Christmas (jul) and calendar (kalender). Put together, they mean Christmas calendar, but more accurately translate to advent calendar.  

As with most advent calendars, they begin on December 1st and end on the day when the country celebrates Christmas. In Denmark, this is Christmas Eve, December 24th. 

What really sets Danish Christmas calendars apart from the rest is that they don’t just come in the form of little boxes containing chocolates or small gifts. 

They also come in other formats, most notably the Scandinavian tradition of julekalender televisiona shows. Norway, Sweden and Denmark all these popular festive mini-series, with short episodes which are broadcast each day and are aimed at adults and children alike. 

Why do I need to know julekalendar?

These short blasts of Christmas cheer are a much-loved tradition in Denmark, and many will watch the advent show they grew up with every year into adulthood. 

You might have heard of some of the more famous ones including Jul på Vesterbro, Jesus og Josephine and Alletiders jul.

By far the most famous though is The Julekalender, produced and performed by comedy writing trio De Nattergale in 1991. Some of the characters (the nisser or elves, to be specific) speak in an invented and very funny blend of English and Danish. As a result, the series became very quotable and has become a staple part of Christmas culture in Denmark.

Public broadcaster DR shows classic and new julekalendere on its website each Christmas. 

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Danish word of the day: Idræt

A sporty word that doesn’t quite mean “sport”, but does tell us something about shared Scandinavian identity.

Danish word of the day: Idræt

What is idræt?

Idræt means “sports” even though the word sport exists in Danish. 

In modern Danish, you’ll most likely hear it as the name of a school subject (the equivalent of P.E.), but idræt has been around since the nineteenth century and comes from the Icelandic íþrótt, which also means “sport”. 

The Icelandic íþrótt originated in the Old Norse íþrótt (“art, craft, skill, sport”) which is itself a compound of  (“work, diligence, id”) and þrótr (“bravery, strength, powers”).

So why not just sport? Well, simply put, sport is not Scandinavian in origin. The English word “sport” comes from the Old French desportdeport which meant “game, amusement” – think of the games in Olympic Games. 

Íþrótt was instead borrowed from Icelandic as a more Nordic alternative to the English-French sport during the heyday of a movement called Nordism, which stemmed from Scandinavism, also known as Scandinavianism or pan-Scandinavianism. 

Why do I need to know idræt?

So what was Scandinavism? In short, it is the idea that the Scandinavian countries should be closer, perhaps even one country. The movement was primarily literary, linguistic and cultural, promoting a shared Scandinavian cultural heritage.

Scandinavism was started by Danish and Swedish university students in the 1840s, in the southern Swedish region of Skåne, and paralleled the unifications happening in Italy and Germany during the same period. It lost its momentum after Denmark lost the Second Schleswig-Holstein War in 1864 and the King of Sweden and Norway declined to help the Danes in the conflict.

The movement also promoted the close relation of the Scandinavian languages, although not necessarily a new common “Scandinavian” language.

It should be noted here that Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are considered mutually intelligible, although any Swede spending a weekend trying to talk to Danes in Copenhagen may disagree with that assessment.

Nevertheless, some linguists go as far as to say the three are a language continuum, or in other words, dialects of the same language: the North Germanic Dialect Continuum.

Icelandic and Faroese are different enough to be regarded as separate languages, but they should perhaps also be included as belonging in terms of culture.