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Christmas For Members

How do Danes celebrate on Christmas Eve?

Emma Firth
Emma Firth - [email protected]
How do Danes celebrate on Christmas Eve?
Presents under a Christmas Tree, ready to be opened the evening of the 24th December. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

Christmas is celebrated on December 24th in Denmark, with present exchanging happening late in the day. Here's all you need to know about a Danish Christmas.

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Christmas Eve (Juleaften) is the date of excitement across households in Denmark. But despite the Christmas celebrations coming a day earlier than in most Anglophone countries, there is a bit of a waiting game, as everything happens in the late afternoon and evening.

Church

The Christmas Eve traditions may start for some families when they attend the afternoon service at church.

Christmas Eve Order of Service A Christmas Eve Order of Service for Tved Church on Funen, Thursday 24th December 2020. Photo: Tim Kildeborg Jensen/Ritzau Scanpix

Television

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Many families will sit down together with a glass of gløgg (a traditional Nordic mulled wine) or hot chocolate to watch the Disney Christmas Show on TV broadcaster DR at 4pm. The Disney classic shown is called From All of Us to All of You, known in Danish as Disneys juleshow.

Food

As in many countries, food is a focal point of celebrating Christmas in Denmark. The Christmas meal (julemiddag) is traditionally eaten in the evening. It consists of roast duck and/or pork, boiled or sugar-browned potatoes, sautéed red cabbage and gravy. The duck is sometimes stuffed with apples and prunes, which are then served separately.

Danish Christmas Eve dinner A traditional Christmas Eve meal in Denmark. Photo: Vibeke Toft/Ritzau Scanpix

An estimated three out of four Danes eat duck on Christmas Eve, while 60 percent eat pork, meaning many eat both.

Dessert is something called risalamande, which is like a rice pudding mixed with whipped cream, vanilla, chopped almonds and served with warm cherry sauce. One whole almond is left in the dessert and whoever finds it wins a present, which is usually a julegris, a chocolate pig with marzipan filling. This game is often fixed so that a child (or children) wins the prize.

READ ALSO: Danish word of the day: Marcipangris

Danish Christmas dessert Risalamande Risalamande with kirsebærsovs. Photo: Vibeke Toft/Ritzau Scanpix

The drink of course involves schnapps, as well as wine and beer, with many opportunities to toast skål and drink some more. 

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

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Dancing around the Christmas Tree

After the meal, the next tradition is to light candles (yes candles, not lights) on the Christmas tree and dance around, holding hands and singing Christmas songs, before moving onto presents. 

Dancing around the Christmas tree Dancing around the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. Photo: Bjarke Ørsted/Ritzau Scanpix

Presents

There are no chimney antics or middle-of-the-night creeping around in Denmark. Father Christmas himself (Julemanden, who may or may not be family member dressed up) comes to deliver presents (gaver) before or after dinner, depending on the level of excitement and patience of the children. 

Father Christmas, Julemand, handing out Christmas presents A family member dressed up as Father Christmas (Julemanden) hands out Christmas presents on Christmas Eve in 1999. Photo: Linda Kastrup/Ritzau Scanpix

It is a long day of waiting for small children but gifts are also given in the run-up to Christmas. Some families give a sizeable present on the four Advent Sundays before Christmas. Others may get a small gift to unwrap each day in December leading up to Christmas. 

With food eaten and presents unwrapped, it will now be quite late and time to sleep it all off. The following day, December 25th, will involve more time with family and more food but the main excitement of Christmas is now over.

How do you say 'Merry Christmas' in Danish?

Jul means Christmas in Danish so to wish someone a Merry Christmas, you simply say god jul or glædelig jul.

READ MORE: My five favourite Danish childhood Christmas memories

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