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CHRISTMAS

How do Danes celebrate on Christmas Eve?

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.

Presents under a Christmas tree
Presents under a Christmas Tree, ready to be opened the evening of the 24th December. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

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

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?

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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For members

WORKING IN DENMARK

How many public holidays does Denmark have compared to other countries?

Denmark’s government wants to reduce the number of public holidays on the national calendar by one from 2024 onwards. But does the Nordic country have more or fewer days off than other countries in Europe?

How many public holidays does Denmark have compared to other countries?

The Danish government wants to abolish springtime public holiday Great Prayer Day in a move it says will enable increased spending on defence. A bill was tabled by the government earlier in January.

The policy has met with criticism, but how do Denmark’s public holidays stack up against other countries?

Denmark has 10 national public holidays, including some which always fall on a weekend. Up to 4 extra may be given depending on the sector you work in, your employer and collective bargaining agreement (if a trade union member).

If the holiday falls on a weekend, no substitute day is given.

The holidays are: January 1st (New Year’s Day); Maundy Thursday; Good Friday; Easter Monday; Great Prayer Day; Ascension Day; Whitsunday; Pentecost; December 25th (Christmas); December 26th (Boxing Day).

If the plan to abolish Great Prayer Day is adopted, it will take effect from 2024, so you’ll still be able to enjoy the holiday in 2023 at least.

Some industries also have May 1st (Labour Day) as a day off, while June 5th (Constitution Day) is a holiday for banks and government workers, with most shops closed too by law, but this is optional for the private sector.

Christmas Eve (December 24th) and December 31st (New Year’s Eve) are not public holidays, but many employers treat them as such.

READ ALSO: When are Denmark’s public holidays in 2023?

Even before Great Prayer Day is scrapped, Denmark rarely comes out on top when comparing the number of public holidays to other countries in Scandinavia and Western Europe.

Norway, like Denmark, has 10 national public holidays including some which may fall on a weekend.

Norway does not mark Great Prayer Day, which is unique to Denmark, but does celebrate both Labour Day and the national day, May 17th, as public holidays. If the holiday falls on a weekend, no substitute day is given in Norway.

Sweden has nine national and three extra ‘de facto’ public holidays. If the holiday falls on a weekend, you do not get an extra weekday in lieu.

People in Sweden get January 6th (Epiphany) off work and also celebrate Labour Day as a holiday on May 1st.

Midsummer’s Eve, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve are not national public holidays in Sweden, but the majority of employers treat them as such. 

In many Swedish workplaces or collective bargaining agreements, there are additional public holiday policies. The most common include a half-day before certain public holidays (Epiphany, Walpurgis and All Saints’ Eve), or ‘bridge days’, so that if a public holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, the Monday before or Friday after is given as an extra day off.

Germany has 9 national public holidays, including some falling on a weekend, and up to 13 regionally. If the holiday falls on a weekend, no substitute day is given.

German public holidays include German Unity Day on October 3rd and Labour Day on May 1st.

Many states have extra holidays including, but not limited to January 6th (Epiphany) in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Saxony-Anhalt; March 8th (International Women’s Day) in Berlin and October 31st (Reformation Day) in a number of states across the country.

The United Kingdom has between 8 and 10 public holidays (also known as bank holidays) during the course of the year, depending on which country you’re in.

Northern Ireland has more public holidays (10) than England, Scotland and Wales (all 8). Scotland’s bank holidays are not exactly the same as those in England and Wales.

In 2023, the UK will have an additional bank holiday for the coronation of King Charles III. Last year saw two extraordinary bank holidays related to the monarchy: one in June for Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee, and one for the Queen’s state funeral in September.

Unlike many other countries, the UK is accommodating if a bank holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday. In such cases, a ‘substitute’ weekday becomes a bank holiday, normally the following Monday.

France has 11 public holidays – or 13 in the historic Alsace-Lorraine region. However, if the holiday falls on a weekend, in general no substitute day is given, so the actual number of extra days off that French workers get varies from year to year.

There is also the curious case of Pentecost, which for some people is a public holiday and others an opportunity to work without getting paid. Yep, you read that right

So are there any nearby countries which actually have fewer public holidays then Denmark?

In Switzerland, there are only 4 public holidays nationally and the Swiss communes with the fewest paid public holidays have only 5 in total. However, there are up to 16 regionally.

If the holiday falls on a weekend, the Swiss do not get an extra weekday in lieu.

Several public holidays are marked by a majority of regions, but not quite all. These include Good Friday, Easter Monday, Pentecost and All Saints’ Day.

Some other public holidays are marked by multiple regions, and some cantons have their own holidays, including March 1st (Republic Day) in Neuchâtel; June 23rd (Jura Independence Day) in Jura; and June 29th (Feast of St Peter and St Paul) in Graubünden and Ticino. A few local communes also have additional public holidays.

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