Danish word of the day: Julemanden

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
Danish word of the day: Julemanden

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash and Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

Today’s word comes bearing Christmas cheer.


What is julemanden?

Ho, ho, ho!

Jul (similar to “yule”) means Christmas, and manden is the definitive article of mand, “man”.


In Danish, there’s no need to worry about whether to call him Santa, Father Christmas or St. Nicholas: the man who flies his sleigh across the world to deliver gifts and joy in the festive season is simply “the Christmas man”.

Why do I need to know julemanden?

It’s actually an assumption to consider julemanden as one and the same mythical figure as Santa.

Some of the Danish Santa storytelling does in fact differ from what you might have heard in Anglophone countries: he lives at the North Pole (not Lapland) and delivers presents around dinner time on Christmas Eve, rendering the “coming down the chimney” part of his magic somewhat obsolete in Denmark.

Meanwhile, elves – nisser in Danish – are generally more prominent in children’s Christmas tales in Denmark.

In the end, there’s no escaping the fact that julemanden is Santa: the Catholic Saint Nicholas, patron saint of sailors, merchants and children.

As the many histories of Santa will tell you, Saint Nicholas’ name day is December 6th, and the Dutch Christmas tradition of “Sinter Klaas”, a cap-wearing man who came down the chimney with gifts for the children on that date, evolved into the modern Santa Claus popularised in the United States and transported back to Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The name “Father Christmas”, popular in the United Kingdom but not used in the US, has its roots in much older midwinter traditions which can be traced to pagan folklore in England, but the figure eventually became one and the same as Santa.

In German, Santa is called Weihnachtsmann, and Swedish and Norwegian also have their own versions that are similar but not identical to Danish: Jultomten and Julenissen.

Given the various names and origins, the all-encompassing julemanden seems an apt title for the magical and jolly fellow who appears on Christmas Eve, jingle bells, red-nosed reindeer and all.


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