Christmas For Members

Julefrokost: Denmark’s work Christmas party tradition explained

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
Julefrokost: Denmark’s work Christmas party tradition explained
What to expect if you are invited to a Danish julefrokost? Photo: Thomas Lekfeldt/Ritzau Scanpix

The arrival of December means 'Julefrokost' season is officially underway in Denmark. Here's what you need to know about the Danish Christmas party tradition.


What is a julefrokost?

julefrokost, or "Christmas lunch", is a traditional Danish gathering with your co-workers. The event typically includes dinner, typically in the form of a buffet; drinks (lots of them); and eventually dancing and possibly other escapades you may or may not regret in the morning. 

The festive gathering is not just hosted by employers. Clubs, universities and even banks will also hold a julefrokost for their members (don’t expect the latter to host anything at the rowdy end of the scale). But if you're signed up for lots of clubs, activities, and hobbies, you can expect a packed social calendar over Christmas. 

The tradition of the Christmas party may have wholesome roots, but in the modern day, the julefrokost's reputation has become more coloured. Seeing as the wicked-strength Aquavit (schnapps) and deceptively-smooth gløgg (mulled wine) typically flow like water during the festive event, embarrassing oneself at a Christmas table is something many Danes have shared reddened cheeks over. 

When is it?

Some companies schedule their Christmas parties in late November or even in January. Employers know how busy people are around the holidays and will therefore often try to pick a date where the most people can attend.

Although this date sometimes ends up outside the few festive weeks leading up to Christmas in December, the most common and popular season for the julefrokost is in early December, when Christmas spirit has set in but still far enough away from Christmas Eve for work festivities not to encroach on family commitments.

A Christmas table can take place at your work, at a restaurant, at an employee's home, or at an event space. This is likely to depend on the company's budget for the event. Typically, though, a bar or restaurant is to be expected. 


What should I wear?

Julefrokost attire is an exception to the Danish rule of casual dress. You may wear jeans and a T-shirt at the office, but don't expect to show up in that casual office wear at a Christmas party and not get a few stares.

Typically, men wear shirts or a nice suit jacket. If you want to impress with a flourish, add a bow tie. A normal tie is also a nice touch. Women usually go glam and opt for glitter, sparkles and jewellery. 

What happens?

Upon entering the venue for the julefrokost (and be sure to do so on time), you can make a good first impression by shaking everyone’s hand and looking them in the eye. If it’s a big company and you don’t know them, say your first name and they will say theirs. This can feel incredibly awkward but it’s nevertheless the done thing.

Once the opening pleasantries and hand-shaking conclude, you’ll be guided to the dinner table.


Danish dinner parties often involve very long spells of sitting, but the julefrokost can take this to a new level. If it’s a larger party and you missed shaking a hand or two at entry, make sure you shake hands with those sitting in your immediate vicinity. After all, you’re going to be next to them for a long time.

When you sit down, you’re likely to find one plate stacked upon the other. That’s because there are rules about the order in which things are eaten and the proper combination of foods. Piling up your first plate with meat and sides is a real rookie mistake. That top plate is for the fish.

What’s on the menu?

There are variations including more modern, vegan-friendly menus, but the classic julefrokost begins with pickled herrings and other fish dishes. Depending upon the host’s ambitions, the selection stretches from a minimum of three to as many as a dozen different types of herring.

From there, you eat your way through a large selection of fish, hot and cold meats (including flæskesteg, roast pork, and frikadeller, meat balls), and finally cheese. 

The most common dessert is risalamande, a Danish take on French rice pudding sweetened and flavoured with vanilla and chopped almonds, and doused in warm cherry sauce. Spoiler alert: it’s delicious and you'll probably eat too much. To add excitement, your hosts may insert a whole almond in one portion. Remember to chew carefully: the person who finds the intact almond gets a present.


When does the fun start?

julefrokost standard is the pakkeleg game, in which every guest brings a wrapped present that usually costs no more than 50 kroner. The presents are put in the centre of the table and then you take turns rolling dice. Roll a six and you get a present.

While that sounds innocuous enough, things ratchet up to a new level in round two (keep in mind how many schnapps and glasses of wine have probably been downed by this point).

In this round, when you roll a six you get to take someone else’s present, leading to all sorts of scheming and plotting that inevitably ends with everyone opening the presents they fought so hard for only to realise that it's mostly useless knick-knacks, purchased from Normal or Tiger on the morning of the party.

By the time this part of the julefrokost is over and the dessert plates have been cleared, all bets are off. The schnapps, juleøl (Christmas beers) and wine will be flowing and chaos may ensue.

When should I leave?

Leave when you like! However, you might want to stay until after dessert is finished to avoid being rude to the party's planners. And remember, if you have enjoyed the sparkly cocktails and champagne at the party, make sure you have arranged for a safe way to get home.

Sign off with a tak for i aften (“thanks for tonight”) and god jul (“Happy Christmas”) as you leave – unless you’re trying for a discrete exit.


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