Lights, Christmas trees, shopping, eating and if you’re lucky, lots of snow. Christmas in Copenhagn is wonderful. Here are some basic facts about this special time of the year in the Danish capital
Every day from the 1st to the 24th of December, Danish children open the windows of their advent calendars to find a small gift; a piece of chocolate or perhaps an inexpensive toy. Whatever it may be, it certainly makes the Christmas countdown a little more bearable!
Christmas in Denmark is celebrated on the 24th of December with a Christmas dinner for the whole family. Gifts are kept under the Christmas tree, around which the family walk hand in hand singing the traditional Christmas songs. It’s called ‘dancing’ around the tree. Presents are traditionally unwrapped after dinner.
The traditional Danish Christmas tree is lit with real candles. Woven between the homemade paper hearts, hanging baskets filled with chocolates and ornate paper stars, strings of tiny Danish flags complete the decoration along with a star in the treetop.
Christmas lunch on the 25th is usually enjoyed at home with friends and family with an enormous cold table that usually includes any tidbits left over from dinner the night before. The following day, Boxing Day, the family can be seen trooping off for a similar gastronomic orgy offered by friends or relatives repaying the hospitality of the previous day. For obvious reasons on these two days shops and offices are closed, although cinemas, museums and places of entertainment are open on December 26th.
‘Nisser’ and ‘risengrød’
Once a year, Denmark is overrun by a host of little folk known as ‘nisser’. You’ll see them everywhere; in shop windows, on the windowsills and walls of every home, and precariously hanging by their fingertips from picture frames.
Nisser are Scandinavian relatives of the pixie and imp. Although having a similar taste in clothing to Santa Claus or Father Christmas, Nisser tend to favour the more practical look, preferring grey trousers (or skirt for Mrs. Nisse), wooden shoes and a long pointed red cap. But watch out! Nisser have a tendency to misbehave if they don’t get their way, and for generations Danish children have been pacifying them with little bowls of risengrød hidden in the attic. In fact the only real proof of the Nissers’ existence is that somehow the porridge is gone the next morning!
Colours of Christmas
Out in the crisp fresh air, Copenhagen’s nights sparkle with tasteful decorations. You won’t see any gaudy coloured lights or plastic Christmas trees here. Twinkling white lights illuminate the outdoor Christmas trees, and suspended across the streets, giant garlands of real spruce surround huge red hearts.
In the town itself, various shops have their own traditional ways to celebrate Christmas. Royal Copenhagen’s showroom at Amagertorv, filled with beautiful porcelain, silver and crystal, is the place to acquire a Christmas plate. It can be a Bing & Grøndahl or a Royal Copenhagen plate. Another tradition started in 1910 is the specially designed (but not inexpensive) holiday dessertspoon and fork. In the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain House, well-known Danes using Royal Copenhagen finery, each year with a different theme, create elaborate Christmas tables.
Denmark was the first country to start decorating Christmas mail with special Christmas stamps. The first ones were introduced in 1904 and profits from the sales have ever since gone towards the four “Christmas Stamp Homes” for underprivileged children. Today, the Christmas Stamp Homes function as a place for children to spend a couple of months recuperating from various trouble and get new inspiration.
Christmas beers and gløgg
Danish breweries add to the spirit of Christmas in their own inimitable ways. As early as a night in mid-November you may see, at one minute to midnight, horse-drawn Tuborg or Carlsberg wagons decked out with garlands and Danish flags delivering the year’s specially brewed Julebryg, or Christmas beer. Almost every Danish brewery now launches a Christmas beer.
Christmas is also the time for gløgg, a potent variant of mulled wine, served steaming hot and heavily spiced with raisins, almonds, cinnamon sticks and cloves steeped in pure aquavit or snaps. It’s just the thing for cheering up a dark and cold day. For Copenhagen’s best gløgg, make your way to Hviids Vinstue. They make theirs from red wine, port, cognac and rum.
Crazy Christmas lunches
Christmas lunch at work means party! Often held in the office, Christmas lunches are notoriously controversial because wives and husbands are rarely invited. Starting in the afternoon and often continuing until dawn the next morning, at the very least lunch can be expected to last seven hours. A traditional Christmas Lunch table could consist of herring in a variety of guises, cold marinated salmon, country style liver pate with crispy bacon, comfit of duck, roast pork, a selection of cheeses and a special Christmas rice pudding, all lubricated with beer and snaps. Because of these Christmas lunches, Fridays in December are heavy party-nights in the city, with all the bars packed.
Those sticking to the old traditions, Christmas lunch begin with risengrød (rice porridge), but increasingly the order is becoming reversed with the rice coming at the end of the meal as a dessert in the form of a Danish speciality dish known as ris à l’amande which is boiled rice swathed in whipped cream and vanilla, mixed with chopped almonds and served cold with a hot cherry sauce. Whether the rice comes first or last, a very old tradition calls for mum to slip in just one unchopped whole almond. Somehow the laws of chance seem always to dictate that this almond will end up on the plate of the youngest child.
Christmas dinner is a serious meal for the Dane. The choice for the main course can be roast pork with crisp crackling, roast duck or roast goose. Now, you can have pork and duck at anytime of the year; what sets the Christmas dinner apart are the special seasonal trimmings – sweet and sour red cabbage is indispensable for Christmas, as are potatoes, either white or with a caramelised sugar glazing drenched in a rich brown gravy.
World Santa Claus Congress
In Copenhagen Christmas starts as early as in July, where the World Santa Claus Congress takes place at Bakken. This is – besides Christmas itself – the most important event for the Father Christmases of the world, and the only time when they can meet. Important issues as better rooftop parking conditions and stronger ropes for roof-elves are discussed during the 4-day congress.
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