Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

New Year’s Eve traditions in Denmark

It’s almost Week 1, in the weekly numbering system that’s widely used in Northern Europe, where the year starts with week 1 and runs through to Week 52 or 53, depending on the calendar.

It’s very efficient for planning, so you don’t have to say something messy like “What about that week that starts Monday June 3…” Week 1 starts on January 1, and everything follows that in perfect order.

But before that we have New Year’s Eve, a day that fills me with trepidation to be honest, because in Denmark, New Year’s Eve is all about amateur fireworks.

Cannonballs, Roman Candles, Ding Dongs, Triple Extremes – these are what you can purchase to set off yourself in a local parking lot, terrifying any nearby dogs or cats.

Having a family member in the hospital business, I can’t help but think that today, December 26, there are a few amateur fireworks fans who have perfectly well-functioning eyes and fingers who won’t have them on January 2.

Denmark’s national sport

New Year’s Eve, December 31, is a de facto public holiday. Banks and many shops are closed.

Danes are tired after their busy Christmas season, and those few work days before the end of the year spent frantically shoveling money into their pension plan and other legal maneuvers to cut down on their income taxes, the Danish national sport.

Queen’s Speech at 6pm

So, New Year’s Eve celebrations start at 6pm, when the Queen gives her annual speech, live.

To the uninitiated, this looks like a woman sitting at a desk reading from a pile of papers – she refuses to use a TelePrompter – but it’s all been intricately planned, from the clothes to the jewelry to the flowers to the text itself that reflects the themes and priorities of the year gone by.

There’s even a website that gives odds on which words and themes will appear.

Loose papers

The Queen now keeps her pile of papers together with a paper clip.

In past years, she left them loose, and on one particular occasion they got out of order on air, and she had to desperately search through them to find her place.

The comedian Ulf Pilgaard, a large man who dressed up as a colorful burlesque imitation of the Queen, used to make this incident part of his act, throwing papers up in the air like Harpo Marx.

Just as an aside, when this comedian who imitated the Queen retired last year, the Queen herself showed up at his final performance and shook his hand.new year's eve

Having such a good sense of humor about herself is why the Queen is so beloved, even by people who do not really like the monarchy.

Some Danes even stand up to watch the Queen’s speech on TV. It always ends with Gud Bevare Danmark, God Protect Denmark.

Marzipan wreaths

After the speech, it’s dinner time, followed by a very sweet cake called kransekage – which translates to “wreath cake.” It’s made of a lot of rings delicately placed on top of each other, in a little tower. There’s lot of marzipan involved in this cake. I’m not a marzipan fan myself, but if you are, you’ll like this cake.

After the cake, the Danes begin drinking in earnest, until shortly before midnight, when it is traditional to watch an old black and white comedy skit from the 1940s.

It’s called “Dinner for One”, or sometimes “Same Procedure as Last Year”. It’s a slapstick skit, in British English, about an old lady dining alone and her butler, who pretends he is all sorts of different dinner guests.

This short film is popular all over Northern Europe but not all that popular in Britain itself. Go figure. Anyway, it’s about 20 minutes long and it makes Danish people very happy, so I generally just go with it.

City Hall Tower

OK, now it’s time for the countdown to the new year. The national TV channels will play an image of the clock on City Hall Tower in Copenhagen. At this time a few Danish traditionalists will get up on chairs or sofas so they can jump off into the new year just as the clock ticks twelve.

Happy New Year!

It’s time to go outside and set off those amateur fireworks, which will make the whole country seem like a war zone until 2am or 3am. Do me a favor and wear safety glasses and safety gloves while you set off those rockets and roman candles. It’s dark, no one will see you.

Quiet New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day itself is slow in Denmark. People nurse their hangovers, watch the annual political speech by the prime minister, maybe take a family walk in nature.

Meanwhile outside Copenhagen City Hall, the fireworks and party residue are being cleaned up by a volunteer team from the country’s oldest Muslim organization.

I’ve always thought that was a really nice initiative. Muslims are some of the only people in Denmark guaranteed not to have a hangover on New Year’s Day.

Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like