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Christmas

Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

The non-drinkers’s guide to Danish Christmas parties

If you enjoy getting very drunk at Christmas parties, so drunk you can barely find your way home, you will fit in well at the traditional Danish Christmas party.

Alcohol is the blood that flows through Danish Christmas parties, and flows and flows. An evening will probably start off with cocktails – or perhaps some gløgg, hot spiced wine with brandy – then move into plenty of wine with dinner.

After dinner there will be beer, and more wine, and perhaps some more cocktails in between turns on the dance floor.

Even corporate employee Christmas parties are sometimes so wild and soused that people forget themselves with their colleagues and end up in trouble with their partner at home.

So what do you do if you’re invited to a Danish Christmas party and you’re a non-drinker?

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Stories about life in Denmark

Christmas Eve: The Danish Church’s Big Moment

As Christmas Eve approaches, we’re nearing those few magical hours that happen only once a year. Not just when the 24/7 Netto briefly closes…not just when the buses stop running, and the electrical grid hops because everyone turns on their ovens at once….but those precious moments when Danish churches are actually full.

Really full. Needing crowd-control full. Pushing each other out of the way full. Very Christian, loving, I-have-saved-these-seats-for-my-extended-family-and-you-will-just-have-to-sit-somewhere-else full.

A couple of weeks before, there was plenty of room at the inn.

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Stories about life in Denmark

The Christmas tree on the bicycle, and other stories of a bike-only household

Whenever the holiday season approaches, I always think about the time I brought home our Christmas tree on a bicycle.

It was a grey day in late November – we Americans like to start our Christmas decorating early – and my young daughter dearly wanted a tree for our Copenhagen apartment.

So we walked through the snow to the parking lot of a nearby Netto, where a cheerful fellow from Jutland was waiting with a good selection of sweet-smelling pines.

Being a very small girl, my daughter wanted a very big tree. The man spied our shopper bike and looked a little doubtful, but he went ahead and wrapped up one of the largest trees in white plastic netting, and helped us lift it onto the bike.

The trunk was on the baggage carrier in the back, and the top of the tree over the handlebars and into the basket. We walked the bike home that way, with my daughter holding the big pine tree at its center over the seat, while I steered the bike in the right direction.

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Stories about life in Denmark

Small talk with Danes: A few tips ahead of your Julefrokost

Julefrokost season is just around the corner, which means that within the next two months you are likely to be seated at a long, thin table (or unwieldy round table) for many hours next to someone you may or may not have something in common with.

Danes have grown up with this structure, which means they know how to carefully balance a bit of light chatter with a person to their left, a bit more with the person to their right, and perhaps a bit of shouting across the table, over the serving dishes and the hostesses’ favorite centerpiece.

But it can be difficult for newcomers, who are used to a more fluid party structure where people are constantly on the move, and where the bore you are stuck with can be quickly discarded in favor of an old friend you actually like, or someone across the room who might be more entertaining or attractive.

This isn’t allowed in Denmark, where you are committed to one chair and one chair only until the ris allemande comes out.

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Stories about life in Denmark

When American holidays come to Denmark

When I moved from the US to Denmark, I didn’t expect the American holidays to follow me.

But American-style Halloween is everywhere now, having transformed the ancient and dignified Danish allehelgensaften to a full explosion of plastic and candy.

If Wikipedia can be trusted, the American version of Halloween only took off in Denmark in 2000, when Fætter BR began to sell the very first of the polyester princess costumes, zombie makeup sets, and plastic pumpkin-shaped candy baskets that now overwhelm stores beginning in late September.

The production of real pumpkins has soared too, with nearly a million sold every year in Denmark.

My guess is that American-style Halloween has become so popular not just because it references a deep pagan tradition, but because getting ready for it gives the kids something to do during fall vacation.

It is also a convenient three or four months before it’s time to dress up again for Fastelavn.

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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

What to do for Christmas in Denmark when you’re on your own

We’ve talked on the podcast about what to do if you’re spending your Christmas holiday with family and friends – but what if you’re not? What if you’re an international who is alone in Denmark during the holiday season?

This is a topic that is near to my heart, because it was what happened to me when I first arrived in Denmark. It wasn’t Christmastime, it was spring, when the Danish holidays come one after the other.

I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t speak the language, and back then all the stores were closed on holidays. I had to live off hot dogs from the hot dog wagons. So I know what it’s like.

These days supermarkets are open for at least limited hours during the holidays, but not much else is, particularly on the big three days – December 24, 25, and 26. On December 24, the buses even stop running for a few hours so the drivers can be with their families.

So, if you’re alone for Christmas in Denmark, what do you do?

Plan a project in advance

Well, the first thing to do is prepare in advance. Basically, there is not much going on in Denmark between December 23, which is when the stores close after Christmas shopping, and Jan 2, when the normal work week resumes. That’s about 10 days.

So, it’s good to prepare a project. A big box set is good. I recommend the Danish TV series Matador, which is about a rivalry between two families. Danes will tell you that it totally explains Danish culture and thinking.

Other big projects are good too, like cleaning off your computer, or getting your taxes in order. One of the Danes’ favorite ways to shield their income from taxes is making contributions to a pension fund, and the window closes sometime between Christmas and New Year’s, on the last banking day of the year.

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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Gift Giving in Denmark: Package games, almond gifts, and why it’s OK to exchange whatever you get

Like so many other aspects of life in Denmark, gift giving in the holiday season comes with dozens of unwritten rules and unspoken expectations.

Should you give a gift to your boss? What about your colleagues? Will you and your Danish friends exchange gifts? And why does almost every store in Denmark ask if you want a “gift sticker” when you buy something?

Here are a few basic tips about gift giving in Denmark.

Gift giving isn’t the most important thing
First of all, it’s important to emphasize that gift giving is not the most important thing about the holiday season in Denmark. Food is the most important thing, from the roast pork to the caramelised potatoes to the shredded red cabbage to the buttery Christmas cookies.

Alcohol is probably the second-most important.

And neither one is any good without the hygge of being together with your family at Christmas dinner, or your colleagues at the work Christmas lunch, or your football friends at your team holiday party.

Gift giving runs a distant fourth, so don’t get too worried about not choosing the perfect gift. That’s what the “gift sticker” is for – it means the recipient will be able to take your carefully-chosen gift back to the store and exchange it for something they’d like better.

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Stories about life in Denmark

My gift giving tips: Gifts from Denmark for local and faraway friends

I get a lot of questions from the internationals who follow my blog and podcast about gifts from Denmark they can send or bring to friends back home.

Here are a few of my favorite gifts from Denmark that show Danish craftsmanship and Danish style. If you’re ordering from abroad, you’ll probably notice that Danish style comes with Danish prices, which can be hefty. I’ve tried to choose medium-priced, high-quality items.

I should make clear that (regrettably) I’m not getting paid by any of these companies to promote them. I’m just a fan.

(You can read about general Danish gift giving customs in my post Gift Giving in Denmark.)

Source: H Skjalm P Instagram

Danes are world champions at kitchenware
The Danes do kitchenware very well. In particular, I like the colourful cotton aprons, oven mitts, and dishtowels from H. Skjalm P in Copenhagen, and have given matching aprons and mitts to both men and women.

I also like the kitchenware from the Danish brand Eva Solo, which I think is attractively designed and reasonably priced.

I have a lot of Eva Solo stuff in my own kitchen.

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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Danish Christmas #2: The cultural importance of the adult elf hat

I’ve been living in Denmark so long that I sometimes forget what it’s like not to live in Denmark. Specifically, I forget that in most countries, adult men and women don’t want to walk around in an elf hat, even at Christmastime.

Wherever alcohol is served
In Denmark, the red and white elf hat is part of any Christmas activity where alcohol is served, and even a few where when alcohol isn’t served. Children occasionally wear the elf hats, which are called Nissehue in Danish. At my daughter’s school pageant, the girls wear long white gowns and carry candles for the Santa Lucia procession, and the boys wear elf hats.

But you’re more likely to see an elf hat on an adult, quite possibly on your boss or your professor or somebody else you’re supposed to respect. Wearing an elf hat as a grown-up in Denmark is the way to show you’ve got a sense of humor about yourself, that you’re up for a party, that you see the fun in Christmas. Or, that you can see any fun in life at all after four weeks of nonstop grey skies and rain during Danish November.

Elf hats will be out in force during Danish corporate Christmas parties. You’ll see them on the dance floor, and quite possibly see two of them making out in the printer room. Danish corporate Christmas parties get pretty wild, which why furniture movers say their big season is December and January. One half of a couple misbehaves at the Christmas party, and the movers are there the next weekend.

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Stories about life in Denmark

The Two Months of Christmas in Denmark: Holiday drinking starts now

The 12 days of Christmas is an old French Christmas song. But those 12 days have nothing on the Danes, who have more than two months of Christmas, and would probably have it last all the way to spring if they could get away with it.

Little cookies in shops
If you’re here in Denmark right now, you probably saw the Christmas wrapping paper hit the shelves at Netto a couple of weeks ago. That, and the first of the gingerbread Christmas cookies. You’ll notice that a lot of Danish shops put out little dishes of brown Christmas cookies that look like overgrown M&Ms. Pepper nuts, they’re called.

You’re invited to take one, they’re free and they are very tasty. That said, you might not be thinking about all the other little fingers that have touched those cookies. I recommend buying your own pepper nuts and enjoying them at home.

Christmas beer bikinis
Anyway, the official start of the holiday is this week, November 6, when Tuborg rolls out its annual Christmas beer. It’s released at precisely 20:59, and everybody hangs out in bars waiting for it, some specially dressed in blue Christmas beer hats, Christmas beer neckties, or even Christmas beer bikinis.

Christmas beer tastes a lot like regular beer, a little bit sweeter, and a lot stronger. This is why a man I once knew, who was a bit of a wolf, told me that Christmas beer day was the best day of the year to ‘score’ with married women. The beer is very strong.

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