Tips to enjoy Christmas hygge
December, 2020. Many international students are encouraged or required to stay for Christmas in the country they are currently studying in. This is no different to us in Copenhagen, Denmark. With this turn of events, it’s easy to feel sad and homesick. As we suggest it at ESN Copenhagen, even though this Christmas is different, we can still make the most out of the difference. Therefore we have collected some Christmas traditions on how Danish families like to get festive, so you can get some inspiration for trying something new this year.
All the tips are endorsed by our Danish ESN Active Members.
Countdown to Christmas in Denmark!
Due to the typical Danish ‘hygge’, which we obviously all adore, candles are a big thing in Denmark the whole year-round. But for Christmas, some extra attention has been given to these cosy lights. Every year they light the mother of candles at the beginning of December and only light it during supper for a short while. Why, you might ask? Well, this candle is massive and counts down from 1 until 24 in a vertical way. So, every day when the candle is lit, it melts a bit down to the next day. On the 24th, only the very last bottom of the candle is left which then is lit and finished.
What a start to Christmas Eve!
Another - more common - Christmas candle tradition is lighting a candle on every Advent Sunday. This year, Advent started on the 29th of November which is the fourth Sunday before Christmas. After this, an additional candle is lit every Sunday leading to Christmas Eve. It’s already time to light the last one, so get your hygge candles and join the tradition!
Dancing around the Christmas tree? Why not?
It’s a tradition in Danish households to dance around the Christmas tree, holding hands as a family while you sing Christmas songs before you start opening presents. Some families might do this before dinner instead.
What makes the best festive main dish for Christmas?
There is a wide range of options of course, but the most obvious answer might just be the infamous roast duck/pork with caramelised potatoes, which serves as the perfect combination of salty, sweet and savoury! Especially accompanied by a delicate dose of red cabbage. The inclusion of brown gravy sauce is also a must, which goes around the table during dinner, and poses as the perfect dip for chips. In order to serve the most delicious flavour fest, Danes like to stuff the roast dish with apples and prunes, not only to give it pizzazz but to give it that sweet and sour fruitiness that brings out the tasty duck/pork flavour. Completed with the caramelised potatoes, this aesthetically pleasing Christmas dish is definitely in your f(l)avour!
Who is lucky to find the almond?
Although the name may be misleading, ris á la mande is a traditional Danish dessert that families eat at the end of the Christmas dinner. It is made of rice pudding, mixed with whipped cream, and sliced almonds. It is often served with cherry sauce on top. There is a very interesting tradition linked to it: a whole almond is hidden in one of the puddings and whoever finds it, wins a gift! The gift can be anything, but it is normally a little marzipan pig.
Fight for your present like a Viking
When the time comes for the Christmas gift, the Danes don’t joke around. The families, friends get together for the traditional gift-game, the so-called ‘Pakkeleg’ where they play to receive their presents, often very competitively.
There are lots of variations of the game, mainly involved with one to three usually inexpensive presents that all participants bring (the more the merrier) and place it on a table that everyone sits around. At first, two dice go around the table, among the participants with the aim to roll a ‘6’– so you can take a gift from the pile. This goes until all presents are distributed. Then in the second round with a timer set around 20 minutes the dice are still going around with the aim now to either roll a ‘6’ to steal a gift from someone for yourself or roll a ‘1’ to pass a gift from one player to another. The players don’t know when the time is up, so you might be lucky or unlucky at the end. When the time’s up, all participants keep the gifts they collected.
Have you met a Nisse? Danish Christmas wouldn’t be complete without these lovely elves or gnome-like creatures who can be both nice and naughty. If they are nice, they will decorate the shelves and window frames and bring you small gifts each day leading up to Christmas. Typically, the kids will leave them a bowl of Risengrød overnight to satisfy their appetite. In the morning, the children will find the meal was eaten by this elf-kind. But if the Nisse was naughty, they might leave a mess behind!