It is that time of the year. The city is more colorful, you find decorations on many streets and the atmosphere feels merrier than usual. Almost every building you enter into is decorated and most shops seem to have one gift item or the other on display. Yes, you guessed right!! It’s the Christmas season. While it might be unusual, in other countries, to find Christmas decorations and other paraphernalia displayed everywhere before the calendar actually says December, it is quite a ‘thing’ in Denmark, to begin to see these from early November. Does this imply that Danes just can’t wait for it to be Christmas already? Well, I’ll have to say your guess is as good as mine.
For almost everyone in Denmark, Christmas season equates to attending quite a number of Christmas lunches/parties, better known as Julefrokost. For the uninitiated (i.e. if you are relatively new in Denmark), it could be quite a challenge trying to imagine what a Julefrokost is like, but not to worry, I got you covered. Here are a few things of note.
Probably one of the first things everyone immediately begins to ponder when invited to a party is the question of what to wear. I mean, seriously, what’s the fun in attending a party without wearing some form of costume or the other? In this case, a Christmas party, so it only makes sense to wear a Christmas costume. While a Christmas costume might constitute a ponderous situation for the less fashion-adept, the good news is that there is a simple solution. In my experience, I find that wearing an elf hat on top of whatever you have chosen to go with, works very well. While it might seem strange (depending on what part of the world you come from), an elf hat is the safe option. You are sure to find a lot of people decked in their elf hats, as well as other Christmas-signifying accessories during a Christmas party in Denmark, so do not worry about the prospect of looking awkward donning one.
Singing Christmas songs and dancing around the Christmas tree
Witnessing this the first time, I found it a bit puzzling. That was due, in part, to the fact that the songs being sung were in Danish and that everyone was going round the Christmas tree. Were you to attend a Julefrokost, the song you most probably will be singing while going round the Christmas tree is “Nu er det jul igen”. In order to save oneself the awkwardness of lip-syncing, it might be a good idea to memorize the lyrics of this song. Okay, yes! That might be quite a struggle, but making the effort doesn’t hurt (or does it?). Here is a youtube clip that should help you get started.
At a typical Julefrokost, you would have a menu consisting of boiled potatoes (no surprises there), roast pork, lamb, duck, herring, rugbrød, gravy, pickled cabbage and other veggies, amongst others. In addition to the boiled potatoes, there would very likely be caramelized potatoes (potatoes cooked in butter and sugar syrup) and these, in case you have never tried them, are simply sumptuous! In the event that you are confused as to where to start, be aware that it is customary to start with the bread and the herring before moving on to the rest of the menu. I will have you know also, that any plans of adopting an eat-little policy is doomed to fail at a Danish Christmas party. There is just always such a plethora of food options on the table that one bite turns to two, then three and the rest is history. In fact, it is not uncommon to hear people recount their food-hangover experience the day after a Christmas dinner, but then, too much food can’t be a bad thing, right?
Usually, dessert is “risalamande” (actually, ris à l’amande), which is rice pudding with whipped cream, vanilla, almonds and a cherry sauce (amazing stuff). It is customary to have all of the almonds in the pudding chopped into smaller pieces, except one. After everyone has got their portion, a silent competition (you can call it: who has the whole Almond?) ensues. Whoever finds the whole, unchopped almond in their pudding gets a prize from the hosts.
Lots of Alcohol
If you have been in Denmark for a while now, this should not come as a surprise to you. You would really struggle to find any activity in Denmark that doesn’t involve alcohol consumption, and Christmas parties are no exception. Here, instead of the regular beers, you would most likely find the limited-edition Christmas variants, called the ‘Julebryg’ (translated- Christmas brew). Apart from the Julebryg, there are two other drinks that are somewhat peculiar to Christmas in Denmark: ‘Gløgg’ and ‘Snaps’. It is almost accurate to say that you cannot claim to have attended a Christmas party in Denmark if you haven’t tried those two. Gløgg (mulled wine), usually made from red wine, sugar, almonds, cinnamon and raisins could either be served hot or warm; is quite popular and ever-present at most parties during Christmas season. Likewise, and even more popular, is snaps: a very strong alcoholic drink, which could have a number of different flavors and usually served in tiny shot glasses. While there are different flavors of snaps you could have available during a Julefrokost, the ones I have found most frequently are: licorice snaps, chili snaps and the honey snaps. Many people I know say the honey snaps taste great, and I also think it is a total winner, but of course, you might have other preferences after trying out the different options. As a rule of thumb, it comes across as socially awkward (and that’s putting it mildly) to refuse an offer of a shot of snaps during a Julefrokost, in fact some would consider it serious faux pas to do so. So, when you do attend one, be sure to try out the snaps.
This is one of my favorite activities during every Julefrokost. After the roast pork, herring, potatoes and all what not, including dessert, have been downed; you should expect that Pakkeleg is the next thing on the agenda. It is a game played by everyone and it involves wrapped gifts and the rolling of a dice. This, of course, means you should bring along a gift when attending a Julefrokost (but you knew that already, right?), usually something not expensive, though you might want to make an effort to wrap it in an attractive way.
The game usually starts with everyone placing their gifts at the middle of the table and then a timer starts for a pre-determined number of minutes. As long as the timer is still running, everyone who rolls a six on the dice gets to pick a gift off the gift pile, until all the gifts are taken and/or the time set is up. Afterwards, there is a second round, during which anyone who rolls a six gets to take other people’s gift, which they obtained in round 1. So, depending on how lucky you are on the night, you could either go home with a number of gifts or none at all, and yes, it sometimes gets a little feisty during the game since everyone wants the most attractive-looking gifts. Overall the game is such good fun, and of course, rules different from those described here could be used, though it would generally be, more or less, the same concept.
In conclusion, Christmas season is such a great time to be in Copenhagen because there is guaranteed to be a lot happening on the social side of things. So, if you happen to be relatively new in Denmark and have got invited to a Julefrokost, you hopefully now have a better idea of what to expect. Till I come your way again, have a merry Christmas season.