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~~~ 12 Ways of Christmas ~~~ A Christmas voyage of discovery with Louise Marsh

The 1st way of Christmas

Glædelig jul! – Find out why the Danes go nuts for Christmas

T’is the 1st of December and thus the beginning of the festive season (even though the bombardment of Christmas commercialism might suggest otherwise). So to kick-start the festive cheer I will be taking you today, dear Reader, on a journey across the British Isles, across the European continent and perhaps even across the globe on a Christmas voyage of discovery to see if other Christmas-celebrating countries and cultures have any quirky, fun or just downright bizarre Christmas traditions. This journey will take us some time to complete as we will be stopping in a different country each day, so follow my daily excursions in my mini-series ’12 Ways of Christmas.’

Today we will be starting our journey with a country close to my heart, so come with me now as we take a peek into the Scandinavian folkloric traditions of Denmark.

Every year since the age of about 8 or 9, when I became part of a bigger extended family I have celebrated Danish Christmas with my crazy Danish kin. We always celebrate it on what they call Little Eve (the 23rd December) because it’s the date most of the family can do. There isn’t a huge amount of difference between their Christmas and ours, we still do presents, have a Christmas tree, sing, be merry and eat a big roast dinner! But the style of execution is very unique.

Firstly, we eat Risengrød before the roast dinner as a sort of starter. This is essentially a Danish-style rice pudding, but it’s left to slow cook sometimes up to two days at the bottom of the bed wrapped in quilts (I still don’t fully understand the science to this so I shall put it down to Christmas magic). Traditionally the reason this was eaten before the roast dinner was because in olden days when times and means were a bit tougher, everyone would fill up on rice pudding because the roast dinner wouldn’t be as a big a feast back then as it is now. What’s special about Risengrød however is that it’s a game as well as a tummy-filler! One almond is stirred into the Risengrød before serving for one lucky person to find. As the Risengrød is dished out, we all put a slab of butter on it and some cinnamon sugar to give it yummy Christmas flavouring, and tuck in! But you have to eat it cautiously because you don’t want to accidentally swallow the almond nut! It’d be like Charlie throwing away his golden ticket because he didn’t check the wrapping! So why are all the Danes so nutty about finding the almond? Well, if you find it you win a prize! Traditionally the prize is a marzipan pig. Yes you read that correctly. Basically marzipan sculpted to look like a pig! [1] Nowadays, it’s not necessarily a marzipan pig but a prize more relevant to the era/family member. Either way its great fun and Risengrød is amazing! With our Risengrød we drink special Danish Christmas Beer, because the Danes do love a good drink or many!

After we’re fully stuffed turkeys on fully stuffed turkey, we gather round the Christmas tree for the next main event: the Christmas tree (and presents too). In Danish households they like to be authentic, which includes having real candles on the real Christmas tree. For health and safety conscious Brits (my dad as a prime example) this is quite a hazard to wrap your head around, but it’s not the cause of most 999 fire related emergencies at Christmas (only some). In fact, the Danes, with their ever-clever mind for design have engineered special non-drip candles for this specific event which my mormor [2] buys in preparation for Christmas every year. When it comes time to opening presents [3] we light all the candles on the tree first. Then we each take turns to find a present from under the tree to give to someone else. [4] Once all the presents have been handed out we wait for the last candle to burn out (and traditionally, if there was more room in my mormor’s living room we would dance around the Christmas tree holding hands and singing songs, but we just do the song-singing part). After that, like most families at Christmas we just get very drunk and merry and maybe squeeze in some Christmas pud if we have room!

Oh and one more thing to mention about Glædelig jul: during the run up to Christmas, have you ever noticed that sometimes things go missing? Or sometimes things seemed to have miraculously moved place, as if someone’s running around causing mischief and more stress for you over this busy period? Well what if I told you that there really was something causing mischief and that thing had a name: Nisse! These cheeky little chappies are kind of like naughty elves who go around creating mischief and playing pranks during the festive season. So in a few weeks’ time when you’re frantically trying to wrap presents and the scissors mysteriously disappear, I assure you, it’s the mischievous workings of the Nisser.

[1] Non-Christmas related Danish Fact: Pig farming is one of the biggest industries in Denmark.

[2] This is Danish word for Grandmother (literally translates as mother’s mother)

[3] Fun fact: The traditional way of wrapping presents in Denmark is to use only wrapping paper and ribbons! No cellotape allowed! My mormor does it to perfection every year but I’ve never quite mastered it.

[4] I’m not sure if this is a legitimate Danish rule or if it’s just the rules of my family, either way it’s a nice moral.

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