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Danish/Scandinavian Christmas

 

A Danish Christmas. 

Glaedelig Jul – Happy Christmas. 

God Jul – Good Christmas. 

Glaedelig Jul og Godt Nytar – Happy Christmas and Good New Year. 

          Christmas is the main festival celebrated in Denmark, with the whole of December taken up with the celebrations. It is also the main time for the mischievous Nisse to have his fun. He is said to live in the lofts of old farmhouses and he enjoys playing jokes. He wears grey woollen clothes, a red bonnet, red stockings and white clogs. Families leave him a bowl of rice pudding on Christmas Eve to keep his playful mood at bay. Usually though he is kind and helpful helping out on the farms and being especially good to the children. 

        On the fourth Sunday before Christmas Eve (the first Sunday of Advent) an Advent Wreath is lit. This comprises of a wreath of pine twigs, decorated with red berries and pine cones mounted with four white candles and red or purple ribbon to hang from the ceiling. One candle would be lit on the first Sunday, the following Sunday it would be lit again with the next candle and so on. This is the first sign that Christmas is approaching This means that all four candles – each one shorter than the others – are burning all together on the forth Advent Sunday. Guests are invited to join in with the lighting of the candles and adults drink a warming mixture of red wine, spices and raisins called Glogg, and children drink a sweet fruit juice. Everybody eats small cakes of batter called abelskiver which have been cooked over the fire in a special pan, and dusted with icing sugar. 

In the weeks leading up to Christmas children are able to help make the decorations for Christmas, they take pride in using natural recourses using bright paper, wood and straw. 

The Christmas Calendar. 

       There are different types of Christmas Calendar, firstly the candle calendar. This is usually lit every day at the breakfast table beginning on the first day of December and it is the children’s responsibility to blow out the candle before it burns down too far into the next date. There are also the card calendars filled with chocolate or pictures hidden behind 24 small windows. Some are embroidered and have 24 small gifts hanging from them, one to be given each day, individually bought and wrapped by their parents. The two big television channels each year produce a special new Christmas series divided into 24 episodes to keep the children’s excitement in a high gear. 

December 13th.    St Lucia’s Day. 

These are some of the legends associated with St. Lucia.  

           On December 13th they celebrate Saint Lucia’s Day, a day of great celebrating and merriment, Lucia is the saint of light. The Story of Saint Lucia stretches back in time  some believe to the 18th century others to the times of the Vikings and the Roman Empire. According to legend, Lucia was a brave young woman from the island of Sicily. When Lucia heard about the persecution of Christians by the Emperor, she gave one Christian family her entire dowry.  Legend has it that Lucia, in order to keep her hands free, wore a wreath with candles on her head so that she could (illegally) feed the poor Christians hiding in the catacombs of ancient Rome. This so angered her betrothed husband, that he told authorities that Lucia secretly practiced Christianity. Lucia, who died a martyr’s death, was much admired for her courage, generosity and faith. 

The Vikings

 

         Viking sailors heard of the story of a young girl living in Italy, who had died for her Christian beliefs. The Vikings, who later became Christians, were so moved by Lucia’s story that they brought it home with them to Scandinavia. The Vikings imagined Lucia to be a shining figure, surrounded by light. This tale was favoured by northern people, since the days were short during the winter, making daylight a precious commodity. It was also helpful that Saint Lucia’s day, December 13, marked the beginning of the Winter Solstice, in Swedish folklore. Also according to folklore, unmarried girls believed that Saint Lucia would tell them who their future husband would be, on her saint day. 

Celebrating Saint Lucia Today

          On this day (Saint Lucia’s Day) the Lucia procession takes place in most schools, businesses and homes. Children from various school choirs are dressed in white each carrying a candle, one child is chosen to be the “Lucia” bride and she is dressed in white robes and red ribbons and wears a crown of candles on her head leading the procession. The lights are turned off and the procession walks the corridors singing the Lucia song.  In Families the eldest daughter plays Lucia, and greets her family with a breakfast of hot coffee and pastries, known as Lucia Buns. This ritual honours the legend of Saint Lucia bringing food during a famine. 

December 23rd. 

         The evening of December 23rd has a unique atmosphere, this is the first day of the holiday for most people. This is a time to see close friends and family, small gifts are exchanged with food and drinks available. A special type of doughnut with icing sugar, jam or maple syrup called “æbleskiver” are served along with rice pudding called “risengrød” served with sugar, cinnamon and a lump of butter. Special drinks for the adults are a cup of hot mulled wine called glögg  and malt beer called “hvidtøl”. 

December 24th. 

          Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve in Denmark and is called Juleaften. People are busy buying present, parents are preparing dinner and secretly decorating the Christmas tree using homemade decorations made from wood and straw, while the children are extremely excited waiting for the evening to arrive, only being allowed to see the tree before dinner Some families attend the Christmas Mass before dinner enjoying the tradition and Christmas spirit of gathering together to sing Danish Christmas carols. They return home to their dinner begging with rice pudding (“risengrød”)that holds a magic almond inside, the finder of which wins a prize of chocolate or marzipan. The traditional meal consists of duck or goose (sometimes pork with crackling), red cabbage and browned (caramelised) potatoes with cranberry jam. Dessert consists of fried pastries, cakes and cinnamon-laced rice pudding called Grod. After Dinner the tree is lit up and the family sing carols and hymns and dance around the tree, when the children have had enough of this it is time to open the gifts. Usually a child is chosen to pass the gifts out one at a time, with everyone watching each gift unwrapped. Once the last gift is unwrapped it is time for fresh fruit, cookies, candy and coffee. 

         This was also the night that animals were able to talk, people did not want the animals to speak badly about them so giving animals a treat hopefully appeased them. In olden times the family placed dishes of seeds outside for the wild birds and gave treats to the animals. Some families still continue this tradition and will go for a walk either in the garden, park or forest handing out treats for the animals, not forgetting to place a bowl of rice pudding out to appease the Christmas elves called Julenisse or Nisse. 

        One Danish tradition is the Christmas plate. In the early days rich Danes gave plates with biscuits and fruit as presents to their servants. These plates were so special they were kept for special occasions and not used everyday, this is the reason why they became so collectable. 

December 25th. 

        On Christmas Day only the children get up early to enjoy their presents from the night before. A traditional breakfast item is a type of doughnut with icing sugar, jam or maple syrup called Ableskiver. Christmas Day is usually spent with the family celebrating and having a long lunch of cold cuts with different types of fish, along with a drink of Aquavit for the adults. It is normally a very quiet time as the more formal visits with lunch and other activities usually begin on the 26th of December.

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