Finding old-fashioned Christmas hygge around Denmark
The Danes adore Christmas and hold fast to their holiday rituals. From what they eat to how they decorate their trees and abodes. Want to get a sense of where those customs all started? Step back in time at one of these historic spots across the country. It’s a fun way to explore the beginnings of all those Danish Christmas traditions.
When living in Denmark. I say. Bring on Christmas.
It’s November now. The clock has turned back and the dark descends earlier each evening. By Christmas, it’ll be down to a mere seven hours of daylight per day around Denmark. No need to fret. Don’t be concerned. Bust out your candles and spark on those fairy lights. Let’s get our Jul on. It’s one of the things I adored most about living in Denmark. And Danish Christmas activities kick off quickly – the first Friday of November – with J-Dag and the delivery of julebryg, or Christmas beer all over Copenhagen. Soon the Julemanden, Denmark’s version of Santa, will illuminate the streets with stars, hearts, and twinkles swathed above this pretty city’s historic center. Continue reading “10 Ways to Make the Most of Christmas in Copenhagen”→
When in Denmark, do as the Danes and embrace Christmas
(Originally posted in 2016, updated December 2020)
2020 will be our seventh Christmas season in Copenhagen. Wow – really? Yes. I know. It’s crazy. But true. And when you land in a country like Denmark at the beginning of December, Christmas becomes an iconic bookmark of sorts for your experiences here. This isn’t so bad. Danes love Christmas. Good thing I do too. And I truly love Danish Christmas.
A few years back, I met a Dane who also loves Christmas. To be honest – I haven’t met a Dane that really doesn’t like Christmas yet, but Trine Hahnemann REALLY loves Christmas. Trine is a professional cook, baker, and cookbook author and I had the opportunity to meet her and listen as she shared stories, recipes, and even some little tastes of her own Danish Christmas. Thank you to Isabella Mousavizadeh-Smith, owner of Books and Company, an international book cafe in Hellerup, Denmark for hosting the evening with Trine to learn about her personal Scandinavian Christmas traditions.
CHRISTMAS AS A CULMINATION OF THE YEAR
Trine loves celebrating Christmas. For her, it is more than a religious holiday. Like many Danes, holidays here have a rich and historic tradition that goes back even further than the arrival of Christianity to this part of the world. For her, Christmas is a way to celebrate the year that is ending. While New Year’s Eve is more of a look to the year ahead. But Christmas – this is a time to stop and take a pause. She believes that almost all cultures have a way of marking an end to each cycle. A natural way of stopping. Christmas is that for her. And for many Danes. And stop Danes do. Christmas takes up a full three days here. Shops close. The streets are quiet. People come together. (When they safely can.)
By the time December rolls around in Denmark – it is dark. For me, it feels really dark. I’ve spoken of it before. There are still a few weeks left before school lets out for our vinterferie, or winter break. My children are now rising before the sun and coming home in the dark. By the winter solstice on December 21st, there will be only seven hours of daylight. Celebrating and feasting and communing is necessary and has been done in this season of Scandinavia since the time of the Vikings and probably before. I might celebrate too if Ragnar Lothbrok was coming to my feast.
BEING PRESENT IN THE RITUALS OF CHRISTMAS
Christmas is a perfect time for being present in the ritual of celebrating the end of every year. Trine believes that we need to celebrate each year. Even the bad years. Like 2020? “Life is a roller coaster,” she says. We should enjoy the ride. Even the downs. And of course the ups. Christmas is that for her.
Her ritual, not unlike many Danes, is steadfast. She has a plan. A true Jule template if you will. And it starts the four advent Sundays before the 24th of December. That date is Danish Christmas you know. But what about the 25th you may wonder? Here, that is called “2nd Christmas” – when you visit the other side of the family. And the 26th is for “3rd Christmas” – an extra day dedicated to the familial outliers and outlaws or, as we refer to them in our family, the “in-law-in-laws.” Danes call them “bonus family.”
There is no “boxing day” here in Denmark. Only more ritual, tradition, and FOOD. Lots and lots of rich and very specific food. For each part of it. Each day. Trine reminds us of how much emotion we tie to specific foods. And what eating that food can do to create community and connection and reinforce culture and tradition. Dare I say – hygge. She doesn’t stray from recreating those quintessentially Danish Christmas foods every year. Her children know by now that they…
Don’t mess with Mama’s Christmas.” – Trine Hahnemann
And why should they? It’s good. We got to sample some of Trine’s own rugbrød with hjemmelavet rullepølse – a homemade spiced roll of pork, served sliced like a cold cut. It is one of those things that I see often in the shops and am always a little squeamish and slightly suspicious of. What exactly IS in rullepølse? On that night, I didn’t process it so much or think about it too intently. I just tried Trine’s. It was delicious. Especially when served on her chewy, dense, dark malted rye bread with a little mustard and pickled asier. Also known as marrow in the UK, asier is a member of the zucchini family available only for short time during late summer.
PLANNING AND PREPPING FOR DANISH CHRISTMAS DINNER
This gives you a small sense of how much planning goes into the traditional Danish Christmas meal. You have to start preparing and preserving and pickling when ingredients are in season. Luckily for you and me – if you didn’t know all the dishes necessary for each Danish Christmas days in advance – you can still buy most of the items from your local market or at Hahnemann’s Køkken direct. Even Trine will admit that the priority in attempting your own Danish Christmas is to keep it fun. She wants you to enjoy the whole process. Keep it hyggeligt. So if this means picking only a few of the recipes to pursue yourself and also including some ready made items, she is all for it. For you. She won’t be doing that. But she won’t judge you.
The base of the Danish Christmas menu is pretty standard across the board, as evidenced by the prevalence of the following items in EVERY grocer, butcher, and market across Denmark. And while Trine will concede that there are some potential tweaks to the ritual menu even between different Danish families, she doesn’t stray from year to year. Does your family serve risengrød (rice porridge) to start? Or risalamande (a creamy sweetened rice pudding) served cold with warm cherry sauce and almonds for dessert? From what I have gleaned – it’s an either-or for the Danes. And nary the tween shall meet – you wouldn’t serve both. Your choice, tradition, and conviction about where and what type of rice porridge to serve is almost as serious as the consternation you’re sure to receive when you stir the butter into your risengrød.
TRINE HAHNEMANN’S TRADITIONAL DANISH CHRISTMAS MENU
So what does Trine serve her family EVERY Christmas? Seriously. She isn’t joking. I told you she loves Christmas. Don’t mess with Mama’s Christmas.
Roast Duck Roast Pork with Crackling Caramel Potatoes Sautéed Red Cabbage White Potatoes with Gravy
Risalamande with Hot Cherry Sauce Christmas Cookies Marzipan Chocolates Gløgg
Brussels Sprouts with Clementines Kale Salad with Pomegranate
She knows that the menu is rich and not exactly health-conscious. But the Danes have an “everything in moderation, including moderation” approach when it comes to the holidays. Especially Christmas. This is a once a year meal. And she thinks it is worth waiting for. Enjoying. And sharing. This is julehygge. Cozy Christmas community. Danish style.
I had to laugh at her explaining the process for the caramel potatoes chastising those who thought you could leave this seemingly simple side dish to the end like an afterthought. Oh no. She said. Oh no. I thought. Cringing a bit in my folded chair – was she literally talking to me? How could she know about my last Christmas dinner? Gah. Ok. Ok. I admit it. I seriously messed up the caramel potatoes. Unrecognizable. To any Dane. For sure.
Now before you judge – I will tell you that I feel fairly adept at the roast pork now and can fashion a pretty moist and tasty duck. If you know me, you know I love to roast a duck. I can handle the cookies and the chocolates and definitely the gløgg. Even the rice and red cabbage seem right. But the potatoes. Those Christmassy caramel brunede kartofler ones anyway. Utter FAIL.
A few Decembers back, we had invited some Danes to join our Christmas feast. My darling guests were sweet and took tastes. They wondered – out loud – if this was my American addition to their Danish meal tradition – the rest of which had been successfully presented. Um. No. I said. Those are brunede kartofler. Caramel potatoes. Nej. No, they aren’t. Not really. And so now I know. This year I’ll do better. I’ll prep and prepare and stir and stir and layer and layer. The golden buttery sugary layers of caramel for my Danish Christmas potatoes. Thank you Trine! Tusind tak!
Want Trine’s recipes for your own? You can pick up her Christmas cookbook at Books and Company in Hellerup along with her other titles focusing on Scandinavian Baking and Scandinavian Comfort Food. You can also pop into Hahnemann’s Køkken in outer Østerbro for cookbooks, delicious breads and sweet treats or to take a cooking class. Trine is truly charming, effusive, and engaging. If she comes to your town on tour, I recommend seeking her out. I can’t wait to try some of her techniques and more than one of her recipes.
A photo posted by Books & Company (@booksandcompanydk) on
Have you attempted the Danish Christmas dinner? Ok. Back up. Are you a Dane? Unfair advantage. Oh, you aren’t? Have you? You have? How did it go? I’d love to hear any trials and tribulations around your Christmas table. I shared mine. Please do yours. Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin
5th annual festive playlist of seasonal songs from Denmark, Sweden and Norway
GOD JUL FROM OREGON GIRL AROUND THE WORLD
Hej from here! It’s Jul time y’all. This is our seventh Christmas season in Scandinavia. Holy wow. That is surreal, even for me. We moved to Copenhagen in the dark December of 2014 and spent the first two+ weeks of that month bopping between Airbnb rentals like veritable vagabonds. It felt like forever. Maybe not as “forever” as 2020 feels, but everything is relative.
And while this year looked nothing like any of us planned, I’m grateful to be here in my home. Safe and happy surrounded by my little family. These songs are a snapshot of this season. In Scandinavia. I hope you find some new to you Christmas classics. It’s the 5th annual list I’ve made from here. You’ll hear a few foreign languages but should still feel the season. Enjoy the songs. Stay safe. Love your people. Cheers from here.