While today is Christmas in North America, yesterday, the 24th, was the christmas equivalent for Denmark. Instead of the festivities being held on the 25th, everything is done on “Juleaften” (Christmas Eve). Christmas in Denmark, and much of northern Europe, draws upon a much older history, with far more ingrained traditions than in North America. In fact, I believe that the archaic “yuletide” comes from the word “Jultid”, meaning christmastime. Because of this lengthy history, the traditions date back to time immemorial. History, combined with traditions, combined with the Danish idea of hygge make for a Christmas on steroids.
The day begins with a rather normal church service, people sing danish songs, read passages from the Church of Denmark’s bible, and generally just get together as a community. The church I went to yesterday was built sometime in the 1100s’, a structure far older than my own country, or even the colonial institutions that created it. After church one may go back to their house and have a christmas lunch with friends or family. However, the main event begins when the sun sets (this late in the winter this happens around 3:30pm) when dinner is served. It’s traditional to have a goose for dinner along with potatoes fried in a caramel sauce and rice with whipped cream and almonds for dessert. The food traditions are so ingrained that many families will make these dishes even if no one present actually likes them. One has to appreciate the lengths people will go to in preserving their traditions
After dinner the Father, or husband of the house will go light the candles on the tree, real candles, while the rest of the family waits impatiently to begin giving and getting gifts. However, before that can begin the family will hold hands and sing and dance around the tree. Gone is the american tradition of stuffing the tree in the corner of the living room and mummifying it beneath one hundred meters of colorful artificial lights. A Danish tree sits proudly in the center of the room, adorned with real candles and homemade decorations. After much singing and dancing, the family seats themselves around the tree and begins the gift process. However, unlike in North America, where it’s a free for all with kids scrambling over one another to plunder the bounty beneath the tree, the Danish process is patient. One member of the family is given a gift, they open it in front of everyone, and then the go to the tree and pick a gift for another member of the family. This is repeated until there are no gifts left. It can take upwards of two hours depending on how many people/ gifts there are. All of this is done in the evening, unlike the American Christmas morning.
In Canada, my family and I were never big on christmas, thus, it’s never been an important time of the year for me, and I’m not bitter about that. However, experiencing the tradition in a way that’s closer to its roots has been a delightful experience and I’m glad I was here for it.
Glædelig Jul til alle.