After living in Denmark for the last three years, I've discovered many interesting and different traditions. The Scandinavian countries as a whole have lots of traditions that vary from southern Europe and the US.
Even though I miss many American traditions such as Halloween and Thanksgiving I love learning new practices. Here are several traditions and celebrations that I enjoy.
J-day marks the start of the Christmas season and is usually the first Friday in November. The ‘J' stands for 'Juleøl,' which translates to Christmas beer. On this day Tuborg releases its Christmas beer, which started in the 1990s.
On a regular year, Tuborg trucks come into town, as do horse-drawn carriages, and they deliver free beer to anyone in sight! They also toss out lots of free Christmas swag like Santa hats and t-shirts. Most of the swag displays, “Glædig Jul og Godt Tub'år,” which is a spin-off of “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”
This holiday likely was sparked after this “J-Day” commercial aired in 1990 and became loved by the Danes. It's the longest-running commercial in danish history and runs every holiday season:
Christmas: on the 24th of December
Christmas is the highlight of the Danish winter. Denmark is cold and very, very dark in December. The shortest day of the year only has six and a half hours of sunlight. Although dark, the streets fill with Christmas lights and deliciously sweet, buttery flavors.
Firstly, Christmas itself is celebrated on the 24th of December. A Danish family will typically gather together to eat a traditional meal of roast duck or pork, boiled potatoes, red cabbage, and gravy. For dessert, they make risalamande, which is a creamy cold rice pudding with warm cherry sauce; in one bowl, there will be hiding a full almond nut. Whoever gets the almond wins a lovely present!
After dinner, they open presents and hold hands and sing around the Christmas tree, decorated with real candles. The rest of the evening is usually enjoyed by candlelight, drinks, and lots of “hygge.” Christmas lunch is also a popular affair, as are big Christmas parties among colleagues. I adore the Danish Christmas traditions. You can read about my first Danish Christmas experience here.
Jumping into the New Year
Danish New Year's traditions include standing on chairs, or anything really, right before the clock strikes 12. It is tradition to actually “jump” into the New Year on this public holiday.
If you forget to jump into the new year, you'll have bad luck the entire year. Just make sure you jump carefully, particularly if you're in a room full of people who've had a few too many. Also, look out for fireworks. Danes don't do the 4th of July, so on New Year's Eve, they pack all the TNT you can imagine!
Hazing Unmarried 25-Year-Olds
This tradition tickled me when I moved to Denmark; thankfully, I was 24 and had just gotten married! But by convention, if you are 25 and not yet married, your friends will drag you into the street and tie you to a pole (this could just be in my region of South Jutland), and then they throw cinnamon at you!
If you don't know, cinnamon is expensive, and it's also very intense to breathe in. Our friend Oliver turned 25 in Randers, and the boy's team duck taped him to a pole and hit him with at least a gallon of cinnamon and flour! Certainly don't wait until your 30th birthday to get married... because they'll throw pepper!
Birthday traditions: Happy birthday to me!
In the USA it is quite common to receive a cake on your birthday, we always made a cake for people in my family and close friends. The birthday boy or girl never made or bought the cake.
But in Denmark, the tradition is quite different. Whether at work or school, it is customary to bring cake on your birthday for everyone else! It's also customary to have little Danish flags everywhere.
Exceptionally Special “Round” Birthdays
A round birthday is considered the end of a decade, such as turning 30, 40, or 50. And if it's your birthday, be prepared to drop some serious cash. Danish people have been known to spend six months' salary on these events.
These celebrations are usually filled with formal attire, drinks, delicious food, and time with loved ones. Danes stay up into the early morning hours no matter how old you are. At Rasmus' aunt Helle's 50th birthday, his grandma out-paced me and stayed up until 4 or 5 AM!
Babies Strollers in the Street
All the couples in Denmark push around their babies in the most adorable nordic baby strollers suited out with heavy-duty zippers that keep out the cold. When shopping or dining in, it is not at all uncommon to see moms or dads leave their babies outside the store or restaurant while they enjoy themselves.
On occasion, I'll pass a cafe with 10+ baby carriages outside, all unattended. People aren't worried about babies being kidnapped; they just say that it's good for the kid to get fresh air. I find it super refreshing when I see a group of moms all gathered for a drink inside, getting some much-needed adult time.Check out other great global parenting habits that are super foreign in the USA here.
Photo courtesy Quora.com
Hiding in Plain Sight
Something I find peculiar about Danish culture is the pure, humble nature of it all. People are put off by flashiness, big cars, diamonds, and other “MTV cribs” things we chase in the USA. People in high social positions generally live a similar lifestyle to those in the middle class, which could be expected in one of the world’s most socialist societies.
Much of this value dates back to the “Jante Law,” which in short states that no one person is better than another. Most Danes dress similarly and live similarly, so the lady next to you on the train with scuffed shoes and an old sweatshirt could easily be a multi-millionaire, and you’d never know.
Janteloven (Jante Law):
Beer or “Øl”
When I first moved here, I was quite shocked to see 14-year-olds in the streets holding a beer. The legal age to buy beer is sixteen in groceries and eighteen in restaurants and bars, but there’s no actual “drinking age” officially.
Beer has been a part of Danish culture for thousands of years, and in this tiny country, there are over 100 breweries. When in Denmark, go for a beer on tap and try to find a local name. The pillar companies are Carlsberg and Tuborg, but each city typically has its own brewery.
The Royal Family Obsession
Most Danes know extensive details about the Danish royalty, which isn't super surprising in a country of only five million. Here the Royal are loved from coast to coast and idolized in some sense. Mary, the Danish Crown Princess, reminds me of Jackie Kennedy. The women and paparazzi love her outfits!
Queen Margrethe is highly respected among the Danes. When COVID hit she made a public speech at 80 years old, and the Danes hung on her every word. The Royals are also known for being super down to earth.
Frederick, the crown prince, and heir to the throne is known for being in the public eye. In celebration of his 50th birthday, in May 2018, a public running event across the five biggest cities in Denmark called "Royal Run" was held, with more than 70,000 people, including Frederik and his family. They frequent public places in Denmark and are known for being kind and open.
Gymnasium (High School) Graduation
Graduating from gymnasium is a celebration in Denmark. The students celebrate by parading through town in party buses or trucks. These vehicles stop for a time at each student’s house, where they jump out, maybe have a toast, and continue. In the graduation ceremony, the students receive a white graduation cap and often sport it all month long.
Photo courtesy Local.Dk
Danes have lots of fun traditions, but they are most fun when experienced in person! Danes love to party and celebrate with friends and family. They also enjoy going out to eat and drink. And they love to travel. In fact, Denmark has one of the highest per-capita numbers of international tourists in the world.
So, it makes sense that they have some of the best festivals and celebrations in Europe. The Nordic countries are fun to visit any time of year. You've got to get to Denmark and experience them for yourself!