“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”
December is in full swing and there are only 14 days until Christmas. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a winter baby or because of my danish heritage but December is my favourite month ever. I love the snow, the ice and the clear starry skies that only December can bring. In our little student house, we don’t have a lot of room (or money) to decorate for Christmas, but seeing as we’re not here for the actual event I don’t think it is a big deal. We’ve go a few little Christmas trinkets dotted about and I’m planning on making some traditional scandinavian christmas biscuits, burne kager, this week but most of my Christmas cheer and decor is being saved for when I get back home.
The Scandinavian Christmas style seems to be trending this year with both Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s Christmas homeware echoing the reds and white designs I’ve grown up with.
Seeing how everybody wants a Scandinavian Christmas I’ve compiled a little how-to, because if you’re going to do Christmas, you’ve got to do it right.
- Traditionally from Italy, Saint Lucia day is celebrated on the 13th of December. Lucia is the Catholic saint of light. Legend has it that Saint Lucia wore candles on her head in order to keep her hands free, so she could feed the poor, hiding in the catacombs of ancient Rome. Today Children, dressed in white, sing in procession with candle head-dresses and there is a traditional kind of bun, Lussekatt (“St. Lucia Bun”), made with saffron, is normally eaten on this day. In Denmark, the Day of Lucia (Luciadag) was first celebrated on December 13, 1944. The tradition was directly imported from Sweden by initiative of Franz Wend, secretary of Föreningen Norden, as an attempt “to bring light in a time of darkness”. Implicitly it was meant as a passive protest against German occupation during the Second World War but it has been a tradition ever since.
- Next is Lille Juleaften (Little Christmas Eve) on December 23rd. This can be the busiest day of the year. Last minute shopping is done. Presents are wrapped and the house is given a final straightening and the baking is finished for tomorrow’s Christmas eve dinner.
- Christmas Eve is traditionally when families come together to celebrate. Dinner is served quite early. Most people eat roast duck on Christmas Eve, but roast goose or pork with crackling is also common. The duck or goose is stuffed with apples and prunes and served with boiled and sweet potatoes, red cabbage, beets and cranberry jam. The dessert is ‘ris à l’amande’ (rice pudding with whipped cream, vanilla and almonds) with a hot cherry sauce. Much like the English tradition of finding a coin in the Christmas pudding, a peeled almond is hidden in the bowl of ‘ris à l’amande’ and the lucky finder of the almond gets a present. When my sister and I were younger, we didn’t really like the pudding but wanted to win the prize so we forced down spoonfuls hoping to find the almond. No pain no gain I guess.
The Tree– No Christmas is complete without a tree and no tree is better suited for Christmas than the Norwegian Spruce. The tree is decorated with a silver or gold star on the top (never an angel), festoons of national flags and lots of small decorations. The entire tree is given the final touch of silver strings which reflect the lights. Traditionally the lighting of the Christmas tree happens after dinner and is considered one of the highlights of Christmas Eve. We’ve always had electric lights but I do wish we used real candles.
Calendars– When we were younger, my sister and I had two Christmas calendars, one chocolate advent calendar and one gavekalender, (present calendar) which our Mum made for us. The Gavekalender consisted of 24 small red rings which Santa would attach a present to. We often got items such as gloves, sweets and pencils in our calendars. It was so much fun coming home from school to find that Santa had been and added more presents.
Candles– Candles and lights play a huge role in the danish Christmas. There are two types of calendar candles. First we have the Advent Wreath with four candles. One of the wreath’s four candles is lit every Sunday in December. Traditionally the Advent wreath is made out of fine spruce cuttings, decorated with red berries and cones and white candles. There are red ribbons for attaching the wreath to the ceiling.
The second candle is the calendar candle. The candle is marked with numbers 1-24 and decorated with fir tree motives and dancing, red-cheeked pixies! The daily lighting of the candle tends to be a special time shared by the family and it is the children’s job to blow out the candle before it burns down to the next day.
Juleisse– No doubt you will have seen or heard of the Christmas Elf on the Shelf. Well he is based on an old Danish belief. Nisse is one of the main Christmas characters in Denmark. He is said to live in the lofts of old farmhouses and enjoys playing jokes on unsuspecting people. Traditionally, Nisse wears gray, woolen clothes, a red bonnet, red stockings, and white clogs. Families will leave him a bowl of rice pudding or porridge on Christmas Eve to keep him from playing too many jokes on the family. Also in Denmark the Christmas elves called Julenisse are appeased with rice pudding as well as dishes of seeds that are placed outdoors for wild birds.
Julehjerter– The Julehjerter or pleated christmas hearts are found everywhere in Denmark during December. They are handmade using coloured paper and can have various designs. They are hung on the tree and around the house and can be filled with sweets, chocolates or nuts. There are loads of easy tutorials online if you want to try and make your own.
Also check out this fabulous website full of recipes for a truly Danish feel.
Have fun preparing for Christmas,
Peace and Love,