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7. Glædelig Jul

How will you be celebrating Christmas this year – if it’s in Denmark, there’ll be lots of ‘hygge’.

This year a college in London started instructing students in the Danish concept of “hygge” – the feeling of contentment and snugness that is largely created by the combination of traditional food, good company and candlelight.

 Hygge – feeling of contentment or snugness


“Hygge” is an integral part of Danish culture and is said to be one of the reasons why the Danes are regularly judged to be among the happiest nations in the world (Source: 'World Happiness Report 2015').

Christmas in Denmark encapsulates “hygge”. Visit almost any Danish home in December and you will be struck by how “hyggeligt” the atmosphere is: instead of garlands of tinsel and streamers of Christmas cards, small “nisse” figures (elves) take their place among freshly cut fir, garlands of Danish flags, red and white hearts and cornets filled with sweets. The Christmas tree is decorated either on the day before Christmas Eve or on Christmas Eve itself and, turning a blind eye to the risks involved, usually with live candles.

 Living Danishly

“Hygge isn’t just a middle-class thing,” says Helen Russell, author of The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country. “Absolutely everyone’s at it from my dustbin man to the mayor. “Hygge” is so crucial to living Danishly that the other day on the motorway I saw a camper van driving along with lit candles in the windows. This is probably illegal but Vikings don’t tend to be too hung up on health and safety.”




 ‘Dinner for one’


Part of what makes the Danish Christmas so “hyggelig” is the food and all the traditions that go with it. Nothing much changes from year to year. In fact, the Danes get an enormous buzz out of watching the 1963 comedy sketch 'Dinner for one', which has been shown on Danish TV at Christmas time ever since 1981. The verbal exchange between the two characters – “same procedure as last year..” – just about sums up the festivities for most Danes.

 Flæskesteg – roast pork with crackling


Christmas Eve is when presents are exchanged and families and friends sit down for their traditional Christmas dinner. Roast duck and/or roast pork with crackling (flæskesteg) is served with white and brown potatoes (fried in butter and sugar), red cabbage and brown sauce. Another traditional favourite is roast goose served with rice porridge, cinnamon and dark sweet beer (hvidtøl/nisseøl). Instead of Christmas pudding, the Danes tuck into “Risalamande” or rice pudding, chopped almonds and cherry sauce. Usually a whole almond is included and the person who finds it wins a small prize, often a marzipan pig.


 Risalamande - rice pudding with almonds and cherry sauce

The pig also features heavily in the Danes’ Christmas lunch on Christmas Day. With not a stuffed turkey in sight, Danish tables are laden with marinated herrings, smoked eel, smoked and rimmed (sugar, salt, and dill) salmon, æbleflæsk (pork belly in apple and onion), ribbensteg (roast pork), skinke med grønlangkål og brunede kartofler (smoked and salted ham with stewed kale and brown potatoes), lun leverpostej med bacon og champignoner (warm liver paste with bacon and mushrooms) and rullepølse (rolled sausage). And if you’re not bursting at the seams after that, there are all the homemade Danish cakes and biscuits to try – brune kager (brown cakes), vanillekranse (vanilla swirls), pebernødder (peppernuts), honningkager (honey cakes) and lots of marzipan and nougat.

Also in keeping with tradition is the launch on the first Friday in November (known as J Day) of Tuborg’s Christmas beer - Julebryg. It’s darker and stronger than traditional lager, and is given an extra punch when accompanied by a glass or two of Linie Aquavit, which is matured at sea.

An outpouring of tradition and “hygge” - to quote Hans Christian Andersen - a Danish Christmas is “magnificent, quite unforgettably magnificent”.


 Happy Christmas to all our readers