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Danish Christmas traditions

Kay Xander Mellish is an American who has worked for several large Danish companies and has collected her insights on working culture in Denmark into books, podcasts, and lectures. Here are a few of her tips on how you can join into Danish Christmas traditions as an international.

The Danish Christmas season lasts from early November to early January, with lots of eating, drinking, and celebrations in between. This is a great way to distract from the chilly darkness that descends over Denmark in the winter, and to generate a sense of warmth with candles and joy with twinkling holiday lights.

Being together is a big part of the Danish Christmas tradition, and you may find yourself invited to office parties, neighborhood and association parties, and family parties. Many of these parties involve a lot of alcohol, so if you’re a non-drinker, it’s a good idea to take along your own festive drink (sparkling apple juice?). Don’t miss the wonderful Danish Christmas cookies, which often feature ginger, cinnamon, and the famous Danish butter.

Gifts are not particular important in the Danish Christmas tradition. You don’t have to buy your boss a gift, or a gift for any of your co-workers, unless a special gift exchange has been arranged at the office. Even your Danish friends may not be expecting gifts unless you’ve agreed in advance; it’s okay to ask! The only people you really need to buy gifts for are the host or hostess of a dinner or a party; it’s traditional to bring some wine, candy, or flowers to present when you arrive.

Another aspect of Danish Christmas that is less important is religion. Many traditions are secular, and you can enjoy the season even if you’re not a Christian. Many Danish families go to church together on Christmas Eve, so it’s a good idea to avoid this day, as it’s the only time of the year when Danish churches are crowded. But if you’d like to sit quietly in a Danish church at another time during the season to enjoy the music, the traditions, and the flowers, you will be welcome.

If you’re alone in Denmark on Christmas Day, a good tip is to go to the zoo. Most of the big zoos in Denmark are open, and you can go visit the animals and see how they are enjoying the cold weather. Alternately, you can go for a winter walk in the local botanical garden or out in nature, where you will meet many Danish families taking a stroll together to enjoy some fresh air after a long evening of eating heavy Christmas food.