Christmas in Denmark (& New Years' Eve Traditions)

Authored By:

Ally B.

       When I received my host family placement, I was excited to figure out everything about my host siblings, host parents, what city I would be in, etc. - literally anything and everything.
       One interesting fact about my host family is that my host mom is Danish, so when I found out, I wondered if we would take part in different celebrations or traditions than Germany typically does, and I wondered how Danish and German cultures differed.
       Throughout this year I've experienced some amazing traditions that come from Denmark (as well as Germany too), and I love participating and finding out new cultural differences from our celebrations. And one thing about Denmark, they're going to have a happy and amazing time (with tons of alcohol while they're at it - they drink more than Germans).
       Below is how I celebrated Christmas in Denmark, as well as some Danish traditions I learned for New Years' Eve and birthdays.... Enjoy!

       The first Danish tradition I learned was in relation to celebrating birthdays. On a birthday, Danes decorate the house with tons of Danish flags, and even put Danish flags on birthday cakes. The birthday person has to stay in bed and wait until everyone in the house comes into their room to sing happy birthday together. Something that I'm not sure is a Danish, German, or just my host family thing - it's that after the birthday person has woken up, they immediately unwrap their birthday presents, even before school. Another thing to point out, the cake served on a Dane's birthday is not similar to an American cake, it's more like three layers of pancake-like dough with whipped cream in between each layer and fruits on top of it.

       For Christmas break my host family and I traveled to Denmark, embarking on a ten hour car trip from Krefeld, NRW, to Hillerrød, Denmark. We left around 13:00 and didn't get to the summer house until 22:00-23:00. During the car trip, my host siblings introduced me to 'And We Danced...' by Macklemore, which is a song a lot of Germans love but it's banned in the U.S. because of its explicit lyrics. And my host siblings were just vibing with the song, it was a moment of shock for me... Then they made me watch 'Probleme gelöst' (problem solved) videos on TikTok, which was funny and all the TikToks were in German and I understand pretty much all of them. Then they showed me the memes of Ohio being the worst and weirdest state, which I personally think is Arkansas, but let me know your thoughts... Also, while driving to Denmark we saw a giant bridge that connects the two parts of Denmark together, and it was huge and also had giant Christmas trees on top of it - apparently this is the highest point in Denmark.
       For my first full day in Denmark, I took the train (which seems way easier and more punctual than the Deutsche Bahn) to Copenhagen to meet up with my friend, Sidse, who I met three years ago when she was an exchange student at my school. She showed me around the shopping area where I got postcards and a pin (I decided for every country I visit I'm going to get a pin to go along with it). Then she took me to Nyhavn, which are those colorful buildings that Denmark is known for, and it's just as beautiful as the photos - literally, captivating. After that we went to Rundtuun, which is a giant round tower that overlooks the city. The tower is so wide because the king would ride a horse and carriage up the tower instead of walking, which is just an interesting fact. The view from above was incredible, there aren't any buildings over six floors and seeing the difference Denmark has (the orange roofs and the overall feeling of comfort), has such a distinct style from Germany. After the Rundtuun we went to get ice cream, tea and then settled on a pizza place to eat where we just talked before going our separate ways. I had a fun time with Sidse and when reuniting it felt like the three years between us being separated weren't there, like I just saw her yesterday. When I got home my host siblings made me watch 'Traumschriff Surprise', which is a German Star Wars/Star Trek comedy movie - which is literally one of the most interesting and weirdest things I've ever seen.
       The next day my host mom took me to see the North Sea, and apparently, the furthest away you could be from the sea in Denmark is 50 km - which is astounding! She asked me if I'd ever seen the sea before, and when I told her I've only seen it four times she was shocked and got really excited to show it to me. And it was beautiful, albeit cold, and was mesmerizing because it's still something new to me. Then I walked with my host brother to Netto to get chips, and I explained the fourth of July to him. Then my host mom's parents came over with Danishes and cinnamon rolls, and we sat and talked in a cozy vibe. After that my host sister and I worked on a 500 piece round puzzle for over two hours and then watched Shrek 2. At the end of the night when my host mom got back she told me to look at the stars outside, and they were so bright against the night sky, since we were basically in the middle of nowhere.
       In Germany and Denmark, Christmas is actually celebrated on the 24th, so at around 16:00 I arrived at my host mom's sister's house, where we all greeted each other and talked. For dinner we had roasted duck, caramelized potatoes, a sweet white grape and nut thing, regular potatoes, and red cabbage. After dinner we played a game where we ate something that was like whipped cream and nuts, and everyone ate out of their cup with their hands covering their mouths. When we finished eating we got to see who found the special almond in their cup and therefore won an extra Christmas present. The winner was my eight year-old host sister. When we finished eating we all got up and danced around the Christmas tree, which had real candles on it, and sung songs. We even sang 'Last Christmas' for me because it was in English. Then we all ran through the house in a conga line and sung some more. After that we all opened presents, and everyone opened theirs one at a time while everyone watched. It was a really cozy moment and I even got some books from my host family about German culture, and a book about Hygge, a Danish ideology about being comfortable and cozy, from my host grandparents. Then around 23:00 we all ate another meal, with dark grain bread, butter, cheese and meat, and then got home around midnight or 1:00.
       For Christmas day it was just a day to relax, which was really 'weird' to me, because I've never spent a Christmas not celebrating. All I did this day was read, watch YouTube or TikTok and relax.
       For the day after Christmas we all went to my host mom's moms house and ate two courses of food. The first course was bread with meat and the second course was ham, salmon and salad. Then we played a game similar to white elephant, where we rolled a die, and if we got a one or six then we picked a gift from the gifts in the middle of the table, and when the timer buzzed we were finished. Then we had another timer but during this round if we rolled a one or six we could steal presents from others. After that you could unwrap your gifts. Then we played another game, which was trivia, mostly about Denmark and it was mostly done in Danish. It was a bit hard, but the only question I got right was a question about the figure skater in a movie called, 'I, Tonya', which my host sister and I got automatically because we both love that movie. Then we had another course, which was cheese, bread, meat and grapes. We spent a lot of time talking amongst ourselves and then we went home around 18:00, where my host mom, host sisters and I walked to Netto together to get some end of the night snacks.
       The next day my host mom, younger host sister and I went to see the Kornburg castle, which is a giant castle right across the sea from Sweden (it's so close you can see the buildings on the other side). We explored the castle of the most important Danish king, the one who established Copenhagen, and I learned a lot of interesting facts while I was there. Apparently, the king would pay students to sleep in his bed to keep it warm (back then it was a big deal to be able to sleep in your own bed without other people, because you could 'afford' to keep yourself alive and warm), and it would get so cold during the winter that ice would freeze on the insides of the castle walls. My favorite part of the day was running through the castle's dungeon and tunnels. We saw the statue of the king, and supposedly, if Denmark is ever attacked, the king will rise up and defend Denmark. The tunnels were pitch black and scarier than any horror movie could make - I loved it! When we got home I played a game called Scotland Yard with my host family, and it was a bit confusing, but pretty fun and strategic.
       The next few days I just took advantage of my break, enjoying the cozy countryside of Denmark. Denmark is insanely beautiful in its own way. It's got an aura around it that makes you feel at home, from the buildings to the people, it's just magnificent. I might even like Denmark better than Germany... For anyone who hasn't visited, it should be on your travel bucket list!
       On the 30th my host family and I left the house around 4:00 in the morning, with all of us piling into the car. Most of us slept during the ride to Germany, and we got there around 13:00. It was good to be 'home' but I'm excited to visit Denmark again in the spring!

New Years' Eve
       New Years' Eve is basically celebrated the exact same as America, with everyone gathering together with friends or family at a party, eating a big dinner with tons of sweets and champagne, playing games and talking. People set off fireworks and then countdown, to toast to the new year, hug everyone and then set off more fireworks.
       Before the countdown began I learned a new Danish tradition, which is where everyone stands on the coach with a piece of bread in their hands, counts down, and then jumps on 1, landing on the ground in the new year. It's called 'jumping into the new year', and you have bread in your hand because it's a symbol of having enough food for the year.

       I love learning about German culture, especially to share with my grandpa who had German parents, but I also love learning about other cultures - like Denmark from my host mom or Brazil from my Brazilian friend, Gabi, who's also an exchange student at my school. There are so many unique traditions and celebrations throughout the world, ranging from eating 12 grapes before midnight or jumping off the couch with bread in your hand. It's nice to experience something new, and I know I'll bring these traditions back home to share with my family and friends.
       I hope you learned something new, alongside me. Happy belated new year and I hope 2023 treats you well!