Christmas in Denmark

This Scandinavian country has some interesting holiday traditions

Copenhagen Tivoli Gardens at Christmas


Jochen Tack/Getty Images

"Merry Christmas" in Danish is "Glaedelig Jul." The holidays are a magical time of year in Denmark, which has many unique and interesting traditions. 

In the weeks before the winter holiday, many locals and visitors alike head to one of the many local Christmas markets. This is a great idea for anyone visiting in early or mid-December. Just make sure to wear waterproof shoes (it tends to rain on occasion) and layer your clothing. The traditional markets are outdoors and you will be exposed to the winter weather in Denmark, which can be brisk and cold.

Pre-Christmas Celebrations in Denmark

At the start of the Christmas season, four weeks before Christmas, Danes light the traditional Advent wreath, which has four candles. A candle is lit every Sunday until Christmas Eve. Children usually get Advent calendars, or Christmas calendars, which they enjoy throughout December.

As in other Scandinavian countries, Danes mark the feast day of St. Lucia on Dec. 13. She was a third-century martyr who brought food to Christians in hiding. As part of the celebration, the eldest girl in each family portrays St Lucia, putting on a white robe in the morning wearing a crown of candles (or a safer substitute). She serves her parents Lucia buns and coffee or mulled wine.

The main part of the holiday celebration in Denmark begins on Dec. 23, with a meal that includes cinnamon rice pudding known as grod. Children are a big part of Christmas celebrations in Denmark, much as they are in the United States. They even have an elf keeping an eye on their behavior.

Nisse the Mischievous Elf

Nisse plays pranks on people during Christmastime. According to legend, Nisse often lives in old farmhouses and wears gray woolen clothes, a red bonnet and stockings and white clogs.

As a good elf, Nisse generally helps people on the farms and is good with children but plays jokes during the holiday season. On Christmas Eve in Denmark, many families leave a bowl of rice pudding or porridge for him so that he is friendly to them and keeps his jokes within limits.

Visiting Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens at Christmas

The small villages in Tivoli Gardens are filled with Christmas lights and holiday life, with an abundant selection of Danish Christmas decorations, gifts and Danish food and drink.

On the Open Air Stage, children can see Santa's sleigh, and can take pictures with Santa himself.

Christmas Eve in Denmark

On Christmas Eve, Danes have a Christmas dinner of duck or goose, red cabbage and caramelized potatoes. Afterward, the dessert is a lighter rice pudding with whipped cream and chopped almonds. This rice pudding contains one whole almond, and whoever finds it wins a treat of chocolate or marzipan.

On Christmas night in Denmark, families gather around Christmas trees, exchange presents and sing carols. Danish cupcakes called ableskiver  are traditional breakfast items on Christmas morning, while Christmas Day lunch is usually cold cuts and different types of fish.

Christmas Night in Denmark

On the night of Christmas in Denmark families gather around Christmas trees, exchange presents and sing carols. Christmas Day is usually spent celebrating with family by having a long lunch of cold cuts and different types of fish, along with Aquavit for the adults.

Was this page helpful?