Happy Christmas Eve everyone! Or in Denmark, Glædelig Jul! Because today is the day that Danes celebrate Christmas.
As we are back in England over the Christmas break, my aunt and uncle decided to treat us to a traditional Danish Christmas dinner at the beginning of December. This is the meal that is eaten the evening of Christmas Eve, before all the presents are opened.
Most people eat roast duck on Christmas Eve, but roast goose or pork (flæskestegen) with crackling is also common. My aunt made us duck and I realised how rarely we eat it, as it was Lydia’s first taste of it. She’ll definitely be having it again, if the number of ‘more’s are anything to go by. The duck is stuffed with apples and prunes, which are then served separately, along with red cabbage, boiled and sweet potatoes (sort of caramelised rather than the sweet potato variety in the U.K.) and of course, gravy. The combination of the prunes, apple and duck was especially delicious and I loved the sweet potatoes.
The drink of course involves snaps and many opportunities to toast skål and drink some more. Wine and beer is also served.
For pudding, we were introduced to Ris a la Mande and kirsebærsauce. This is a type of rice pudding, made with cream, vanilla and crushed almonds, topped with warm cherry sauce. It is yummy but extremely filling and definitely finishes you off, making you snooze-ready! As part of this pudding tradition, a whole peeled almond is put into one of the desert bowls and the person who finds it, gets a gift – a ‘mandel gave’.
The next tradition (we didn’t do this, as it only happens on actual Christmas Eve), is to then light candles (yes candles, not lights) on the Christmas tree and dance around it, until it’s time to open presents. The first thing I asked my aunt was, how do the children keep patient for so long, waiting until right after their evening meal until present time?! She said they may get to open a couple of gifts in the day but it’s nothing like in England, where kids wake up to a stocking before breakfast and then the present opening is pretty much exhausted by mid-morning. Except in our household, where we always had to wait until after church to open our main presents, which when your Dad’s the vicar, involves waiting patiently for the last parishioner to leave, the doors to be locked and Dad to begin off-duty time. Now that was long enough to wait!
But Danish children don’t just get presents on 24th December. The whole unwrapping gifts excitement begins on 1st December. Instead of an advent calendar with chocolate, they get a home-made calendar with a little present to unwrap, for 24 days of December. My grandparents told me how difficult it was, to find 24 different, affordable little gifts, for both their children every year. Nowadays, most families opt to give four slightly bigger gifts for every Sunday in December. I still like this idea.
The 25th December in Denmark is more like our version of Boxing Day when present exchanging is done and dusted. There will be another big family meal, but it isn’t the traditional roast duck. Families may go for a walk to burn off all the calories consumed, much like in the U.K.
Although it wasn’t actual Christmas, during our stay at my aunt and uncle’s, we certainly felt like we were being treated to an extra celebratory day. We got to see my grandparents, Lydia’s great-grandparents (oldemor og oldefar), we were treated to a delicious Danish meal cooked by my aunt, and we enjoyed the beautiful Danish countryside, followed by festive hygge. So I can now picture my family’s Christmas Day today and say with knowing confidence, Glædelig Jul!