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Christmas Around the World
A Danish Christmas

The main festival of the year in Denmark is Christmas. Danes celebrate Christmas Eve on December 24 and prolong the Christmas through December 25 and 26. Though many longstanding traditions have disappeared over the years, many traditions such as the family gathering at Christmas, lighting Christmas tree candles, and the month-long calendar candy are still celebrated today.

On Christmas Eve, after a splendid of traditional goose, Danish families light candles on the beautifully decorated Christmas tree. After dancing round the tree, singing traditional songs, the members of the family exchange gifts. Some of the family will probably have attended church services in the afternoon.

Christmas in Danish is called Jul, an old Nordic word for "feast", and it is the biggest holiday in Denmark with traditions that go back centuries.

A Danish Christmas of old times:

Christmas and the way it is celebrated in Denmark has a long history. Even before the birth of Christ, the concept was known in the Nordic countries and some of the customs of Christmas has been carried into our time. A nice, sumptuous Christmas dinner for example.

In the Middle Ages, after the Danes had been Christianized, catholic traditions mingled with the old Nordic ones especially in the cities, and the custom of candles was adopted. Candles along with food and money were given to poor people as charity. Today, Danes still refer to Christmas as the feast of the candles.

In the countryside very little changed. Christmas was still a pagan feast and a lot of superstition was associated with the celebrations. Christmas was believed to have magic powers. Bread was left on the table during the holidays and in Spring it was spread on the fields before the sowing in order to get a good harvest.

After the reformation in 1536, the Church tried to get rid of the old customs - pagan as well as catholic - and to Christianize Christmas. Even though people did not let go of their old traditions, some change took place during the next two centuries. Christmas remained the major holiday and a lot of preparations were made during December. In the countryside they butchered, baked, brewed and made candles and everything was cleaned inside as well as outside. Finally, everybody had their Christmas bath. Christmas was a time when people as well as animals were cared for. Sheaves were put in trees for the birds to eat and the domestic animals got a little extra in their cribs. Furthermore, all kind of work was banned during the holidays. Christmas gifts were not yet common even though it started to gain popularity in the cities, but servants and employees were given a bonus like big Christmas breads or small cakes of batter cooked over the fire in a special kind of pan. These cakes were called "apple slices" and are still eaten at Christmas in Denmark along with a hot punch called glögg made of red wine, a squeeze of brandy or snaps and with rains and pieces of almond in it.

In those years, Christmas was recreated and made into a big event centered around the family. It was seen as a way to broaden the national awareness by strengthening our traditions and as an event the Danes could gather around. As a consequence a lot of new customs was introduced.

First of all, the Christmas tree came along, decorated with paper decorations, fruit, sweets, candles and small Danish flags. The whole concept of Christmas trees was imported from Germany. Also, Christmas gifts became common along with Christmas cards and the Christmas "nisse," a small Danish mythical creature that you definitely want to stay best friends with, since he is able to control your fortune. Hence the tradition of putting porridge out for the nisse on Christmas Eve. The nisse was usually a small, old man with a white beard, dressed in a grey sweater, grey trousers, a red pixie cap, red stockings and wooden shoes. He was believed to live hundreds of years. As Christmas today is a family time, also the nisse has a family now.

In the beginning of the 20th century, Santa Claus and the stories surrounding him came to Denmark from the USA. From Great Britain came the mistletoe and holly. After the Second World War the Christmas Calendar, the wreath of Advent and the Lucia parade was introduced, and Christmas as it is known today took shape.

Danish Christmas of Today:

Christmas Eve dinner begins with rice pudding that holds a magic almond inside. Whoever finds the almond receives a prize. They then have goose, red cabbage and browned potatoes. After that lots of pastries and cakes.

The Danish tradition is the Christmas plate. This was a tradition in the early days where rich Danes gave plates biscuits and fruit as presents to their servants. These plates were the nicest and best kind and were not used for everyday use, this is the reason why they became so collectable.

They take much pride making their own decorations with bright paper, bits of wood and straw. The parents secretly decorate the tree, and children are not permitted to see the tree until dinner on Christmas Eve. The tree is then lit up and families gather around to sing carols and hymns.

Each Sunday in Advent, guests are invited to join in the lighting of the candles on the Advent crown. Adults drink a warming mixture of red wine, spices and raisins, and children drink a sweet fruit juice, like strawberry. Everybody eats small cakes of batter which have been cooked over the fire in a special pan, and dusted with icing sugar.

Julegroed (Christmas Porridge)
This is served as the first course of a Danish Christmas feast.

4 c of milk
good teaspoon of butter
cup of washed white rice
1/2 cup of thick cream
an almond
1/4 cup of sugar
a pinch of cinnamon powder

Using a large saucepan, heat milk until boiling. Add butter, then rice and turn down the heat. Cover lid and let rice simmer slowly and gently for an hour, or until all the milk is absorbed and swollen up. When cooked, place in bowl and fold the cream and the almond. Serve in small bowls sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.

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