Thursday, December 20, 2012

Today I learned about Christmas in Denmark

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Glædelig Jul, everyone! That's Merry Christmas in Danish because Denmark is the country we learn about today! Pictured above is Denmark's capital, Copenhagen with all it's beautiful Christmas lights. Christmas in Denmark is called Jul, which means 'feast' in the old Nordic language. There has been a winter celebration for hundreds of years in Denmark, dating back to pre-Christian times, when it was the festival of the pagans. In the Middle Ages, when Denmark became Christianized, Catholic traditions mixed with the ancient Nordic tradition. Candles, food and money came to be given to the poor. This is known as the Feast of the Candles. In the country, however, very little changed. Christmas was a time of literal magic, a pagan celebration filled with superstition. The people would leave bread on the table through the holiday and spread it across the fields before sowing their crop. This was supposed to ensure a good harvest. 

Following the Reformation, the Church was eager to get rid of old traditions, be it Catholic or pagan. People in the country baked, butchered, made candles and cleaned everything inside and outside. Then the family would get their Christmas bath (I'm hoping this wasn't the only time a year, but it's hard to judge the people who had no indoor plumbing). Christmas brought goodwill to other people as well as to animals. Grain was left out for wild birds and domestic animals got extra food for the time. All work was banned during the holidays. Though Christmas gifts were not common yet, it was gaining popularity in the cities. Still, servants and employees were given a Christmas bonus of bread or cakes called apple slices. Apple slices are still eaten in Denmark today along with a hot punch made of red wine and brandy or snaps with pieces of almond or raisins in it. This traditional beverage is called glögg. 

The time of Reformation brought a great reformation to Christmas traditions as well. Many new traditions were added during this time. For instance, the idea of the Christmas tree made it's way to Denmark from Germany and the first trees were decorated with paper decorations as well as candy, fruit, Danish flags and candles. Christmas gifts and cards started around this time and the idea of the Christmas 'nisse', a little elf who is said to control your fortune. Families left out a bowl of porridge out to please him and try to keep his jokes in check. The nisse was dressed in a grey sweater and pants and red stockings and hat with white wooden clogs (see the picture above). 

Christmas continued to be reshaped through the start of the 20th century, picking up traditions from other countries and mixing them in with those already in existence. Santa Claus came from the States, holly from Ireland, After WWII, Denmark picked up more traditions such as the Christmas calendar, Advent wreath and Lucia parade. 

The modern Danish Christmas begins with Advent, which means the coming. This refers to the coming of Christ. Advent started off as a time for penance and fasting in preparing for the Christmas feast to come. The 4th Sunday before Christmas is the start of Advent. A wreath of pine twigs with candles and either purple or red ribbons is hung on that day and one candle is lit. The following Sunday another candle is lit and so on until it is all lit. 

Juleaften (Christmas Eve), is the biggest celebration of the year. Danes go to an early mass and dinner is served early as well. The Christmas fare includes roast duck or goose stuffed with prunes and apples, boiled potatoes, sweet potatoes, red cabbage, beets and cranberry jam. Rice pudding is the most popular dessert. You can have ‘ris à l’amande’, the pudding topped with whipped cream, vanilla and almonds or 'risengrød', hot rice pudding. A peeled almond is hidden in the pudding and the finder receives a small gift. 

The Juletræ is another important Danish tradition. In Denmark, the Christmas tree is always topped with a star rather than an angel as some others do. The tree is usually kept outside until Christmas Eve when it is taken inside to be decorated. In some families the tree is decorated together and other times the parents do it together to surprise the children. No matter how it comes to be decorated, the tree becomes a place to dance and sing carols around when it is up and lit. 

So, there are some of the interesting Danish traditions. I apologize for slacking for a couple of days, I know that there should be no excuses for getting in the way of my own education, as well as yours, but I've been very busy. There will be daily posts from now on!


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