Christmas has Come to Denmark!

This past weekend was the official beginning of Christmas in Aarhus. Santa (or as they call him here, Julemanden, literally “the Christmas man”) came down from his home in Greenland to visit Aarhus on Friday evening. He arrived on a boat in the harbor and lead a parade – in a snow white Cadillac no less – through the city to Stroget, the pedestrian street. There, he stopped to light the Christmas lights hanging above the shops.

Christmas Lights

He then continued along the parade route, ending up in the square in front of the city hall. There, the mayor and Santa lit the giant Christmas tree while all the children cheered and everyone around us sang Danish Christmas carols.

Santa in his cadillac, the tree all lit up, and the gazillions of people who came out to greet Santa.

Santa in his cadillac, the tree all lit up, and the gazillions of people who came out to greet Santa.

{Singing is really big here in Denmark. Danes have a song for every special occasion. We went to a Halloween dinner party once for Brian’s work, and everyone was handed lyrics for a Halloween themed song that we then all sang together later in the night. On Christmas Eve, the tradition is to light the candles on the tree and then join hands around it while singing Christmas carols. So it was no surprise to me that everyone burst into the same song after the tree was lit on Friday.}

So now that December has started, Christmas is in full swing in Denmark, and they go crazy for Christmas here. I think it has to do with all the dark. Christmas gives you a really really good excuse for extra hygge. So far, it’s one of my favorite things about Denmark. I am a Christmas nut, so it’s super exciting for me.

The Danes have some very specific Christmas traditions, many of which we are adopting to give some more holiday cheer to our first Christmas away from our families. Saturday night, we went to one of Brian’s coworker’s homes for a Danish Christmas dinner, and they taught us how to make some of the traditional Danish Christmas decorations. {Have I talked yet about how Danes seem to make everything by hand? Home repairs, dinner parties, holiday decorations. Whatever it is, the Danes like to do it themselves.}

The first big one is the advent wreath.  Traditionally, you make one yourself with pine boughs, pine cones, moss, anything Christmasy. Then you insert four candles, one for each of the advents, or the four Sundays before Christmas. We came home and quickly put a wreath together using a store bought wreath (shame on us!) and some candles we had in the house. Then we promptly lit it because yesterday was the first Sunday in December.

Our advent wreath with the first candle lit.

Our advent wreath with the first candle lit.

They also have these calendar candles that you light every night in December leading up to Christmas. We’ve had this one for a month, just waiting to be lit.

Our giant Christmas countdown candle. (Sorry the picture is awful.)

Our giant Christmas countdown candle. (Sorry the picture is awful.)

Another big traditional Danish Christmas decoration are these paper hearts that you weave together out of different colored paper. They’ve been making them forever. The oldest known heart is one made by Hans Christian Anderson, but the Danes are in agreement that people had been making them well before then. So we learned how to make those and have a couple up in our house now along with these really complicated origami paper stars that are apparently also somewhat traditional because you can buy materials and how to guides at many stores.

Danish paper hearts and stars.

Danish paper hearts and stars.

We’re planning on making lots more because we didn’t bring any ornaments with us to decorate our tree with!

Here are a couple of videos we took of Santa lighting the Christmas lights last Friday, in case you want to experience it first hand. It was pretty neat, especially since it felt like all of Aarhus turned out to see it happen.

And here’s a much better quality video of Santa in previous years. It’s in Danish, but it’s still pretty cool to watch since you get to see Santa in his boat and everything. It’s an advertisement to let everyone known when Santa was coming this year.

By the way, I haven’t been able to figure out why Julemanden carries around a big wood spoon. Can any of my Danish readers tell me? He definitely used it to help him light the tree. Is it like a magical staff?


4 thoughts on “Christmas has Come to Denmark!

  1. He’s waiting for his porridge! Instead of Christmas cookies, the tradition is that families put out porridge for Santa in a wooden bowl. (There’s more to the story, and it’s probably a little different in every Scandinavian country, but I think that’s the general reason!)


    • Ah the risengrød! Why didn’t I think of that? I have been reading about the tradition of gnomes (the Danes called them “nisser”) here in Scandinavia and how Santa only came later, after WWII. And I know you’re supposed to leave rice porridge out for the gnomes on Christmas Eve. So it looks like they combined some of the traditions when it comes to Santa. Good call, though. I totally didn’t think of that 🙂


  2. Allison –

    Loved the Aarhus Christmas preview. WOW!…wish I was there…and I will be soon. Looks magical! I love your Advent Candle (used to have one when Brian was little), the 25 day candle, the gnomes and the paper ornaments. Thanks for sharing!
    Mom Pierce


    • We can’t wait to have you here, Barb, and share all this Danish Christmas hubbub! There will still be a couple of very Danish Christmas traditions to do when you get here, which I’ll talk about in another post. But we’re excited!


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