How to Survive the Danish Work Christmas Party

julefrokost

Last Friday I went to my first Danish work Christmas party, or julefrokost. It was quite an event and a lot of fun, but it’s a very Danish tradition that might take you a bit by surprise if you’re not expecting some of its particular elements.

The big Danish Christmas tradition is to open presents on the evening of the 24th and then to spend all of the 25th and 26th traveling to the houses of family and friends and partaking of this grand feast called the julefrokost, or Christmas lunch. The Danes adapt this all day eating extravaganza into parties for friends and work colleagues throughout the month of December. You may have heard that Danes are reserved and difficult to get to know. While this can be true if you’re the kind of person who likes to party at the last minute, if you’re willing to plan ahead you’ll find that the Danes are actually quite into socializing, just in very specific and sanctioned ways like in a club or in these very planned and themed parties through work.

So as a non-Dane in the land of hygge and snaps, how do you survive such a very Danish socializing tradition as the julefrokost?

  1. Dress appropriately. Sure, it may take place at work and immediately after your working day, but the julefrokost is a special event and fancy dress is required. Most people will have brought a change of clothes (and the women will have brought high heels and extra makeup). Also, if there is a theme (like Scary Christmas, the theme at the one I attended last Friday) people will dress according to theme, so you may want to join in on the fun. Or maybe consider wearing an “elf hat” (essentially a Santa hat) because many of your coworkers and even your boss will probably wear one.
  2. Follow the invitation to the letter. If it says to bring a present no more than 30 kroner, do so. It’s for a game. If it says to bring your own drinks, do so, or you won’t have anything to drink at the party. And above all, arrive on time! The Danes are very punctual and will be a bit miffed if you arrive 30 minutes late.
  3. Speaking of which, spouses aren’t invited. This is a bit unusual to many people from other cultures, so it’s important to note. They didn’t mention asking your spouse to come because spouses are not invited to the Danish work parties. The party is about colleagues socializing and bonding not about meeting each others’ families. Don’t take this personally, it’s just the way it’s done. There will be other social functions that your spouse can attend. (Plus, they probably assumed that your spouse has a julefrokost of their own to attend since everyone works in Denmark. Plus, someone has to stay home and watch the kids while you’re out till 2 a.m. See number 5 below for more details on that.)
  4. Sit where you’re told. Your place at a table will have been decided for you, either by a game (which is what happened to me) or by a seating chart. It’s very likely that you’ll be sitting next to strangers or colleagues from a different department. This is on purpose. It’s so you can socialize and get to know each other. Take advantage of the opportunity to meet someone knew, and say hi to your other friends later after dinner is over and the rules about getting up from the table are a little more relaxed.
  5. Settle in and be patient. The Danish julefrokost is a multi hour event. Many of them go until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning! I left mine at 11:30pm, and I was in the first wave of people leaving. Just sit back and enjoy the experience. The Danes are very into the experience of dinner and entertaining.
  6. Do not leave before it’s appropriate. Unless you have a really good excuse, I get the feeling that it’s rude to leave too early. Stay at least through dessert and all the games. Which means, you should be prepared to stay until at least midnight. That’s when all the guests with kids – and Americans who are not used to staying up so late! – tend to leave.
  7. Be prepared to eat. Seriously. A lot. Maybe go on a fast earlier in the day because you will need all of the room in your tummy. The traditional julefrokost is many courses. The first is always fish, usually in a form that allows you to make the traditional Danish open face sandwiches (smørrebrød), including shrimp salad, tuna mousse, curried herring, pickled herring, some other kind of herring, or smoked salmon. This is followed by some meat courses, usually including traditional Danish meatballs (frikadeller), sausage, duck or goose, and of course roast pork with cracklings (flæskesteg). The sides are typically caramelized small potatoes (brune kartofler), warm red cabbage salad (rødkål), pickled vegetables, and more potatoes. Dessert is usually the traditional rice pudding with cherry sauce (risalamande med kirsebærsovs). Yum!
  8. Be prepared to drink. Each course is served with aquavit, the Danish snaps, in addition to the free flowing wine and beer that are typical of a Danish party. The Danes love a good excuse to drink, and I have found that they are actually quite convivial social drinkers. So I would encourage you to partake of this part of the tradition as much as you’re comfortable with. First, it will help you to participate fully in the experience. Second, it sure does make those hours fly by.
  9. Warm up your singing voice before hand. You will be singing Christmas carols. Probably many of them. We sang 4 or 5 at my party, and it was a lot of fun. The Danes love singing songs together, and do so every chance they get. Don’t worry about not knowing the words, though. They always pass around the lyrics. And there’s usually at least 5 verses, so you’ll get the tune down by the end of the song.
  10. Pakkeleg will be the funnest game you have ever played, and you’ll want to use it in all your future parties. I loved this part of the party. Pakkeleg means “package game.” Every guest is asked to bring a cheap gift to the party. Then at some point, dice are passed around to each table. The guests all take turns rolling the dice, and whenever you roll a 6 you get to take a present from the pile. When all the presents are taken, the real fun begins. For the next 5 minutes, every time you roll a 6 you get to steal any present in the room. When the 5 minutes are up, the game is over and you win all the presents in your possession. Imagine playing this with 30 drunk and rowdy party guests. It’s pandemonium.

So that is what to expect at a Danish julefrokost, especially one held at your work. It’s typically Danish and quite an experience. But I’ve become quite fond of many of the Danish Christmas traditions, and this is one of the best.

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11 thoughts on “How to Survive the Danish Work Christmas Party

      • They do (it’s called “Julebord” – literally, “Christmas Table”) and it’s also a dressed-up event. If it’s a smaller business the spouses are usually encouraged to attend. I’ve never been to an official one, so I really enjoyed reading of your experience!

        Since I work from home, a couple years ago I organized my own “julebord” and invited couples from the Americans in Bergen Facebook group. We had a nice evening of dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, and then walked to my favorite bar for drinks (my Amundsen vodka martini!) It hasn’t worked out to do that again, but it’s a nice memory! (I’m taking Norwegian classes again and we had a small party at our last class before the holidays – did your Danish class do something like that?)

        Norwegian businesses often have a “Blåtur” in the spring – usually just for the company, but smaller firms may invite spouses too – it’s an activity that could be a couple hours of partying at the local community hall OR something where you’re told what clothes to pack, bring your passport, and reserve an entire weekend – and you’re taken away with no knowledge of where you’re going. Our first year here the company my husband worked for at the time had a barbeque/cookout, and then (the surprise) a helicopter landed to take a few at a time on an aerial exploration of the small valley we lived in at the time (Modalen). I sure wish I could have participated in THAT! 🙂 But from where we were living at the time (partway up one of the mountains) I could hear and then see the helicopter as it buzzed around.

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      • Wow! Those spring parties sound really cool! Our Danish classes did have a little Christmas party of their own. The school throws one for everybody, and then each class can decide if it wants to do its own outside class hours. My class had one, but I wasn’t able to go. I love your idea of throwing your own julebord since you work from home. I think as an expat, sometimes you have to do that kind of thing to make the culture your own.

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  1. I enjoyed this post. Mexico and Denmark are complete opposites, but a lot of those descriptions are very similar to Christmas in Mexico. During the month of December there are many “Christmas gettogethers” from work and friends, and they also end late, at least till midnight. That game too, I’ve played with my extended family. The rules are a bit different, but the idea is the same and it truly is fun. Of course, drinking is mandatory.

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    • I love how cultures can be so different and yet you can still find all these similarities. It’s fascinating. I really like how the Danes make Christmas last an entire month with all these little get togethers and formal parties, and it sounds like people in Mexico do the same thing. I think it’s a great idea.

      I hope you enjoyed (are enjoying still?) your trip back to Mexico! I’ve been kind of out of blogging the last week or so with all the Christmas stuff going on, but I plan on catching up soon.

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  2. Pingback: The Steamier Side of the Julefrokost Party | Our House in Aarhus

  3. Awesome! I managed to snag an invitation to my husband’s julefrokost last weekend too! I think I was the only non-affiliated person there. It was a lot of fun. We didn’t sing any songs, but there was lots of feasting, snaps, and dancing! And the present exchange was something crazy. There were roughly 100 people at this jule frokost (with each of us required to bring 2 gifts), and the dice rolling lasted for closer to 15 minutes. At one point, I couldn’t find any gifts to steal. People somehow managed to hide the gifts they acquired so that by the end there were only a few gifts visible on top of the tables. I ended up with a coconut, a can of corn, and a snowman window decal. It was wild!

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    • That’s awesome! There wasn’t any dancing at my julefrokost (thank goodness), but I’ve heard it’s also a big part of the whole festivities. I’d rather sing 🙂 And I love that everyone was so crafty about the gift game at your party. How fun!

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  4. Haha this is so true!
    I never ever, ever drink schnaps, but i christmas beer or a special beer and loads of wine is just as good (it’s ok to say no to schnaps!). 😛
    The singing I’ve never heard of… Only around the tree at christmas eve 🙂
    Happy new years, take care 🙂

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    • Godt nytår! I’m glad you could relate to my experience 🙂 I too am not the biggest fan of schnaps, so I usually just drink one and then stick to beer or wine!

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