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How to celebrate Christmas Eve like Danish people?

Updated: Oct 28, 2023


Christmas Eve

Welcome to the 4th and final episode of our advent series designed to help you navigate through the weird danish traditions that you will encounter during Christmas time.

This final episode is dedicated to the Christmas eve itself!

To the Danes, all of December comes down to one thing - Christmas Eve! In Denmark, this holiday is usually spent with family. Although every family will do Christmas slightly different, there are a few Danish traditions that you should know.

Christmas eve

Christmas trees, Christmas trees everywhere! (Taken in Horsens, DK)


1. Going to church?

As mentioned previously in our Advent series, Danes are known as culture christians, which means that although most of the population is baptised and part of the danish protestant church, they are not very devout christians. In spite of this, many Danes enjoy going to church during Christmas singing psalms and gathering with people from their community. If you want to go to church and experience it yourself, then check out the church nearest you to see their schedule for the psalms singing.

Going to church

Danes go to church the 24th and sing psalms despite not being that much religious



2. Christmas Dinner, what to expect?

Christmas would hardly be a proper holiday without the food according to most Danes. There are a variety of classic Christmas dishes and the dish that each family eat at Christmas can be of almost sacred importance.

The meat is usually ‘flæskesteg’ or roast pig, ‘medisterpølse’ which is a kind of sausage, duck or turkey - which is also the foundation of the delicious ‘brun sovs’, a thick, rich, brown sauce. This is accompanied by potatoes, either ordinary or small caramelised potatoes known as brown potatoes. On the side is also something sour like pickles, gurkins and warm red cabbage. This might sound strange at first, but don't knock it until you have tried it!

Christmas Dinner

Remember to try these "Æbleskiver" out as dessert!


Ris-a-la-mande, the dessert that makes you competitive!

With every lavish meal comes a dessert! This is without doubt going to be ris-a-la-mande, which is basically a rice pudding with vanilla, whipped cream and chopped almonds. This is drizzled in cherry sauce with whole cherries - YUM!

But the greatest thing about this dessert is not the taste. Before serving one big bowl on the table, a single whole almond is added and hidden in the bowl. The person who is lucky to get the almond in their portion after serving will get a special present, known as ‘mandelgave’ or almond present. This is usually a small gift which could be enjoyed by more people at the table. It is an common dad-joke to save the almond in the cheek or under a napkin and deny having found it - leaving the rest of the party to eat like crazy only to find that the whole almond was already found... Good luck!

3. Dancing around the Christmas Tree

the Christmas Tree

Look at the moves that Michael do for Christmas!


In some families it is a tradition to dance around the Christmas tree in a circle singing songs. Some of the psalms are ‘Dejlig er den himmelblå’, ‘Et barn er født i Bethlehem’, and ‘Højt fra træets grønne top’. Give it a try, at least it will be a good way for you to exercise your singing skills in danish :)

Some families also sing the song ‘Nu’ det jul igen’ and dance and run around the entire house in a snake-like fashion - this is quite fun and a recommended tradition to adopt!


4. The Christmas Presents

Presents are great, but we think a lot of Danes agree that Christmas is more about the cozy and comfort that family, food and freezing temperatures outside have a tendency to bring.

As opposed to a lot of English-speaking countries, the Danes open their presents on the eve of Christmas (24th) and not on Christmas day (the 25th). In Denmark these days 24-26th are known as Christmas day (24th), 1st Christmas day (25th), 2nd Christmas day (26th), which is a really useful system!

The Christmas Presents

This is Tan actual Christmas present - It hasn't been opened yet :(


However, when there are presents under the tree they will of course be distributed. Some families wreck havoc and open all the presents belonging to them, all at once. The more customary is probably to have the children, the youngest pick a present first, read out loud to whom it is for and from and give it to the person. The receiver will then open it and appreciate it before moving on to the next present.


5. Post Christmas traditions

You’ve eaten so much, you’re about to burst, and all you wanna do is sleep until January... but Christmas is not over yet! On the night to 25th of December, most young Danes go to party downtown and say hi to their friends. This is usually a very busy time of the year in the bars, and the young Danes are getting hammered just a few hours after the Christmas dinner ended. So for you as an international, feel free to grab a beer or ten, this is totally normal (sometimes expected) right after Christmas eve!

Post Christmas traditions

Michael is dancing all the way to the bars after Christmas dinner


6. Christmas Eve for Internationals

So now you have an idea about how Danes celebrate Christmas and you have decided to stay in Denmark during Christmas, but not sure where to go?

Luckily there are many places in Denmark, where awesome organizations are hosting Christmas Eve publicly. Our dear friends and partners, Studenterhuset Aarhus, are one of them, which you can sign up for here.

Christmas Eve

Our friends at studenterhuset Aarhus are hosting Christmas eve for internationals


If you live in another city, we are sure that there is a public event, where you can experience the Danish edition of Christmas eve. If you can't find one, please let us know by writing to us through Facebook here or write an email to us at info@student-survial.com and we will help you find one near you :)

For now, from all of us at Student Survival guide to all of you struggling students and internationals, have a lovely holiday and merry Christmas!

/Student Survival guide

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