How to survive Christmas in Denmark

Do you also wonder about what Danes really do at Christmas? The Omnibus survival guide reveals all.

[Translate to English:] Foto: Studenterhus Aarhus

How do you survive the parcel game, the office Christmas party and the compulsory ‘dance’ around the Christmas tree? Danish Christmas is a fast-paced tour-de-force of entrenched traditions and quirky habits. Find out more about what you’re likely to be exposed to over Christmas in the Omnibus survival guide. 

Parcel game

Extremely high-decibel, with grown-up people battling for anything from tinned mackerel in tomato to kitsch Christmas decorations from the local dollar store. It’ll be hard to avoid a parcel game or two if you’re in Denmark in December.

How you survive:

Every Dane has their own idea about the rules of the parcel game. But we can all agree on the following - more or less:

  • Everyone takes turns shaking the dice. Every time you get a 6, you can take a parcel from another player.
  • When the stopwatch rings, you can unwrap your parcels.

It’s also worth knowing some of the variations:

  • Some people have a rule that you have to take a parcel from one player and give a parcel to another if you throw a 1.
  • Some play more than one round. After the first round, you can unwrap one parcel. Then you play another round.

The best advice is: be quick and don't cheat unless you want to be seriously unpopular at the Christmas party.

Office Christmas party

Snaps and skål. Two words you’ll definitely be needing. Danes have a packed social calendar of Christmas parties during the festive Christmas season. They’re well known for guests’ tendency to lose all sense of reason and decorum as they consume increasing quantities of snaps and Christmas food.

How you survive:

  • Beware of the snaps. Some Danes will try to convince you that snaps tastes good and it’s ‘all part of the tradition’. But beware! After five or six snaps, anything can happen, and you probably won’t remember it in the morning.
  • Risalamande. Cold rice porridge with whipped cream and chopped almonds may not sound like a delicacy. The whole point of this extremely filling dessert is the single whole almond hidden in the bowl. If you get the whole almond in your portion, save it (perhaps in your cheek, like a chipmunk) but don’t tell anyone. Encourage the others to have a second or third serving. Not only will the others become uncomfortably full, you’ll win the almond prize. Hurray!

Dancing around the Christmas tree

You may well feel a little foolish walking in a circle around a fir tree. And rightly so. And even though the (often) real candles on the tree have been known set fire to wrapping paper or even the cat’s tail, dancing around the Christmas tree is, and will remain, a beloved Danish Christmas tradition.

How you survive:

  • ‘Dancing’ around the Christmas tree is something of an exaggeration. Shuffle around is more like it.
  • You are allowed to mumble instead of sing. Only very few Danes know all the words to the traditional carols and songs they sing as they slowly make their way around the tree.
  • Nu er det jul igen is the only one where we actually do something resembling physical exertion. We make up for the slow pace of the other ‘dances’ by racing around the house like madmen.

Christmas party for students

Now, hopefully, you’re a little better prepared to survive Christmas in Denmark. If you want to put your new knowledge to use, why not sign up for Christmas Eve for students with Studenterhus Aarhus, UngK, the Student Priests and ESN Aarhus. Everyone is welcome – both international and Danish students.

Timetable for the event:

14:00 Meet for æbleskiver (spherical pancakes), mulled wine, and Christmas dinner preparations.

15:15 Christmas service – join in if you like. Or you can just help with the preparations or hang out instead.

18:00 Danish Christmas Dinner, after which we will light the Christmas tree, ‘dance’ around it, and open presents. We plan to finish around midnight.

The event costs DKK 100, and you can sign up here: 

The ticket sale ends 19th December

Merry Christmas!


Translated by Lenore Messick