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Crowd Denmark | © Felix Andrews (Floybix) / Wikimedia
Crowd Denmark | © Felix Andrews (Floybix) / Wikimedia

10 Traditions Only Danes Can Understand

Picture of Aliki Seferou
Updated: 27 May 2017

Traditions are a very significant thing for Danes, and they always make sure to follow them by letter—especially those that include beer, snaps, and partying. Some of them may sound weird while others are more familiar, but all of them give an insight to the Danish culture and captivate foreigners’ interest.

Christmas-beer Day

Danes welcome the beginning of the Christmas season with a special celebration day only they know about. They celebrate J-Day on the first Friday of November at 8:49pm sharp. On that day, Tuborg releases its Christmas beer known as Julebryg, and locals pack the streets, taste their beloved drink, and party until the early-morning hours. Christmas-decorated tracks are parked in different places around the country and girls dressed in elf and Santa-Claus costumes offer a generous quantity of free Julebryg to locals. This may be the most-successful promotion campaign of the famous brewery and since its launch in 1990, posters with the motto “Glædelig jul og godt Tub’år” (Merry Christmas and a Happy Tuborg year) fill the country every year. 

Burning the witch

On the 23rd of June, Danes gather in various places around the country to celebrate Midsummer and enjoy one of the shortest nights of the year. Saint John’s Eve, or as it is known in Denmark Sankt Hans Aften, is a feast day in many countries around the world. It’s related to the birth of Saint John the Baptist on the 24th of June. In many countries, locals celebrate St. John’s Eve by lighting big bonfires but in Denmark, a witch stands in effigy on top of the bonfire. According to the Danish tradition, witches fly to Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, so they light fires to keep the bad spirits away. Nowadays, Sankt Hans Aften has become another excuse for Danes to meet with friends and drink beer.

25-year-old singles get a cinnamon attack

Those who are 25 and single in Denmark get a special ‘treat’ on their birthday. It’s their friends ‘duty’ to drag them in the middle of the street and cover them in cinnamon and other spices as a way of teasing them for not having found their other half yet. If you’re 30 and still nothing, things get serious as friends replace cinnamon with pepper, and those who are less lucky have also eggs added in the ‘mix’ so that pepper sticks on them. The reason why Danes choose to celebrate their single friends’ birthday by showering them with a ton of spices has to do with the story of the Danish-spice salesmen of the 16th century. As they had to roam around different areas to sell their products, it was difficult to find the love of their life and settle down. They became known as Pebersvends, a term that can also be translated as ‘a bachelor’.

Celebrating high-school graduation on an open truck

Once schools close for summer holidays in June, high-school graduates celebrate their freedom by partying on a open truck driven around the city from early in the morning. Danish flags, balloons, and even banners decorate the truck which stops at every graduate’s house for a drink or a snack. Loud music and boisterous laughs come from the truck’s passengers as they strive to make sure everyone in the city understands that the graduation-celebration week has started.

Danes’ traditional Halloween (Fastelavn)

Fastelavn has much in common with Halloween. Children wear costumes and stroll around the neighborhood while knocking on doors asking for candy or money. That’s a tradition that dates back in the Medieval times long before Halloween became popular in Denmark. In the past, that day was celebrated a bit differently than today with customs that animal-right organizations wouldn’t be happy to hear about. A goose with a greased neck was hanged upside down, and the first one who would manage to tear its head off would be the winner. Another, less violent custom was the ‘hit the cat out of the barrel’ game. Think of a piñata, replace candies with a living cat, and you’ll get the idea. Nowadays, fortunately none of these events take place.    

Jumping off a chair on New Year’s Eve

Those celebrating New Year’s Eve with a Dane will probably see them standing on a chair and then jumping when the clock strikes 12. That ‘jump into the new year’ tradition symbolizes that no matter what challenges the next year will bring, Danes will overcome it. It usually takes place after the family has watched the Queen’s speech on TV and before they all start dancing around the Christmas tree singing traditional Christmas songs and national anthems. Once they’ve crossed all the aforementioned customs off the list, Danes rush outdoors to find the best spot to watch the innumerable fireworks.

Blue Monday

Confirmation Day appeared in Denmark as an obligatory religious ceremony back in 1736 when Christian VI decided that it was a good way to test and strengthen Christian’s faith. Moreover, Confirmation Day signals the transition from childhood to adulthood; therefore, the ideal age for someone to be confirmed is 14 years old. Even nowadays, that day is considered an important celebration for teenagers although some skip the religious part. It usually takes place on a Sunday in spring, and only those who’ve attended 48-hour-classes about Christianity can be confirmed. The fun part is that the teenagers celebrate this day with their friends and family and receive many—often expensive—gifts. The day after Confirmation, the so-called Blue Monday, teens don’t have to go to school. Instead, they keep celebrating, usually by hanging around Tivoli, shopping, and having lunch in restaurants.  

The Easter anonymous letters (Gækkebrev)

Children in Denmark have their own Easter tradition: making Gækkebrev and sending them to their loved ones. Gækkebrev is a letter which includes a teaser rhyme written on a snowflake paper and a snowdrop. The sender doesn’t sign the letter with their name but with the amount of dots equal to the number of letters in their name. If the recipient guesses who sent the Gækkebrev, the sender has to buy the recipient a chocolate Easter egg; if not, then it goes the other way around.

Complement Easter food with snaps

Considered an important time of the year in Denmark, locals usually invite friends and family to their summer house for Easter and celebrate with lots of food and beers. One of the most-traditional dishes served on the Easter table is pickled herring and according to Danes, the best drink to accompany that tasty food is one—or more—snaps. Those who’ve never tasted the typical-Danish drink before may find themselves uncomfortably tipsy before it’s even noon.

The day everyone eats goose for dinner

On the 11th of November, every dinner table in Denmark has a dish with goose or duck as a way of celebrating Mortensaften (Saint Martin’s Day). Some say that St. Martin was elected to become bishop. However, since he didn’t want to take over the role, he decided to hide in geese pen instead. The cackling of geese betrayed his location, so he was soon found and became a bishop in spite of. In order to take revenge on the geese that betrayed him, he asked people to eat a goose every year on the 11th of November. They did for many years until eventually replacing goose with duck and other poultry. St Martin’s Day is also celebrated in  other countries and in different ways around the world.