Danish Christmas celebration at Den Gamle By

By Anna Artioli, photos by Guki Giunashvili

When you ask the Christmas curator at Den Gamle By, Jens Ingvordsen, which of the seasonally decorated rooms in the museum he is personally most proud of, he takes some time to ponder, and then honestly answers: “I’m totally in love with the Danish Christmas: this is rather a difficult question.”

As well as being the museum curator responsible for the special collections throughout the year, Ingvordsen supervises the Christmas program too: “My role is to make sure that all the Christmas exhibitions are ready at the right time, to clear all problems, to make things go smooth for the people who are decorating the rooms”.

One of Den Gamle By’s many places decorated in historical Danish Christmas fashion (photo: Guki Giunashvili)

The rich Christmas program offered by the museum is planned way before the season itself: “We start in January, with an evaluation of the previous year. Then we change the plan in January and February: it’s an ongoing process all through the year. The overall program is ready around the middle of August, early September.”

This year, Den Gamle By hosts 60 places decorated in historical Danish Christmas fashion, and all of them were festively decorated between November 6th and 18th. The process was concluded in such short time thanks to careful planning beforehand: multiple pictures, labelled boxes and coordination are necessary to the success of the endeavour.

A carefully curated museum, open to everyone

As Ingvordsen explains: “My role is to focus on the historical Danish Christmas. Throughout the year, the houses are decorated according to a certain period, and at Christmas time we keep using the interior as it is, but decorate it as if people were just celebrating Christmas: in some of the rooms you’ll enter you’ll see the people are still there, even if you can’t see them; in others the participants have just gone to bed, but haven’t cleaned up yet.”

The decorations are not only historically correct, but try to also take into account the geographical provenance of the historical houses themselves, reflecting the various regional shades in Danish culture: “The houses in Den Gamle By come from all part of Denmark, and we tried to stay true to local traditions, when decorating”

Children with the coloring book, which follows the museums’ main attractions and decorations (photo: Guki Giunashvili)

Den Gamle By as a museum aims to be inclusive: “You can see how Christmas food, music, or presents changed character throughout the centuries. The history of the Danish Christmas has, generally speaking, a wide focus — it’s not for kids, it’s not for adults, it’s not for people from Aarhus: it’s for all ages and all parts of Denmark.”

A visit, though, is not only for Danes: “Among people in Aarhus and the whole eastern Jutland coming to the museum at Christmas time has become a tradition; however we have a lot of visitors from all over Denmark, quite a lot of people from Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands. And our focus is everyone. If you enter a house and see a Christmas exhibition, the text giving the overall picture will be in Danish, English and German, and a lot of people in our living museum also speak English, or German, and they will answer. We try to treat our visitors as visitors, we try to make the performers talk to anyone, all in character, as historically correct as possible”, shares Ingvordsen.

Sweet shops are one of the most popular stops among the young visitors (photo: Guki Giuashvili)

This approach is evident in the care given to small details: for example, the automobile shop opened this year is decorated with the Scandinavian folklore creature called nisse, but, as the Christmas curator explains, the nisse became a friendly figure only around the 1940s, and the ones displayed here are still the “angry” version of the myth, given that the car shop is set in 1927.

What to look out for

Although the main square, inspired by the German Christmas markets, is a public favourite, Ingvordsen explains how the most attended part of the city is actually the modern one, as people “want to feel the pleasure of seeing something they can recognize”.

On the other hand, Ingvordsen’s own favourite rooms are those were such expectations are defied: “I think I prefer the apartments that in our modern view have nothing to do with the tradition of the Danish Christmas, because people start looking and go ‘Hmm, where’s the Christmas?’, and you can explain that the Christmas tree wasn’t invented at that time, and Christmas Eve was a party for grownups and kids were put to bed”.

During holidays, the streets of Den Gamle By are filled with people (photo: Guki Giunashvili)

The houses decorated for Christmas in Den Gamle By are signalled by a small red lantern outside their entry: visiting them will explain why in certain periods it was traditional to put straw on the floor, and why the priests were so against the tradition, what exactly is a Christmas goat and why it goes around telling gossip, and how the decorations on the tree have changed their religious, heathen, national -or edible!- nature throughout the years.

For more information about Christmas program at Den Gamle By, visit http://www.dengamleby.dk

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