By Laura Naima Kabelka, photos by Guki Giunashvili, Haoruo Wei and Bridget Dooley
The Danes are a very particular people. Their every-day habits of riding bikes through wind and storm or eating frikadeller like there is no tomorrow might not surprise the international community anymore, but who would expect them to go even more hygge in the weeks before Christmas? Here are some suggestions to prepare yourself for this year’s festive season, what to do, what to taste and where to go.
The first Advent Sunday of 2018 was a very special day for Aarhus. It had been raining all day, but as if ordered by the golden-haired girls waiting for their performance on the balconies of the town hall, at 4PM it abruptly stopped. Although the crowd did not seem to care much about the weather, it was a little miracle that made the yearly event of the Christmas tree lightning, or Juletræstænding, even more enjoyable.
The program consisted of live Christmas music – a charming child choir of Aarhus Music School and Danish sing-along, followed by a speech and countdown by the mayor Jacob Bundsgaard and, of course, the lighting itself. Even though the lights around the tree would not be described as spectacular, the crowd was very cheerful. Attendees treated themselves with some traditional Danish donuts served with sugar and jam called Æbleskiver, and a glass (or maybe more) of Gløgg, the traditional Danish Christmas wine. In case you missed the event this year, make sure to join next time. As an international in Aarhus, you will feel like part of the Danish society, and if you decide join the others in singing Danish seasonal songs nobody will notice that you only understand half of the words.
The Danes really enjoy the weeks leading up to Christmas. No wind or rain can keep them from going to the different markets, browsing through the handcrafted goods or snacking and drinking until it gets dark(er). If you are clueless about what to by for your beloved ones this year, you might get inspired here. Some of the markets in Aarhus are free of charge, for instance Godsbanen, where you can find unique artwork, design and food, or Art Market at Ridehuset an indoors place to visit on rainy days. The classy and not too cheesy light decoration and Christmas music gets shoppers in the right mood. Also, worthy of mention is Den Gamle By offer where your student card will get you a free entrance every weekday starting from 3PM. Visiting Aarhus open air town-museum offers great insights on how Christmas was celebrated in Denmark no less than 400 years ago.
To see how Aarhus sparkles and shines from above, the rooftop of Salling is a great spot to feel the Christmas vibes and for adventurers, the amusement park Tivoli Friheden should fulfill all desires. For the first time, even Aarhus Street Food transforms its outside space into a Christmas market with warm drinks and delicious snacks.
The Julefrokost, the Christmas Lunch, is another traditional event in Denmark and is usually celebrated in a family setting or by a group of friends. The main highlights are the little gifts that everyone brings and the many different Danish dishes that are served. In fact, it can be understood as a combination of Thanksgiving and Christmas, also because it takes place some time in between, depending on the host. Apart from beer and wine, the consumption of Danish Snaps is on the to-do-list for this party. And if there is no more space for food or drinks, a typical Julefrokost would then be about singing, talking or playing games.
It does not come as a big surprise that it also falls into Danish Christmas traditions to drink quite a lot. What is known as Glühwein or Punsch in German-speaking countries is called Gløgg in Denmark. The traditional version is made from mulled red wine, spices, almonds and raisins. However, the recipe can be changed at your discretion. For example, one suggestion would be to swap the red for white wine and warm it up with cloudy apple juice in a big pot. Add a cinnamon stick and two chunks of fresh ginger, half a lemon worth of juice, and a dash of salt. This is best served with a few table spoons of diced and gently-roasted apples, cranberries and walnuts.
But not only hot beverages are celebrated in Denmark in the most wonderful time of the year. Since the famous J-Dag, which is celebrated on the first Friday of November, bars also serve spiced-up beers. Tuborg’s marketing strategy of introducing the yearly Christmas edition of their beer is working since their first launch in 1981. In case you still have not figured out what J-Dag means, here comes the enlightenment: J stands for Julebryg, which means Christmas brew, and Dag stands for day. Therefore, it simply means the day of the Christmas brew and this year it is a dark-golden beer with aroma of licorice, caramel, cereal and blackcurrant.
Trying out some of these Danish practices, can transform the cold weeks before the holidays in a very pleasant and cosy experience. Singing Christmas songs, eating Danish food and drinking spicy beverages while enjoying the few hours of daylight will put you in the right mood. And who can complain about the weather in Aarhus anyway?
For more information about celebrating Christmas in Aarhus, visit: http://godsbanen.dk/english/, https://www.dengamleby.dk/en/den-gamle-by/, https://friheden.dk/det-sker/jul-i-friheden , https://www.aarhusstreetfood.com