I am not completely sure it’s an existing word, julevanvid, but it seems the right word to indicate the crazy weeks leading up to Christmas, where everything you hear, see and smell breaths Jul. I don’t think I have ever met a nation that has as many Christmas traditions as the Danes!
In Denmark Christmas starts already on the first Friday of November: on J-Day Tuborg launches its yearly Christmas beer, called Julebryg. Danes seem to just love their Julebryg! It’s only on the market for about ten weeks a year, yet it’s one of the best selling beers in Denmark.
A week or so after J-Day, Julemand arrives and traditionally turns on all the Christmas lights on Strøget, the main shopping street in Aarhus. That’s when the big quest for presents starts. Make sure you ask for a byttemærke when you buy someone a gift! It’s perfectly accepted for the person receiving the present to exchange it for something they like better. Research shows that no less than one third of the Danes exchanges at least one of the presents they get for Christmas. To me this is insanely much. I grew up learning that you should “not look into the mouth of a horse you received as a gift” (I know, Dutch people sometimes have strange sayings!). I learned to be polite and always put up a happy face, even if I found the gift hideously ugly. After all, the person who bought it had made an effort to find something nice especially for me and didn’t deserve to be disappointed…
What I love most about the whole julevanvid is the juleklip, where people get together to make the most beautiful Christmas decorations, julepynt, while enjoying a glass of gløgg and some æbleskiver. Artfully folded stars, woven hearts and garlands, all in red and white. The stars can be real brainteasers, but I can proudly say that after having intensely studied some YouTube films our tree now contains some traditional Danish julestjerner.
People get together to bake cookies, julesmåkager, or make special Christmas candy, julekonfekt, as well. Danes just love to make it hyggelig together! That’s why there are so many Christmas lunches being organized throughout the month of December. You can have a julefrokost with friends, family, colleagues, classmates, your local sports club… basically with any group of people you can think of. For the record: even though it is called a julefrokost, it isn’t necessarily held around lunchtime and it doesn’t necessarily look like a lunch. There’s a crazy amount of food and you’re supposed to drink schnapps with it, to make it even more hyggelig. The tradition of drinking schnapps starts at an early age. At the børnehave of our youngest daughter the kids were served a little schnapps glass containing water with bubbles when they held their julefrokost last week!
Well, I could go on and on about Danish Christmas traditions. I haven’t mentioned dancing around the tree yet, playing the fun game pakkeleg, watching Julekalender on National TV or eating the traditional Christmas desert Risalamande, where the person who finds the almond gets a gift, the mandelgave. But I don’t want to risk boring you! I just want to make sure you understand how BIG Christmas is in Denmark. Not just Christmas itself, but also the weeks leading up to it. It seems like preparing for the party is giving Danes just as much joy as the party itself. In Dutch we have a word for this: “voorpret”, which kind of means “pre-fun”. I hereby declare the Danes as the masters of Christmas pre-fun!
Glædelig jul og vi ses i det nye år!