Despite the Danes being very progressive in many ways, they can be incredibly traditional in their holiday celebrations. I have celebrated a few Christmases in Denmark with my in-laws and it’s been such a wonderful experience every time.
We started the 24th by decorating the Christmas tree with all kinds of ornaments, flags and real candles. The tree was then put behind closed doors, as none of the arriving family members were allowed to see the tree yet. When everybody had arrived we indulged in the festive dinner, which included meat, potatoes, brown sauce and red cabbage. I always save room for dessert as it involves the heavenly dish risalamande. When eating risalamande there are three very important rules to remember. Rule 1. Don’t accidentally eat the whole almond. The dessert contains lots of crushed almonds, but only one whole one and the person who finds the big almond wins a present. Rule 2. If you get the almond keep it a secret, so everybody else keeps eating till they burst. Rule 3. You’re not allowed to fish for the almond or sneak in your own.
After dinner the candles in the Christmas tree were lit and the doors were opened so everybody could finally see it. We sang songs and danced around the tree. So far I have only managed to remember one song, mainly because it consists of only three lines and because I am always a little preoccupied with trying to avoid my dress catching fire. After we unwrapped the presents from under the tree it was time for… more presents! The game is called pakkeleg and everybody is supposed to bring a small or silly, wrapped present. In round one the dice decides if you can take a present from the table and in round two you can trade your present with other people. Often the most popular present that is traded all the time turns out being the silliest and so everybody has been desperately trying to win a pack of Hello Kitty bandaids.
In the Netherlands we also like to go all-in with Christmas and we love to meet up with the whole family and eat good food. However, I had never before celebrated Christmas so traditionally with singing and dancing around the tree, but maybe that is more because we are all horrible singers in my family. We just leave that to Mariah.