Like most places in the western world, most Danes celebrated Christmas is in one way or another.
The biggest moment of Christmas, for Danes, is the evening of Dec. 24th!
That’s when families all over the country gather, to go through the worldwide known rituals of overeating and the giving and receiving of presents!
If you’re overcome with the urge to celebrate as well, and don’t conveniently have family or friends in Denmark, you can invite yourself to, make your way to the Grey Hall at Christiania, and join the Homeless Christmas.
It’s not just for the homeless – it’s also for everyone who frown upon the commercialized Christmas, and it’s desperate, materialistically squeaking ambition of making this the “best Christmas ever”!
It’s free – but if you can afford it, donate money or something in return, and if you can, show up early (dinner is around 5:00 or 6:00 pm.), and help out.
Shops, cinemas, even some restaurants will be closing early on Dec. 24th, and be closed all of December 25th. On Dec. 26th. most shops are still closed, but cinemas will run the latest premiers, and restaurants will be full.
Public transport runs on a Sunday schedule (less frequent) on Dec. 25th and 26th, on Saturday schedule on the 25th – but will actually come to a complete stand still between about 5pm and 7 pm.
On Dec. 27th. shops are open again, and full of people returning what they got on the 24th, getting the right size or getting what they really wanted.
Sankt Hans aften – or St. Hans’ eve is named after St. John – John the Baptist. His birthday was celebrated 6 months before Jesus – June 24th. As it was customary back then, celebrations started the evening before (just like Christmas), and this tradition is continued today.
Sankt Hans is celebrated in the evening, at about dusk. Bonfires are lit, especially along coastlines, because they just look a lot better, when reflected in water!!
Denmark is not so far north, to have all day in the summer or all night in the winter.
But the length of the day from sunrise to sunset, varies dramatically! On Dec. 21st. is just 7½ hours, and on June 21st. almost 18 hours!
We do know the real midsummer is on June 21st – but the Catholic church was really big on celebrating St. John, so this was the only way they would let us keep celebrating midsummer, when they took over the right to dictate holidays back in the early 1000’s.
Through the years, people have still lit bonfires, to scare off evil spirits at the entrance to a period of longer nights, just as it was done before Christianity.
Later (late 1800’s) it became customary to burn a model of a witch on the bonfire, and sing the Midsummervisen (Midsummers song), which talks about lighting bonfires on the ancient graves to scare off trolls and witches.
(Recipe by late Dragør original Huddi)
Makes just over 2 litres, 20 % alcohol
One bottle of brown rum of the best kind, is set in a warm spot, so it won’t cool the punch too much, when added.
Dissolve 4 – 6 teaspoons or lumps of sugar into 1,4 litres of warm water. Keep it warm in the pot, over low heat.
The original recipe said 5 – 6 lumps of sugar, but when Huddi got older, he reduced it to 4 – and admitted that he actually thought 3 was plenty.
“people don’t come here to drink sweet soup”, as he used to say.
Do not pour the rum into the sugar-water, until the riders are lining up outside!! You don’t want all the good stuff to evaporate …
Fastelavn means the evening of feasting (-lavn), before the period of fasting (faste-). True to Danish tradition, we have dropped the fasting a long time ago, but of course kept the party!! The date varies, but its always 40 days before Easter.
In most parts of Denmark, Fastelavn is a children’s celebration – they dress up and go from door to door to collect money – allegedly to pay for all their feasting.
At Fastelavn you will also encounter kids armed with special bats – that’s for the rather strange tradition of beating barrels to splinters. It used to be grownups, but now it’s almost only– and the barrels are usually filled with sweets and fruit (like a piñata).
It was not always so …
Fastelavn is no exception from the rule, that Amager is a lot different from Copenhagen! In much darker ages, people on Amager would place a cat inside a barrel, and beat the barrel to bits. The custom comes from Germany and Holland, where cats would be killed, as a symbol of the evil they hoped to ward off. In Denmark, the cat was usually freed alive, when the bottom of the barrel was shattered.
These days Amager has a tradition of smashing the barrel from horseback. On Sunday in Dragør, and on Monday in St. Magleby (both days at 4 pm), grown people will use even heavier bats, than the ones the kids are trusted with, and beat traditionally painted barrels to bits. These barrels have been soaked in icy water, so they are tough. If the riders seem slightly .. well .. celebratory, it’s because they have been riding since 9 am., visiting every home as well as local businesses, (40 places in all) and had a glass of rum punch (see recipe) at every stop!! Bloody accidents (none fatal) have happened in the past, so the riders are advised not to ride under the barrel, if they feel too intoxicated.
Around late June, the Danes celebrate the longest day of the year by lighting big piles of wide on fire throughout the country-side. Why, you ask? To scare the witches away, of course. I asked many people about the reasoning for the fire, but I could never get a clear answer. Maybe when you vist Denmark you can find out for me. I don't know how many of these fires you'll see in Kobenhavn; I caught this fire in the small town I was livng in.