8 weird traditions that only make sense to Danes
Nowadays we’re so used to being updated constantly. But you’ll notice that there are certain occasions and times of the year where time seem to stand still, and we celebrate like it’s 1549. If you read on, we’ll tell you all about our weird Danish traditions that make perfect sense to us.
1. Jumping into the new year
If you plan to spend New Year’s Eve in Denmark, don’t be alarmed when you see Danes standing on chairs just before midnight. It’s not because we’re drunk (though we might be), it’s simply an old tradition that we jump into the new year as the clock strikes 12.
And it’s vital that we do it too, because it’s supposed to bring bad luck for the entire new year if you forget to jump at midnight. (Though you might also say it’s not exactly good luck if you end up falling on your face as you try to jump off the chair – not that any of us have ever tried anything so embarrassing…)
2. Hitting the cat out of the barrel at Fastelavn
In February, we celebrate Fastelavn which is a mix of Halloween and carnival. Children dress up in costumes and hit the cat out of the barrel. It’s similar to a piñata, though in stead of sweets we traditionally had a black cat inside the barrel. (But don’t worry! Nowadays we’ve switched out the cat for the sweets and simply decorated the barrel with a cut-out version of a black cat).
3. Our special Easter letters
Our Easter letters (or gækkebreve as we call them) are something truly Danish. They are very personal as cut in a variety of patterns. The text itself has to rhyme, and the sender signs the letter by spelling out its name in dots, so the recipient has to guess who send the letter. If the recipient guesses correctly, he will receive a chocolate Easter egg. If he is mistaken, he has to buy the sender one. (Forget the lottery, these letters are high risk, high reward!)
4. Burning a witch on Saint John’s Eve
On June 23rd, we celebrate Midsummer by gathering around a bonfire up and down the country. We sing songs such as Midsommervisen by Holger Drachmann, listen to the live band that usually play at our public events, and treat ourselves to some snacks and drinks. And that all sounds lovely right? So where does the witch burning come into the picture?
Let’s just quickly clarify that it’s a doll, not a real witch (we’re not that crazy! … anymore). It was a way to ward off witches in the Middle Ages. But let’s be honest: burning a witch on Saint John’s Eve (Sankt Hans aften) is one of those weird traditions that only make sense to Danes…
5. That one week in June where we all want to be high school graduates
If you find yourself in Denmark during the last week of June, you’ll most likely run into a bunch of teenagers wearing our iconic student cap. These teens have just graduated high school, and for the following week the white caps seem to be everywhere you go. There are a lot of different rules of what to write and cut into the caps, and if you stop one of the graduates they’re usually more than willing to explain them all to you.
One of the most traditional ways to celebrate ones high school graduation is hard not to miss. During the last weekend in June, the streets are filled with large, decorated trucks in which the graduates stop by each of their classmates’ houses for something to eat and drink.
6. J-Dag: The beginning of the Christmas season in Denmark
J-dag (i.e. J-day) is an abbreviation for julebrygsdag (Christmas Brew Day). J-day was introduced by the Danish brewery Tuborg in 1990 to launch that year’s Christmas beer and has since become a Danish tradition that more or less kicks off the Christmas season in Denmark.
J-day falls on the first Friday of November every year, and starts at 8:59 PM. Over time, J-day has become a Danish Christmas tradition celebrated in bars and pubs around the country. You can easily join in the festivities, but it might be good to remember that these Christmas beers have a higher percentage of alcohol than regular pilsners. (P.S. If you forget this important piece of information, you’re more Danish that you think.)
7. Mortensaften: The evening where we all eat geese
On the 10th of November, we celebrate Saint Martin’s Eve (Mortensaften) by treating ourselves to a scrumptious dinner of a roast goose (originally… nowadays roast ducks are more commonly used), potatoes, and gravy.
Why do we do this you might ask? It all has to do with some French bloke (Martin) who hid in a flock of geese to avoid being named bishop. But the geese betrayed him by flying away, and Martin got his revenge by claiming that every family should feast on a goose on Saint Martin’s Eve. (He probably could’ve used some anger management…)
8. Christmas: The highlight of our winter season
Come December, the days are at their shortest and darkest (in mid-December, we only about seven hours of sunshine per day). Thus, the winter celebration has a special place within our culture – even for our Viking ancestors who gathered for the festivities where they ate good food, drank beer and exchanged gifts. (Sounds familiar?)