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In this final round of Christmas vs. Jul we're talking dates. Should Christmas be on the 24th or the 25th? And what other weird things do people do on Christmas day? Who will win the battle?
English Christmas is on the 25th, with Christmas Eve on the 24th. In Denmark we kick things off a day early, and celebrate on the 24th, in line with the majority of Central Europe and some of South America.
In my family, it’s always meant that we spent Christmas Eve with my mum’s family for Danish Christmas, and Christmas Day was spent at home with my parents and brothers. As we’ve got older we’ve dispersed a bit. One of my brothers spent last Christmas Day with his girlfriend’s family, and my dad is currently stationed in Afghanistan, but I plan to carry on the tradition when I have a family of my own.
I don’t think one is strictly “better” than the other, unless you’re especially impatient. This heat is a dead tie.
England – 1 Denmark – 1
Other Weird Traditions
Here are some odd things English people do on Christmas Day:
Go to church even when they don’t go on any of the other 51 Sundays in any given year. Make children perform in universally dull plays and say the word “virgin” a lot while singing carols about farm animals, wandering royalty, starlight navigation and mass infanticide. Watch the Queen talk about things on TV, occasionally while reverently standing up in your own living room. The Doctor Who Christmas Special. Get really drunk on sloe gin and complain about how families aren’t like they used to be.
Here are some, arguably weirder, things Danish people do:
Put actual candles on their actual trees and light them. Because fire and wood is totally sensible. Hold hands in a circle around the aforementioned flaming fir tree and walk awkwardly around it. Open your presents painfully slowly, one by one, under the painfully acute stares of all in attendance and then enthuse about the gift regardless of who gave it to you and what it is. Get really drunk on disgusting potato-based spirits called Snaps (NOT the same as Schnapps) and complain about the Swedes.
This one is really tough to call because, frankly, Christmas turns usually reasonable people into complete oddballs all in the name of Christmas cheer. However, flames are scary and Snaps is revolting, so England gets the point.
England – 2 Denmark – 1
Taking into account the food, the folklore and the flames the overall score is a dead tie, with four points apiece. This is pretty appropriate because there’s a lot to be said for both versions of Christmas. Danish Christmas has too many biscuits, but English Advent Calendars suck. Danish elves are adorable but Father Christmas is the OG plus-size papa. And, coming from a bi-National family, having two Christmases is kind of the bomb.
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Coming from a bi-National household, my childhood Christmases were a mishmash of cultural influences. In this edition of Christmas vs. Jul we're looking at whether the Danes or the English are the kings of Christmas cuisine.
You can pretty much tell from looking at me, I like snacks. Snacks are great. Christmas snacks are generally delightful.
English Christmas snacks seem to mostly be chocolate, and I’m not complaining about that. Unless it’s those grotty ones that are basically strawberry toothpaste in a chocolate shell, those are the worst. But give me a toffee penny and I’m a happy lady. I could take or leave mince pies, mostly because I get asked by the wider family to make them and I bake hundreds of the sodding things every year. I think I’ve reached mince pie saturation. Oh, also there is generally a larger than usual amount of cheese in my house at Christmas, and that is also a good thing. Gingerbread men and candy canes are basically fine too.
Danish Christmas snacks are things like pebernodder which are little spicy shortbread biscuit thingies that you put in little baskets and hang on your tree. They’re nice and all but they don’t really wave my red-and-white-and-wonky flag. We also have butter cookies (better) which are melty, buttery, vanilla flavoured biscuits. And then there are klejner, little knotty biscuits that you deep-fry.
Basically Danish Christmas snacks are mostly biscuits. Which is great if you really like biscuits. Otherwise, I’ll be honest, it’s all a bit too biscuity. Also mostly of them have cardamom in them. For this reason, England just tips it.
England – 1 Denmark – 0
The Main Meal
Now, this is one thing that English Christmas wins at, without a shadow of a doubt. I know it’s just a giant chicken with gravy, veg and jam. I know it’s basically a Sunday roast with additional tiny cabbages. I know that it’s never all cooked properly at the same time and that someone always gets the best parsnips first. But it really is just bloody brilliant.
Danish Christmas meals are generally roast animals as well, typically pork, but roast beasts are definitely the preserve of the English. It’s a fact. And also Danish Christmas dinner also includes red cabbage which I loathe. No further debate necessary.
(Also, sprouts with bacon and chestnuts are basically the best. Danish people don’t do that.)
England – 2 Denmark – 0
This one is kind of a marmite situation because if you love fruitcake and Christmas pudding then obviously you’re going to prefer English Christmas confections. However, I don’t like desserts that could perform double duty as doorstops, and I despise booze in puddings, so English Christmas desserts are my personal idea of dried-fruit-studded-flaming hell. Also the idea of breaking my tooth on a sixpence on a Bank Holiday does not appeal in the slightest. You can keep that one, England. It’s all yours.
In Denmark rice pudding is a way of life, and this extends into Christmas. Specifically we have ris á l’amande. Don’t be fooled by the French name, it’s Danish and is only eaten in Denmark. I don’t know why it’s called something French. It’s cold rice pudding whipped up with cream and chopped almonds. I know, it sounds gross, but I promise it’s lovely. Especially as it’s served with hot cherry sauce (which had whole cherries in it and is generally yummy). A whole almond is hidden in the bowl and whoever finds it gets a prize. Traditionally that’s a marzipan pig (as in the image above), but it varies. I don’t really care about that tradition though (because I never win and I’m a very bitter person.) You also leave some rice pudding out for the nissermen to keep ‘em sweet and to prevent them from leaving upturned plugs all over your floor and stealing your car keys. Weird nut paste animals aside, Denmark wins again.
England – 2 Denmark – 1
The Scores so Far
Yesterday Denmark had the lead with 2 points to 0, but England's superior spread in this round leaves us with a much more even score of England - 2 Denmark - 3.
Tune in next time for dangerous trees and arguments about dates.
I grew up with a blend of national influences. My dad is English but was born in Nigeria. My mum is Danish and was born in England. I was born in Germany and lived there for a lot of my childhood, but I speak very little German. I never really thought that my family’s Christmas decorations or routine were any different to anyone else’s, but as I’ve got older, or had English friends over while our advent gear is up, I’ve noticed some key differences between traditional English Christmas and the Danish Jul.
In England you have flimsy cardboard boxes with puny plasticky chocolates inside that you get really rather disproportionately excited about. Perhaps I’m biased against these because I’ve only ever had one, and someone at my boarding school snuck into the office and ate all my chocolates in the dead of night, but that’s just speculation. I know some brands do fancy-schmancy ones with luxury products in them but these tend to be pricey and certainly aren’t the norm.
In Denmark we have Christmas calendars which, frankly, are the absolute boss kings when it comes to the Christmas countdown. These behemoths of Christmas cheer are big wall-mounted fabric fandangos which are reused every year and are usually passed down through families. As it happens, my mum actually made mine and my brothers’ herself, by hand. They have little rings on each day from the 1st to the 24th, to which Santa’s elves (the nisser – more about them later) attach small gifts, increasing in size/value up to the big day. Danish calendars win this one, hands down.
England – 0 Demark – 1
Please bear in mind, I may not have got all of this 100% right as I’m only reporting what I’ve been told by my mum who has been known to unintentionally mistranslate things, so I apologise to any Danes who might be reading this, just in case!
In England you have Father Christmas or the Americanised Santa Claus, who rides around the planet on Christmas night with his reindeer, delivering presents at supersonic speed. He’s beardy, wears red and employs elves to do all the hard labour. There seems to be some variation among households as to whether he leaves presents in stockings, shoes or under the tree. You leave out treats for him (in my house, that’s usually mince pies, milk and a carrot for Rudolph) and if you’ve been bad he might leave you coal instead of gifts.
In Denmark, we have the nisser/nissermen, which aren’t entirely unlike the trolls from Frozen, if you need a point of reference. They live in attics or barn rafters and are kind of unruly. If little things go wrong in your house, or you stub your toe or tread on Lego you blame the nissermen. They are also responsible for filling up your Christmas calendar. You leave out rice pudding and seeds to get on their good side.
The nissermen are pre-Christian but were adopted into Christmas when paganism declined. Father Christmas is sort of present in the modern Danish Christmas, but he was only introduced on the late 19th Century when Danish-American emigrants sent Christmas cards home with American Christmas imagery. Personally, I prefer the idea of nissermen because the idea of a personal house elf kind of appeals to me, and the idea of an old bearded man inviting himself into my house under cover of darkness has a touch of the Yewtree about it. All jokes aside, the nissermen are just far more practical, in a magical pixie sort of way. Denmark wins again.
England – 0 Denmark – 2