10 Danish New Year’s traditions you might not know
While good food, fireworks and champagne is a general theme for New Year’s Eve, we Danes have some unique and local traditions too – and funny enough, several of them are connected to watching tv.
The post 5 Danish Christmas traditions you might not know (from 2015) is the most read article here on Travelooney Blog, so I thought it was time to follow up with a New Year’s edition.
This is a post covering everything from betting on speeches to blowing up mailboxes..! Read along and get to know the Danes’ New Year’s traditions a bit better…
1. Sparkling up the home… with bombs!
Most Danes decorate their home during the month of December, but decorating your home for New Year’s Eve is only really a thing if you’re hosting a party.
While some decorating is done before the guests arrive, a lot of the sparkle will happen during the party itself. Small “table bombs” and “Christmas crackers” will leave carpets covered in glitter, confetti and multi-coloured serpentines, that can be found several months later.
Another decorative tradition is to buy funny hats for the guests to wear during the party. These festive hats are found piled up in the supermarkets in the last week of December.
2. Listening to the Queen’s speech
Denmark has one of the oldest monarchies in the world, and although not all Danes are royalists, the Queen (Margrethe II) is generally a well-respected public figure and listening to her speech on New Year’s Eve is a huge part of the tradition.
The Queen addresses the public in a live broadcast from Fredensborg Castle north of Copenhagen. Scheduled for 6 pm, the speech kind of acts as a kick-starter for the festive night.
Her majesty is known to fumble slightly with her papers and glasses, which makes it mildly awkward to watch at times. In her personal look back on the year, she addresses issues in the society both locally and globally and always mention Denmark’s connection to Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which are both parts of the Kingdom.
In recent years, people have also been able to bet on what words she will use and which personalities she will mention. Might be worth betting on Donald Trump this year?
3. Serving cod… or being one?
Boiled cod is a traditional New Year’s dinner in Denmark, although many Danes don’t follow this tradition anymore. Anything nice seems to be used, but preferably something distinctly different from the rather heavy Christmas-food consumed in the week before.
As a humouristic sidenote, cod is ‘torsk’ in Danish, which is also used to describe someone who has messed up. And since 1977, the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet has awarded ‘Årets Nytårstorsk’ (The New Year Cod of the Year) to a public figure who messed up big time during the previous year. A less flattering award that not surprisingly often goes to a politician.
4. Watching ‘Dinner for One’ on telly
Who knew that an old black and white tv sketch could be a party-starter? Nonetheless, a Danish New Year’s Eve is not right without the broadcasting of the old British-made comedy sketch Dinner for One or 90-års fødselsdagen (The 90th birthday), as it’s called in Danish.
Originally, this was a theatre-play before it was adapted for German tv, and the 18-minute sketch is still popular in Germany and other European countries too. The plot takes place around a dinner table and only features the old Miss Sophie and her loyal butler James. And poor James has to stand in for Miss Sophie’s dead friends, who would normally join her at the dinner table. Drinking for four, this naturally causes him to get totally wasted by the end of the four-course meal.
The phrase ‘Same procedure as last year’ is used both as a question and an answer repeatedly throughout the sketch and it’s the most famous line from this iconic comedy. Therefore, it was pure irony when the Danish tv-channel DR mistakingly chose not to run the sketch back in 1985, which resulted in a ton of complaints from disappointed Danes. After all, it has to be ‘the same procedure as last year’.
5. Counting down and singing along
A few minutes before midnight, just as people get ready to enter a new year, the live tv broadcast will cut to the town hall clock in Copenhagen. This is when the whole country starts counting down the last 10 seconds together… 10, 9, 8… and everyone cheer as the clock strikes midnight.
Straight after, the broadcast cuts to a choir performing the traditional hymn of Vær velkommen, Herrens år (Be welcome, Year of the Lord), followed by Denmark’s two national anthems (yes, we’ve got two!): Der er et yndigt land, which is traditionally used for sports ceremonies, and the more majestic Kong Christian stod ved højen mast that is commonly used in connection with the royals.
It might sound rather nationalistic, but it’s really more like a festive sing-a-long with a touch of national pride.
6. Jumping from a chair into the new year
For many Danes, it is considered good luck to “jump into the new year” from the top of a chair or alternatively a couch. According to the tradition, this has to be just as the clock strikes midnight, and not surprisingly, this tradition is especially popular with kids. This is if they have managed to stay awake until midnight, of course.
After returning safely (hopefully) to the ground, partners kiss and friends and family embrace each other with hugs, toasts and wishes for a happy new year.
7. Munching on kransekage & sipping champagne
Many New Year dinners include a desert, but even so, the traditional kransekage (literally, “wreath cake”) officially rounds off the feast on New Year’s Eve. And this what is normally served with the champagne right after midnight.
Kransekage is one of the biggest icons of a Danish New Year’s Eve. The cake is said to have been invented in Denmark, although it’s also popular in other Nordic countries and beyond the Nordic region. It is a marzipan-like cake of rings that are stacked to form a small cone-shaped tower. It is topped off with stripes of white frosting and sometimes also small Danish flags for decoration.
The truth is that many people don’t especially like this very sweet cake, but eat it simply because it’s a part of the tradition.
8. Entering a warzone of fireworks
Fireworks are an integral part of the Danish New Year. But the Danes don’t just settle for official firework displays. They want to participate actively and therefore, they stock up on festive weaponry for a minor war.
In fact, some people spend thousands of hard-earned kroner, just to see them go up in flames, literally. From the kid-friendly little firecrackers to multi-firing batteries and powerful rockets.
The Danes’ arsenal of fireworks turns bigger cities turn into warzones in the minutes after midnight as people take to the streets to light up the sky. It can be an awesome sight, but unfortunately, it is also a dangerous tradition that annually results in many serious injuries across the country.
Recently some limits were set to this firework-frenzy. Now it can only be sold legally between December 15th and 31st and used from December 27th to January 1st.
For young troublemakers, having access to fireworks also inspires vandalism and a troublesome “tradition” is to blow up mailboxes and bins in local neighbourhoods. As a defence, many people simply take down their mailboxes ahead of the big night.
9. Consuming LOTS of alcohol
By midnight, the intake of alcohol has been going on for quite some time and people might be in “a good mood”, so to speak. It all starts with welcome drinks and continues with wine and beer during dinner. It culminates with a glass of champagne come midnight. But good parties will, of course, also include some cocktails and maybe some shots.
This is the explanation why January 1st doesn’t really seem to exits in many people’s calendar. It is simply a recovery-day and a golden day for the fast-food chains around the country.
10. Hangovers and ski jumpers
January 1st is for curing hangovers and…watching ski jumping!? Yes, this is a rather surprising New Year’s tradition, but many Danes spend the first day of the new year by watching a specific ski jumping competition on tv.
It is an international competition from the German town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and it has been televised live in Denmark on January 1st since 1959. This, despite the fact that very few Danes care for ski jumping the rest of the year.
A final tv-tradition connected to the New Year is watching the Prime Minister’s speech. This is normally pre-recorded but broadcast on the evening of January 1st – a tradition dating back to 1940.
So, which traditions do you have in your country when it comes to celebrating New Year’s Eve? Please share in the comments below…
You will find many more posts from Denmark HERE