How to celebrate a birthday in Denmark

Earlier this month we celebrated BBB’s first birthday.   After 12 months, 4 countries, 2 and a half teeth and a few other understated challenges we felt fully justified to ensure we celebrated it well. 

Embracing our current country of choice, the typically kiwi traditions of balloons and banana cake were replaced with Danish flags and Brunsviger.

If you’re also about to celebrate a birthday in Denmark and want to ‘do it like a Dane’ here’s our quick guide for you. 

1.   Fødselsdag

The first thing you need to know is a birthday is not a birthday in Denmark.  It is a ‘Fødselsdag’.  This is the danish word for birthday.  To best pronounce it either insert a golf ball in your mouth or have 2 glasses of wine.

2.   The Danish Flag

As with most other moments of celebration in Denmark the Danish flag takes centre stage.  So forget hanging balloons on the letterbox and instead get yourself a bulk pack of flags.  Danish flags are incredibly easy to source in Denmark and are available at most supermarkets year round in a variety of sizes.

You will need medium size flags for placing outside your house/apartment.  Line the path with them or place them on your door.

Additionally you should also stock up on small toothpick size flags to put on the cake (see below) and for bonus points buy a tablecloth with the Danish flag on it.  Also easily found in many shops.  Overall – the more flags the better.

3.   Birthday Cake

For most of my childhood birthdays I had a banana cake for my birthday cake - Edmonds style. 

However in Denmark you’ll need to make is either a ‘Layer cake’ or ‘Brunsivger’.  Which one depends on what part of Denmark you come from.  As the Dane hails from the island of Fyn, Brunsviger is our cake of choice for birthday celebrations.  Cooked in a large baking pan it has a spongy cake bottom with a small truck of brown sugar on the top.  Check out our Facebook page for the recipe.  Yum.

After having made the cake you then need to decorate it accordingly.  For most that means placing as many little flags in the cake as possible.  We added a few extra New Zealand flags just to balance things out.

n.b Tillykke = congratulations and is what you would say to someone who is celebrating their birthday in Denmark.

4.   Hygge

Difficult to pronounce and even more difficult to explain hygge dominates most Danish social occasions.  It can perhaps be roughly translated to cozy, coffee and candles but in reality it is a little more than that.  It is about slowing down and enjoying the little things around you.  Your guests, the food, the cozy vibe.   If you’re holding a Danish birthday party you will need to ensure you inject hygge.  More about hygge here.

5.   Food

A typical selection of danish food at children’s party would be boller med pålæg, brunsviger og kaffe og varm chokolade.  Which translates to small white rolls with toppings (think meat and cheese) with birthday cake, coffee and warm chocolate.  This will typically be served at the dining room table where you’ll sit (possibly for hours) and drink coffee or hot chocolate.

6.   Presents

The Danish word for presents is ‘Gaver’.   While nothing is ever compulsory it would be normal to take a present if you have been invited to a birthday in Denmark.  This in part acknowledges and thanks the host for their hospitality who typically supplies all the food and drink (including alcohol if it is that sort of party). 

Coming from a country (New Zealand) where it is common to ask your guest to ‘bring a plate’ (or your own alcohol) I have found this a handy little piece of intelligence.

7.   Fødselsdagstog

This is a cute idea I was introduced to just before BBB’s birthday.  Fødselsdagstog is a ‘Birthday Train’ which comes with a range of numbers that every year you replace to show the new ‘age’ of the child.

Friisenborg (Danish) and Goki (German) are two brands which produce these and both are popular in Denmark for children.  BBB is now the proud owner of a Friisenborg Fødselsdagstog.

8.   Additionally

As per an earlier post I wrote, the ‘5 rules for surviving socially in Denmark’ also apply when celebrating a birthday in Denmark. 

Once you've read that, we reckon you'll be ready to go forth eat cake & wave a flag - danishly.

Tillykke! And of course let us know if we've missed anything.