Christmas in Denmark & the Danish Nisse

In terms of hygge, Christmas in Denmark is when hygge reaches its peak. And it is extremely hard to explain to those who don’t live here, what exactly it is like.  Because while most of the world goes a little crazy this time of the year, in Denmark, we’re talking next level stuff.

A quick refresh if you have missed the ‘hygge’ memo which has been circulating the world:

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Rather than being a ‘thing’, hygge is more just a way of life or an approach to life.

So, coming from a country (New Zealand) which has a more ‘afslappet’ (relaxed) approach to Christmas traditions, the Danish Christmas season continues to enchant me. Perhaps the allure of the sunshine, beaches and BBQ’s successfully distracts New Zealanders at this time of the year and traditions become more folklore than law.

We discussed the differences between Danish traditions and traditions in our own countries at Danish language school a few weeks ago.  It was a conversation I was a little lost for words in.  And not just due to the normal desperate searching of my memory bank for the right word, the right tense and then trying to push my tongue through the roof of my mouth in an attempt to pronounce the word correctly.  No, this time I was more lost for words due to my inability to explain that while we have traditions in New Zealand, they really aren’t a patch on any Danish traditions. Vi er mere afslappede.

Christmas is a complete season in Denmark from 1 November to 24 December (note. Santa visits on the 24th in this part of the world.  The logistics of which still boggle my mind but thankfully BBB (Bilingual Backpack Baby) is not yet of an age to question such physics.

Supermarkets are filled with pallets of candles, craft clay and lights.  Bags of frozen æbleskiver (google it, you won't be disappointed) and bottles of gløgg along with a huge range of Christmas accessories fill the shelves.  Not forgetting J Day and the forever infamous Danish Julefrokost, where it is customary to get really drunk, kiss a colleague and photocopy your bottom (not necessarily in that order).  The calendar is full of important pre-Christmas milestones and activities for the full 54 days before the 24th of December.

 A typical danish workplace Christmas party (Julefrokost)

A typical danish workplace Christmas party (Julefrokost)

With this being my second Christmas in Denmark, I think I am a little more prepared for the season this time.  But due to sensory overload in my first year living in Denmark, I missed a few of the other cool things that happen at Christmas time.  Things like the Danish Nisse.

A ‘Nisse’ is a kind of pixie or gnome.  A Christmas pixie.  (side note:  Santa hats are known as ‘Nisse hats’ in this part of the world).

A Danish Nisse can be a mischievous sort of a pixie this time of the year.  Sometimes playing tricks and often creating little bits of magic.  And it is super simple to build your own Nisse house and invite a Nisse to visit you every day before Christmas.  Which is what we did this year. 

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Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) BBB has caught on this little tradition very quickly.

3 Steps to hosting a Nisse

1.     Buy a Nisse house at the local supermarket (where ‘house’ is a door, ladder and possibly a postbox). Install on an appropriate window ledge.  You can also buy a few 'Nisse' accessory items that Nisse may like to leave outside the door in the days to follow.

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2.     Knock on door, to see if Nisse is home.

3.     Every morning in December when you wake up, run at full speed to the Nisse door (being careful not to knock your child over in the rush) and check to see if the Nisse has come out during the night and left you (or your child) something.

Our Nisse has so far left an interesting selection of items including a bowl of rice porridge, a beautifully wrapped present (which looks suspiciously like the Danish flag), a cat (thankfully not life size or live at all), a box of raisins (which has been BBB’s highlight so far), some gloves and even a little Kiwi sign.

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Nisse is very resourceful.

So if you’re bored (or annoyed) with Advent calendars, maybe next year you can also host a little Nisse house for the month of December 😉 

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And in BBB’s own words “DØREN LUKKET”  (translation:  DOOR CLOSED).