Christmas in Denmark: Christmas Eve
The Danes enjoy Juleaften, or "Christmas Eve,” so much that they begin preparing for it the day before, on lille Juleaften, or "Little Christmas Eve.” On Little Christmas Eve they take care of last-minute chores and errands and begin cooking Christmas dinner, which is served on Christmas Eve. On December 24 many Danes leave a Christmas sheaf outside so that the birds may also enjoy a special Christmas meal. All over Denmark church bells chime at 4:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Shops and offices close, and people scurry home.
For many families, Christmas Eve festivities begin with candlelight church services. Afterwards people return home to an elaborate Christmas dinner. Before sitting down to eat, many families set a flickering candle in the window. The candle signals an offer of hospitality to any lonely or hungry person who passes by (see also Advent candle). Popular main dishes include roast goose and roast pork. Roasted potatoes, cabbage, and cucumber salad often appear as side dishes. In the old days, many housewives presented a kind of rice pudding as a first course. Nowadays, the rice pudding serves as a dessert. The cook hides an almond in each batch of pudding. Whoever finds the almond in their serving gets a special little gift, usually some chocolate or marzipan.
After dinner the family gathers around the Christmas tree. Ac-cording to one old tradition, the parents shut themselves in the par-lor alone on Christmas Eve to decorate the tree and light the candles that cover it. Thus, the youngsters got their first view of the lit and decorated tree on Christmas Eve. While fewer families observe this old tradition today, many Danes still light their trees with candles rather than electric lights. Usually an older family member slips into the parlor alone to light the candles. When everything is ready, the rest of the family enters. They join hands around the tree and sing Christmas carols. Afterwards the family opens their gifts. In families with small children, the father may leave the room briefly and the Danish gift bringer, Julemand, may put in a brief appearance. Julemand is supposed to look and act much like Santa Claus, although few children miss his resemblance to their father during these home visits. Danish families open their presents one by one and everyone admires each gift. They also save the Christmas cards they receive in the days before Christmas and open them after the gifts on Christmas Eve.