A Very Scandinavian Holiday: Nordic Traditions To Try At Home

Hygge and the holidays are an ideal match. The convivial spirit of the Danes brings warmth and light to the coldest season, from the illuminated Tivoli Market to the spiced cakes and drinks that make up a traditional holiday table. Our Swedish and Norwegian neighbors, too, go all-out for the holidays; in fact, many familiar holiday traditions such as Christmas ham, mistletoe, and the 12 Days of Christmas have Viking roots. If you can’t hop on a flight to Copenhagen, bring Nordic traditions into your home this winter.

Slow Down

Americans take less time off than almost any country in the world—only 10 days per year on average! In contrast, most Danes take two weeks off for the holiday season alone. Stores close for three days and devices are stashed away in favor of books, games and snuggling under duvet covers. And rather than frenziedly unwrapping their presents in the morning, Danish families wait until after dinner and unwrap one gift at a time. While you might be unable to take so many vacation days, you can still embrace the Scandinavian spirit by logging off, slowing down, and savoring the moment

Try a New Recipe

In Denmark, Christmas dinner is known as julefrokost and it’s a lengthy affair. Meals are served throughout the day, meaning that “dinner” can last for 12 hours! If that sounds too intimidating, start with a single recipe. Pickled herring, or sild, is a popular fish course dish and can be made ahead as it lasts for weeks. It’s often served in a creamy curry sauce on top of rye bread. The second course is the main event and is heavily meat-based: try curried meatballs (boller i karry) or pork tenderloin (svinekød) with a side of red cabbage, boiled potatoes and gravy. Don’t worry if you’re vegetarian or vegan—plenty of Danish vegetarian bloggers have created their own take on holiday food.

Traditional Danish open faced sandwich with pickled herring

Get Baking

One of the world’s best-known Christmas markets is the Tivoli Market in Copenhagen, a light-filled fairyland heavy with the scent of hot chocolate and pastries. Bring that magic into your home with some classic Danish bakes. Aebleskiver are fried dough balls dipped in jam and powdered sugar, similar to doughnuts. Marzipan, too, is a mainstay of the Danish holidays and it doubles as edible sculpting clay; get the family involved in making a nativity scene or even a Yule goat (see below).

In Sweden, pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies) are an essential part of any holiday table. They’re often cut into festive shapes such as reindeer or snowflakes and piped with white icing. Norway’s market stalls overflow with cardamom-spiced goro cookies—the lattice pattern on the cookie is made using a specialized goro iron, but you can make your own shapes using a cookie press or 3D rolling pin.

Traditional apple pancakes or Aebleskiver in danish

Try a Nordic Holiday Tipple

Gløgg is the Scandinavian take on mulled wine, distinguished from its German and English counterparts by the addition of cardamom. The other constants are red wine, orange peel and cloves—after that, it’s up to you. Many recipes suggest adding raisins and chopped almonds to enjoy with a spoon in between sips. Some like to spike their gløgg with aquavit, a caraway-spiced grain spirit found all over Scandinavia. Having trouble finding aquavit? Brandy is a great alternative.

Christmas decorations and glögg mulled wine stock photo

Decorate Like a Dane (Or Norwegian, Or Swede)

If you’ve read our post on hygge, you’ll have correctly guessed that Danish holiday decorations involve plenty of candles. We even put candles on our Christmas trees! If you’d like the same ambience without the fire risk, opt for realistic electric candles. Kalenderlys—advent candles printed with the numbers 1 through 24—also feature. Advent wreaths have four candles, with one lit every Sunday of December leading up to Christmas Eve. And, of course, there’s the traditional Advent calendar, consisting of 24 little bags or pockets in which presents are hidden.

Otherwise, Danish décor is typically minimalist and nature-inspired, using classic colors like green, gold, red, and white. Hyacinth and amaryllis bulbs are popular displays, as are pine sprigs and cones. Paper decorations include Christmas hearts (julehjerter) and Christmas stars (julestjerner), which you can make at home. If you want to bring some hygge into your bedroom, our cozy Løvfald and Agern linen duvet cover sets complement Danish holiday décor perfectly. These modern duvet covers feature red and green foliage native to Denmark, perfect for the holiday season.

Organic European linen duvet cover set in modern Scandinavian design with oak leaves designSince 1966,the people of Gävle, Sweden have erected a 43-feet-tall straw goat in the town square every year, the largest in a multitude of Yule goats, or julbock, that decorate Swedish homes during the holidays. The origins of the tradition are lost in history but are thought to be connected to the mythical goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr, who pulled the god Thor’s chariot. Even Sweden’s version of Santa Claus, Jultomten, rides a goat while delivering presents to sleeping children.

Fortunately, you don’t need a lorryful of straw or divine roots to bring the tradition of the yule goat into your home: miniature decorative julbocken are easy to make at home from wheat straw, yarn, or felt (here’s how).

The Gavle Christmas Goat standing near the city Library and river in Gavle, Sweden on its inauguration night in 2010

Games and Gifts

The game of Pakkeleg is a major part of the Danish holiday tradition. Everyone brings small gifts, which are put in the center of the table, then take turns rolling a die­­­­­—if you roll a six, you take a gift. When all the gifts are gone, it’s time for the second, time-limited round. This time, roll a six and you get to steal presents from other participants! Once the alarm sounds, you open your gifts. Each family has their own version of the rules, but you’ll find a basic overview on the Aarhus expat community website.

Bring some Scandinavian style to a friend or family member’s home by giving the gift of linen—our printed organic linen duvet covers showcase some of the region’s most beautiful vegetation. Not sure what style they’d like? Give a Modern Dane gift card and they can choose from our range of Scandinavian duvet cover sets.

We’d love to see how you’re getting in the holiday spirit this year! Show us how you’re celebrating (Scandinavian or otherwise) on InstagramPinterestFacebook, or Twitter.