Both the Swedes and the Danes go all in during Christmas season and while many traditions are the same on both sides of the bridge there are also noticeable differences.
Here is an overview of some of the customs along with our ideas of what not to miss during the holiday season.
In these December days both Copenhagen and Malmö are dressed up for Christmas with garlands hanging high over the pedestrian streets, colourful fairy lights in the trees and shops competing for the most festive and fabulous window displays.
Counting down for Christmas
The real countdown for Christmas in Denmark and Sweden begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas when the first out of four candles is being lit on the Advent wreath or Advent candlestick. Each Sunday will see one more candle burning until the last Sunday before Christmas Eve where all four candles will be alight and the holidays have finally arrived. You will also notice calendar candles marked with numbers from 1 to 24. Every day in December these are being lit and then blown out again to keep track of the days until Christmas Eve.
Eat & drink
Whether you are in Denmark or Sweden for the holiday season you will sooner or later find yourself with a mug full of hot “glögg” (or “gløgg” depending on which side of the bridge you are on). Glögg is mulled wine and while recipes vary widely you can expect it to be spiced with cinnamon, cloves and star anise and served in a mug with raisins and blanched almonds.
While you will usually have a “lussekatt” to accompany a mug of glögg in Sweden, the Danes prefer to pair gløgg with “æbleskiver” which literally translates into apple slices although you will usually not find any trace of apples in them. Æbleskiver nowadays are soft, fluffy pancake puffs shaped as balls, sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with jam for dipping.
Both in Denmark and Sweden Christmas is celebrated on 24 December. Almost every home will have a decorated Christmas tree with a silver or gold star on top, and one of the main events that day is the lighting of the tree which happens after dinner.
The traditional Christmas dinner in Denmark is either roast duck or roast pork with crackling served with boiled and sweet potatoes, red cabbage and brown gravy. The dessert will most probably be “ris à l’amande”, a special rice pudding made with whipped cream, vanilla and chopped almonds served with hot cherry sauce.
The Swedes prefer to celebrate Christmas with a huge “smörgåsbord” consisting of a wide selection of foods. But classics include Christmas ham, meat balls, pickled herring and special fish dishes.
Once dinner is over the Christmas tree will be lit and in many families it is common to dance around the tree while singing Christmas carols. Some homes might be lucky enough to get a visit from Santa Claus himself, who is there to distribute presents and wish everybody a merry Christmas.
Both visitors as well as locals will usually make sure to visit Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen between 19. November and 24. December when the whole of Tivoli is a winter wonderland full of lights, hearts and impressive decorations. Do not miss the beautiful illuminations over the lake or a visit to the stalls in Tivoli selling food, sweets, crafts and hot drinks.
Another must-see and a true gay classic in Copenhagen is Centralhjørnet – the oldest gay bar in Copenhagen. From November this cosy pub is so heavily decorated for Christmas that it must be seen to be believed. Humongous baubles, a serious overload of glitter and massive kitsch-tastic centrepieces along with the friendly service and welcoming atmosphere will surely get you in the Christmas spirit.
Christmas markets can be found in picturesque Nyhavn harbour and in Freetown Christiania where the Grey Hall is being turned into an oriental themed Yuletide fair from 9. to 20. December. Other sure signs of the holidays approaching is the enormous Christmas tree on the City Hall Square, the opening of the ice rink at Frederiksberg Runddel in late November and the Royal Copenhagen Christmas Tables which is an exhibition where artists and celebrities decorate creative – and at times quite alternative – Christmas tables by using Royal Copenhagen porcelain.
Must-sees in Malmö
Many Copenhageners as well as tourists visit Malmö in December to enjoy the festive atmosphere and do some gift shopping. The pedestrian street located just a few minutes walk from the Central Station is decorated with suspended garlands and the Christmas setting on Gustav Adolfs Torg is especially worth visiting with various activities, craft stalls and a carousel roundabout. Do look up at the huge trees on the square which light up in every colour of the rainbow.
Close to Triangeln Station you find Bee Bar, Malmö’s only official LGBT café, and this friendly place always makes a great stop for lunch or something hot to drink.
Emporia shopping mall, conveniently located just next to Hyllie train station, is one of the best shopping centers in Scandinavia and easily recognised by the rainbow colours that light up the parking garage year round. You will find more than 200 shops and around 20 cafés and restaurants all pimped for Christmas as well as an impressive rooftop which has not only amazing views but also an ice rink on it with free entrance.
Photo: Rodion Kutsaev