Glædelig jul! (Merry Christmas)Nov 30, 2022 02:00PM ● By Mia Brabaek
I can easily say Christmas is my favorite holiday. It’s a magical blanket that covers my whole world, bringing joy to everything it touches. Bright colors and rich smells fill the air with Christmas spirit. Gifts lay wrapped like diamonds beneath a thousand multicolored stars. I can’t remember a time when the day wasn’t incredible.
At least, that’s how I’ve been blessed to experience Christmas. It’s always been special to celebrate it in the Scandinavian tradition.
For me, Christmas comes early on December 24—one whole day before the rest of the world. That’s because Nordic countries celebrate most of their holidays the eve of due to ancient time-keeping practices. Truthfully, it feels special to watch the world quietly prepare for Christmas while I celebrate with my family.
THE BEST PART OF CHRISTMAS
Scandinavian Christmases emphasize the gathering of family through cooking. Though mine is small, we gather on Christmas Eve to spend the day prepping for the big event: dinner! Julegaver (presents) aren’t opened until the evening after the meal, so the morning and afternoon are filled with time in the kitchen. Everyone plays a part, from potato peeling to whipped cream licking or gravy stirring. Of course, the whipped cream licking is my job.
The staple of a typical Danish Christmas dinner and my personal favorite is the Flæskesteg, a pork shoulder roasted with the skin on. My father usually prepares that first, covering the meat with salt, pepper and bay leaves. It goes into the oven, roasting all day until the house is filled with the savory aroma. It brings a smile to my lips wondering how many homes in Denmark smell that exact same way while red-nosed children smack their lips in anticipation.
Let no one fool you into skipping dessert. While the meat cooks, we all come together to prepare a chilled rice pudding dessert named Ris alamande.
This delicious sweet comes with a game. Though the dish consists of rice, homemade whipped cream and chopped almonds, one single whole almond is dropped into the pot. Be the first to get the whole nut and you win a prize!
My family and I have played this game ever since I could reasonably eat food and I only once have I ever gotten the almond! Unlucky?
Prepping Ris alamande is only half the fun. In order to make the pudding, we have to boil the almonds and skin them before chopping them. As tedious as this sounds, boiling makes them ripe for Smutte Mandler, which indirectly translates to “almond fights.” You can literally shoot the almonds out of their skins like peas and attack an unsuspecting family member. Flying almonds are just a normal part of our Christmas morning!
When we gather to eat, we give thanks to the Lord, for He is the reason we celebrate Christmas.
Folklore and traditions
Our bellies full, our eyes are slowly pulled to the Juletræ (Christmas tree) with its twinkling lights and Jule Nissen (Christmas elves/spirits) dolls and strings of Danish flags.
The Jule Nissen traditionally are little mischievous Christmas spirits who love to cause chaos if you don’t give them small gifts and food. My father places them in the boughs of the Juletræ and they watch us as we sit around the tree and bring Julegaver to each other.
As a child, I remember spending one Christmas with my grandmother in Denmark in her crooked forest house. I’ll always remember her placing a bowl of Risengrød (the rice porridge base made for Ris alamande the night before) in my small hands. One night, she led me to the attic and told me to leave it there for the Jule Nissen. The next morning, I ran up there and found the porridge eaten!
Though we don’t often leave Risengrød out for the Jule Nissen anymore, we still eat it for dinner the night before Christmas Eve. Risengrød is cooked rice with milk. We each take a small warm serving from the pot and mix in a dollop of melted butter and cinnamon sugar for a delicious Lille Jule Aften (Little Christmas Eve or the Christmas Eve to our Christmas) meal.
For me, Christmas is a wonderful tradition and a welcome excuse to find sparks of joy throughout the season. I implore everyone to try some Flæskesteg or Ris alamande and look out for those naughty Jule Nissen. Glædelig Jul!