6 Signs You May be Danish at Christmas

As an American married to a Dane, I have spent more than 15 Christmases in Denmark to date. Christmas truly is magical time of year here and as I have studied and written about “the Danish Way” for many years trying to understand what makes it unique, here are 6 signs you might be Danish at Christmas.

  1. Your “wish list” is not just wishful thinking. Every year I am asked to provide my “ønske list” from my Danish family. This is essentially a list of what I would like to receive. The saying “be careful what you wish for” is taken to a new level in Denmark. In my family, growing up, gift giving was improvisational. Thus, you were either joyfully surprised or artful at hiding your disappointment while plucking a hideous sweater out of the wrapping paper. Danes seem to be more practical in terms of keeping it simple and not over doing spontaneous gift giving. While I use to balk at this for lacking imagination, I now really appreciate it.
  1. Your tree is not only real, but there is a chance you chopped it down yourself. Don’t have a real tree? Don’t admit it. The majority of Danes have real trees and the idea of a fake one leaves many looking dazed and confused. Danes typically put their tree up only a few days before Christmas and some join together as a family to chop it down. Coming from Florida and the land of plastic fantastic, this was quite an experience.
  1. Your ornaments are designer and cost an arm and a leg.In Denmark, most families have at least one, if not a whole tree, decorated with designer Georg Jensen ornaments. This includes candle holders. Yes, candle holders (see next sign). These could be bells, snowflakes or angels in a sweeping modern design and the cost is not for the faint of heart or light of wallet. While my tree growing up was twinkling with tinsel, glittering plastic ornaments, blinking lights and tacky memorabilia, including pink fuzzy flamingos, Danish trees tend to have an elegance and simplicity I really admire. Many years on, we finally have quite a few of our own golden Georg Jensen ornaments. They do, admittedly, hang next to fuzzy flamingos.
  1. You have gnomes in every activity imaginable decorating your home. Cheerful, chubby, ruddy gnomes in pointy red hats are standard guests in Danish homes at Christmas time. They are mainly in pairs, but can be more. They can be found in an array of activities fromcooking, to throwing snowballs, eating chocolate, riding motorcycles or carrying your candle. Luckily, they are cute because inevitably, they are everywhere.
  1. You find yourself lighting real candles on real trees in wooden houses thinking “this is “hygge” (cozy) not a fire hazard.My first Danish Christmas, I was horrified as I watched the family light real candles attached to a real tree in a predominantly wooden house. I couldn’t stop scanning the room for a fire extinguisher and wondering if no one had heard of Ranger Rick, the American racoon character who famously warned kids of fire hazards. Lighting candles on a tree in any way, shape or form was not a scene Ranger Rick would approve of. Years later, when I finally accepted that no one seemed to be burning their houses down and candles on a Christmas tree really is very “hyggeligt” or cozy I began to enjoy it. While I absolutely love it in Denmark, I still wouldn’t recommend trying this at home kids.
  1. Dancing around the Christmas tree singing and holding hands is not just for musicals. When my husband first handed me “the song book” on Christmas Eve and told me that we were going to hold hands, sing and dance around the Christmas tree together with the family, I looked for the hidden candid camera and waited for the laughter at my shock. When none of these came I braced myself for the worst. Once, I finally let go of feeling silly, however, and stopped worrying about my sweater catching fire from the tree, I discovered one of the most heartwarming experiences I have ever tried. It has also become one of my children’s absolute favorite pastimes.

Of course, there are many more signs that you are Danish at Christmastime, but these are just a few that stood out for me. For beginners, try the festive Danish Christmas beer. With a higher alcohol percent than normal, it’s guaranteed to get you in the holiday mood and makes the group singing a little easier.


As featured in The Copenhagen Post














Jessica Joelle Alexander

Jessica Joelle Alexander is a bestselling author, Danish parenting expert, columnist, speaker, and cultural researcher. Her work has been featured in TIME, The Atlantic, Salon, NPR, Huffington Post, NY Times and many more. She is the author of 3 books, gives talks and workshops globally, and researches and writes for UC Berkeley's Towards Belonging Institute


  • April 5, 2019

    Emma Johnson

    I will definitely try the festive Danish Christmas beer. 🙂

  • December 30, 2018


    I have some questions about the Danish view on disabilities (specifically, people with autism, as I am autistic myself) that I would like answered. I personally agree with and identify with the Danish way, including the Danish way of parenting, but my Mom does not and refuses to believe this in spite of the research and evidence that proves otherwise, and if she finds out I messaged you guys, I’m dead meat.

    She insists on “protecting” me, she’s honest with me now, but sometimes, I get the feeling she isn’t honest with me about everything even though she says she is. She won’t tell my little sister about the birds and the bees even though she is in her late teens and says due to my little sister’s more severe autism, my sister is one of the few beings on this earth with no knowledge of evil, and that I shouldn’t take that from her.

    However, a friend of mine was recently murdered in an accident and our Dad passed away from cancer last year and I don’t feel like I can talk to mom about how I feel because if I make her uncomfortable, the discussion is closed, and I do that a lot because I have a hard time filtering myself.

    I could talk to my Dad about anything and everything and his methods strongly resembled Danish parenting methods. We listened to each other, gave each other respect, and spent time together wherever possible. We weren’t just father and daughter, we were best friends, and life has taken him away from me. I swear he was a reincarnation of either Gandhi or MLK Jr. because of how altruistic, brilliant, and impartial he was.

    My Mom, on the other hand, I love her to pieces, but at the same time, I worry about her protecting me and keeping things from me. She never has time to listen to me and when she does speak to me, she’s doing either two of these things: bonding with me or criticizing who I am as a person. The latter makes me afraid to talk to her because I fear she will criticize me for what I have to say, she already does so about my lack of a filter (I don’t think a filter is necessary, and no one else is going to speak their mind on the subject that should be “filtered”), or the fact that my room is always “messy” (read: in organized clutter, save for the occasional dirty dish, but I only eat in my room so my sister doesn’t have to hear me chew, she hates that) or that I never help with the chores (every time I offer to help, she says “no”, so I’ve stopped asking). The former builds a bridge of love, respect, and trust between us and I want the construction on the bridge to continue, and I’m grateful that that bridge is being built in the first place. I have a stepdad too, but he’s exactly like Mom, only much finickier. The same things that apply to Mom apply to him, including the reframing.

    I guess what I really want to know is…is my mom right? Should I keep my little sister from knowing about evil? If so, why? If not, how do I explain thorny topics to a family member with a disability in a manner they understand without scaring them or corrupting them? Will keeping this from her keep her safe? What if something evil does happen to her and she can’t tell us what happened because we kept it from her?

    I highly doubt you’d pay attention to this comment or write an article on what to do or even reply to me, I’m nobody, but I can’t ask my Dad, and all my other family members live so far away and I can’t call them for advice because I get confused when it comes to their phone numbers, my two living parents won’t hear of it, and my best friend (different from the friend who got murdered) might have some good advice, but he has to watch his little brother because his mom and dad have to work all day just to keep a roof over their heads and he’s in charge of all the chores, so we don’t get to see each other too often, but hey, at least we get to see each other and I have someone to ask if this goes unanswered.

    In spite of my mom and stepdad being the way they are, we have a good relationship and they took me and my best friend to Les Miserables tonight, which was really nice. I wish we were closer than we are and I wish they weren’t so critical of me as a person, but we love each other and are trying to work on our relationship. I can’t seem to do anything right around them and at times, they can be distant, but when I need them most of all, more often than not, they are there, when they are too busy, it does make me sad, but then I just cherish our time together more.

    What I want more than a trip to the theater is just that closeness that Dad and I had that reminded me of the Danish way and Hygge. I felt Hygge around him and vice versa and I want to feel that around my parents, but I can’t. Nevertheless, I have come close and I am determined to establish that with them because I love them, and just the fact that there is the potential for Hygge between us keeps me moving forward, no matter how down I get.

    I’m also practicing reframing because of my depression and because of my best friend. He knows how to reframe really well, it helps him with his own depression.

    Anyways, sorry for wasting your time. Feel free to delete this or mark it as spam. I won’t mind. Really. 🙂