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Jul, the Danish Christmas, is celebrated throughout December starting either at the beginning of Advent or on December 1 with a variety of traditions. Christmas Eve, Juleaften, the main event of Yule, is celebrated on evening of December 24, the evening before the two Christmas holidays, December 25 and 26th. Celebrating on the eve before the holiday is also used for most other holidays in Denmark.
In the evening an elaborate dinner is eaten with the family. It usually consists of roast pork, roast duck, roast goose or stuffed turkey with potatoes, caramelized potatoes, red cabbage and plenty of brown gravy. For dessert, risalamande, a cold rice pudding dish is served with a hot cherry sauce, traditionally with a whole almond hidden inside. The lucky finder of this almond is entitled to a small gift. In some families, it's tradition that the rice pudding dessert is made with the remaining rice porridge from the previous evening, a meal served on the 23rd, Lillejuleaften (Little Yule Eve), with cinnamon, brown sugar and butter. It is eaten warm with a fruit drink or sweet malt beer.
After the meal is complete, the family will dance around the Juletræ and sing Yule songs and carols (the latter becoming less popular). When the singing is complete, presents which are tucked under the tree, are handed out by the children or in turn. After they have been opened, there are more snacks, candy, chips and sometimes the traditional Gløgg.
In Denmark there is a tradition to go to Church before Christmas Eve, on the 24th. The text is Luke 2, but since the 24th is not an official Christmas holiday, there was no official ritual for that day until recently.
Most churches have Christmas services on both official Christmas holidays, 25th and 26 December, with well defined rituals.
Going to church is becoming less popular in current day Denmark, however.
Throughout the Yule period, a range of Yule dinners or lunches are arranged. Before December 24 most workplaces, unions, schools, football teams, or extended groups of friends arrange a Julefrokost (Yule Lunch), but sometimes they are delayed until January. This typically involves plenty of food and alcohol, and often takes place on a Friday or Saturday night.
After December 24, usually on first or second day of Yule (the Christmas holidays), the extended families arrange a familiejulefrokost (Family Yule Lunch). This usually involves more food, and takes place from noon until evening.
An average Dane usually attends three to four julefrokoster and one or two familiejulefrokoster during Jul.
A typical Yule Lunch involves lots of beer and snaps. It begins with a variety of fish courses, open face sandwiches with herring, and deep fried plaice filet with remoulade. Herring courses can include pickled or curried herrings on rugbrød (Danish flat whole grain rye bread). The fish course usually also include smoked eel and smoked salmon. Next will be a variety or warm and cold meats, such as sausages, fried meatballs, boiled ham, and liver paté, served with red or green braised cabbage dishes. Desserts are usually cheeses and rice pudding. From time to time, someone calls out "Skål" to make a toast, and everyone stops eating to take a drink. Normally, everyone takes public transportation to the event, so that no one has to drive home after this traditional party.
Denmark has adopted and expanded the German tradition of Advent calendars. It is common to have Julekalender (Yule calendars) that mark all days from December 1 until December 24. They are often made of cardboard with pictures or treats such as chocolate. They come in various forms whether home-made to or manufactured and can contain innocent stories of Yule or might even be scratchcards.
A popular version is the gavekalender (gift calendar). These can either function as a julekalender marking all 24 days up to Yule Eve with a gift for each day or they can function as Advent calendars marking the four Sundays of Advent instead with a gift for each Sunday.
A special Danish calendar tradition started by DR in 1962 consists of broadcasting TV shows with exactly 24 episodes, one each day up to Yule Eve. The tradition has become very popular and every major network now has TV calendars during the Christmas period, whether original productions or TV shows. The tradition of TV calendars has also been adopted by the other Scandinavian countries.
Because of the high concentration of holidays at the end of December, it is possible to have a vacation between Christmas and New Year without taking a lot of days off from work. This holiday is usually named "Juleferie" or Yule Vacation, and is usually considered to be in the date range from December 24 until approximately January 1.
In Denmark, Santa Claus is known as Julemanden (literally "the Yule Man") and is said to arrive on a sleigh drawn by reindeer, with presents for the children. He is assisted with his Yuletide chores by elves known as julenisser (or simply nisser), who are traditionally believed to live in attics, barns or similar places. In some traditions, to maintain the favor and protection of these nisser, children leave out saucers of milk or rice pudding or other treats for them on the afternoon on the 24th, and are delighted to find the food gone on Yule morning.
Danish homes are decorated with kravlenisser (climbing nisse), which are cardboard cutouts of nisser which can be attached to paintings and bookshelves. This is a unique Danish tradition started in the early 20th century.
Julehjerter or pleated Yule hearts are handmade decorations which are hung on the Yule tree. Children together with other members of the family create the hearts from glossy paper in various colours.
St. Lucia Day is celebrated on December 13.
Until 1770, the Christmas holidays included 3rd day of Christmas (December 27) and Epiphany on January 6 (celebrated on the eve of January 5). Afterwards, only 1st and 2nd Christmas Day are holidays, and January 6 is now a celebration day.