Sankt Hans Aften – a Danish midsummer tradition

 You may have heard people talking about Sankt Hans Aften (St John’s Eve) or seen posters advertising events for the evening of the 23 June. It is the midsummer celebration in Denmark, which is typically marked by the burning of huge bonfires with a witch atop close to water. Across the beaches and lake areas on this evening there are big public and private gatherings with speeches, picnics and traditional songs which culminate with the burning of the bonfire.
It is a little confusing for some people from outside Denmark as the summer solstice is celebrated in astronomical terms on the 21st June. In Sweden midsummer is celebrated on the Friday or weekend closest to the solstice, and Danes and Norwegians will observe it on the 23rd.
 

We have been to the event in Frederiksberg Have a number of times and it gets very crowded but is great fun, even if the speeches do seem to go on for ever (and longer if your Danish isn’t great). Not sure how it will pan out if the weather continues to be cold and wet but the Danes are nothing if not resourceful. The legend says if the fire can’t be burnt then there will be less hazelnuts come the autumn.

Find your local celebration and enjoy a real Danish midsummer (hopefully without rain, we need our hazelnuts!)

 

 
 
 
 

Blue Monday – what’s it all about?

We were in Tivoli this Monday, a day of the week we rarely go there, and it will packed with young teenagers feasting of sugar and calories and having lots of fun. It was interesting to see that the pinnacle of bad behaviour we saw was a group of boys messing about on the kiddie vintage car ride and being asked to get off, which they did willingly.We were curious as to why there were so many kids about until we were told it was Blue Monday (Blå Mandag) something I hadn’t come across before. So heading to the trusty Google I found out.

We are now in the thick of confirmation season here in Denmark, where teenagers are confirmed in church as a rite of passage to adulthood. This happens at the weekend and the Monday after is known as Blue Monday, where the newly confirmed teenagers enjoy a day of fun with their friends after the solemn family occasion the day before. They go shopping, to the cinema or to Tivoli or Bakken. Some schools give this as day off but not all.

The idea of Blue Monday goes back a long way. In Denmark, the confirmation was originally intended solely as a religious festival. But already by the 1700s, young people from the Copenhagen bourgeoisie met in the King’s Garden at Rosenborg Castle to show their gifts at the time of the few who could afford things like a cigarette case, a parasol or other grown up things. Blue Monday was in fact an important day because it was the first day you even owned some of the things that belonged to adulthood. In today’s society that could be a new iPhone.

Reading around the subject on Danish website it is a bit scary (as a mum) to read about advice about drinking, sex and fighting on the day considering the age of the kids but as far as I could see in Tivoli it was all pretty tame.  In fact one boy gave my son some fairground money he had won on the whack a mole so my son had a little more towards yet another soft toy. Also kids are warned not to take too much money or expensive gadgets in case they get robbed.

Whilst it is a lovely experience for the young people, I think I’ll stick to visiting Tivoli on other days of the week, if nothing else the queues will be shorter!

If you are interested in reading a little more about the confirmation part of the tradition , this is a good link.

Celebrating St Lucia

13th December in Denmark (as well as other Scandinavian countries) is St Lucia Day. It was thought to be the shortest day of the year before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar and in schools there is a tradition on a St Lucia procession with girls dressed in white, carrying candles to bring light to the dark. The first girl traditionally wears a crown of four candles. It is not a big celebration outside of schools but in conversation with Danish friends who had been the St Lucia bride leading the procession when they were little – it is a very special and magical memory. santa lucia main  Last year I learnt a lot more about the story of St Lucia (or St Lucy) from my son. He is fascinated by the traditional stories he is told at school from the story of Diwali to this one (I really believe the teaching of different celebrations is really enriching his knowledge and understanding of different cultures). The story is St Lucy secretly brought food to persecuted Christians in Rome, who were forced underground into the catacombs. Lucy would wear a crown of candles so she could use both of her hands to carry items. This article tells a lot more about the Swedish tradition and how to celebrate.

A big part of a traditional celebration is food, of course and traditionally St Lucia breads are made. There are special shaped sweet breads flavoured with saffron. I made them a few years ago and I used the recipe in this book and will definitely try them again.

Gammeldags Æblekage or Old fashioned apple cake

With the abundance of local Danish apples available at the moment in the supermarkets or if you are lucky at the end of your neighbours’ drive now is the time to try your hand at a traditional Danish apple recipe called Gammeldags Æblekag, which literally translated means Old fashioned apple cake. But don’t be deceived there is nothing cake like about this at all. It is actually more of a trifle, which if I am honest appeals a lot more to me.

There are plenty of recipes on-line for this easy treat (this is a good one). But here is the basic run down…

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You need to make some sweet bread crumbs using sugar and vanilla in a pan, cooked your cut up, peeled and cored apples with a little sugar and cinnamon (if you like that) until soft and whip some cream. Once everything that was hot has cooled down you make layers of the breadcrumbs and apple and chill in the fridge. Add the whipped cream just before serving.

The one above that I had a cafe has crumbled chocolate brownie in the last layer of breadcrumbs and on the top of the whipped cream.

Very simple and perfectly scrummy for autumn.

Koldskål – the taste of Danish summer

The weather here in Copenhagen was glorious last week and like all good Danes when the sun shines, I hotfooted it to the supermarket to get some koldskål, kammerjunkere and strawberries. Koldskål literally translated means cold bowl and it is a typical summer dessert (or snack or breakfast – there are no rules as far as I can tell on its consumption) of cold buttermilk soup with other ingredients such as egg, vanilla and lemon. It has slightly tart taste which is counteracted by the addition of little crispy biscuits, kammerjunkere, made specifically for koldskål and fresh sweet strawberries. CIMG6495 It is possible to make your own koldskål but it is widely available in cartons in all supermarkets through the summer months but when the weather is hot is sells very quickly.blossom breakfast 2

Danish Easter traditions

Easter is quite a big deal in Denmark. Work places are closed for five days and the city empties out as people travel to visit family or spend time at summer houses for some påskehygge! Most shops close from Thursday to Monday opening for a short day on Saturday so it is best advised to stock up before Easter.

As I have come to expect there are a lot of Danish traditions around Easter so I thought I would share some of them with you today.The Danes love to decorate for Easter and the shops start selling decorations such as eggs, natural and colourful, napkins and candles, predominantly in green and yellow a few weeks before Easter. Påskelilie or daffodils are everywhere from workplaces and homes and can be picked up either cut or in pots with the bulbs very cheaply from florists and supermarkets.DSC00488The month before Easter bars and supermarkets start selling påskeøl or Easter beers. The main breweries produce popular versions but there are many to choose from produced by smaller breweries. They are delicious and light in flavour but still pack a punch alcohol wise. These beers and snaps are enjoyed with a big traditional meal on Easter Sunday. Chocolate is a big part of Easter with eggs, big and small and also Easter layer cakes in the bakeries.CIMG6052My favourite Danish Easter tradition is Gækkebrev. From February people start sending elaborately decorated teasing letters or cards without a signature. Instead, the letter holds a number of dots that corresponds with the number of letters of the sender´s name. If the one receiving the letter guesses who has sent it, he or she will get an Easter chocolate egg. But if the receiver does not guess who has sent it, then he or she gives an Easter egg to the sender.

Easter is such a time of celebration and fun here in Copenhagen, most importantly as it signifies the end of the dark winter time.

The lowdown on Fastelavn

Moving to a new country means the introduction to new traditions. Fastelavn is another Scandinavian tradition that was new to me when we came here and the first year I was very curious about why supermarkets were suddenly selling small wooden barrels. In England we traditionally eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday before Lent begins but here the Danes celebrate Fastelavn. It is a real ‘go big, or go home’ kind of celebration. Fastelavn is celebrated on the Sunday or Monday before Ash Wednesday (seven weeks before Easter Sunday) and is a real carnival for children.fastelavnChildren dress up in costumes or cat masks, and a big wooden barrel with a black cat on the outside is suspended, which they can bash with impunity until the bottom falls out scattering the sweets inside. Being Denmark everyone is a winner! The child who administers the final bash before the bottom comes out is crowned the cat king or queen but everyone takes a share of the booty.

This is known as slå katten af tønden (hit the cat out of the barrel) and in olden days the barrel actually contained a cat, which would then be chased away signifying the banishment of evil.

Great fun nowadays for everyone, including cats!

But my favourite thing about this celebration is Fastelavn Boller. Imagine a huge choux bun filled with a custard cream with chocolate and more whipped cream for good measure on top? You are? Well that is what is eaten as a Fastelavn bun here in Denmark before Lent begins. There are variations with raspberry cream and icing too.CIMG5552Generally I don’t like to see seasonal items in the shops too early but I make an exception for something like this and am delighted when they first start appearing in bakeries during the run up to Fastelavn. Now I understand there is a more old fashioned version which is much more moderate but I have never tried one (and why would you when there is a cream bun on offer?).  So there is something for children and of course, something for everyone at Fastelavn!CIMG5553

Royal Copenhagen Christmas tables 2015

The Christmas Tables in Royal Copenhagen in the city centre are a decades old tradition. Each year six well-known Danes are selected to present a Christmas table, themed by them and using Royal Copenhagen porcelain. This year the tables are a little different. Royal Copenhagen invited six of Denmark’s funniest comedians and entertainers to present the tables. To be fair some of the humour will be lost on non Danes but the tables are still wonderful to see. I like the fact that they are not the normal dinner/lunch settings and approach the idea of a Christmas table from a different angle. traditionalists may be disappointed but I would still urge you to visit this year.

The first table is by Jarl Friis-Mikkelsen,  a TV host and actor. The table it set in a what looks like a giant beach ball. The concept is to celebrate warmth and love at Christmas but also to show that some people have a tough time at Christmas. This is a summary of the information presented by the table, something I am not sure I would get from the table itself.DSC01456 DSC01460 DSC01461

The second is a safari themed setting showing a traditional Danish christmas meal in an untraditional setting and designed by Kirsten Lehfeldt, a Danish actress.DSC01464 DSC01470 DSC01472

The third is a very traditional South Jutland cake table, groaning with cakes and sweet things ready to fill the bellies of passing refugees – very topical. I love the traditional decorations in this setting by Bodil Jørgensen, also a famous actress. DSC01475 DSC01479

Peter Frödin, is a comedian and actor and has presented a witty table. At first glance it looks like a traditional Christmas dinner setting until you notice the overflowing ashtrays and realise the setting is a Danish ‘brown’ pub. Also the food is made from marzipan.DSC01480 DSC01481

My favourite table is the fifth one. I confess I knew nothing of the comedy duo behind the table, Fritz and Poul known as the Snobs, before seeing this table. But I love the sheer decadence and humour of the table especially the Singha beers with straws. Definitely not your usual Royal Copenhagen table!DSC01485 DSC01486 DSC01489 DSC01491 DSC01492

The final table is my second favourite. This time the table is set for breakfast for Mia Lyhne, best known for her role in the comedy Klovn, and her daughters. I love the tree, stockings and invitingly cosy bed plus the little sneaky souvenir of Father Christmas’ visit in the door!DSC01496 DSC01497 DSC01498 DSC01499

Whilst much of the humour and meaning may have passed me by, I still loved the tables and their little details. You can still visit the tables in the flagship store on Amagertorv until the end of December.

Check out the tables from 2014 and 2013.

Homemade Æbleskiver

A few years ago I was lucky enough to get my hands on a cast iron æbleskiver pan at a flea market for 50kr. Æbleskiver are a very important Danish Christmas food tradition.

Once Christmas comes around it is time to try my hand at making this delicious little apple filled (sort of) doughnuts that are the traditional Christmas treat in cafes and homes across Denmark.æbleskiver ingredientsI used this recipe from this book and I am told that it is a little fancier than other recipes but it was very easy to make the batter. As it uses yeast there is a little waiting time before you can fire up the pan and get started. But once you do they are super quick and easy to make. A knitting needle is the best way to turn them. But I was so impressed at how perfectly round they turned out on my first attempt and also how truly delicious they are. The way to tell if an æbleskive is homemade is if it actually contains a little cube of apple.æbleskiver cookingOnce they are made, dust with icing sugar and serve warm with a little dollop of jam and a glass of gløgg, the Danish version of mulled wine with raisins and almonds floating in it. Perfect! Glædelig Jul!CIMG4812 CIMG4814

Celebrating Easter

It wasn’t until I moved to Denmark and then Germany that Easter really meant more than chocolate and being made to eat fish on Good Friday. In Denmark we get an extra day free from work on Thursday before Good Friday and the Danes take the extra long weekend as a chance to enjoy family and friends, often at summer houses if the weather is good (and even if it isn’t). Easter comes at the end of a long winter and is very welcome as the days get longer and brighter.DSC00550It has become tradition for us to decorate for Easter with an ever-growing collection of decorations. I usually make an Easter wreath for the front door and a few other little bits and bobs.DSC00547This year I decoupaged feathers and pressed flowers to some blown eggs from Pandura Hobby. The feathers were a success but the dried flowers less.easter egg makesWe also have a number of special decorations particularly ones handmade by my son, beautiful ones from Royal Copenhagen and Georg Jensen, gifts from friends and ones from individual artists but the whole effect is one of joy of Spring and rebirth. To me that is why I celebrate Easter (oh and of course there is chocolate and cakes!)DSC00542