Else Martin, Historian
Danes have a variety of traditions and customs that have been adapted or preserved in Danish American society. Everyday life customs include men and women shaking hands with everyone when entering or leaving a group. Danes and Danish Americans take great pleasure in setting a proper table and following a proper etiquette. This often means using fine Danish porcelain from one of the two famous Danish porcelain makers, Royal Copenhagen or Bing and Grøndahl. Being a guest requires that one bring flowers for the hostess. When a guest meets the host or hostess shortly after being entertained, the proper greeting isTak for sidst(“tuck for seest”)—Thanks for the last time.
Entertaining and tradition merge in the many customs surrounding Christmas. Because of the dark Scandinavian winter nights, Christmas, with its message of hope, light, and love, is especially welcomed and celebrated in Denmark. Danish Christmas customs are also celebrated by Danish Americans. December begins with baking. No home is without at least seven different kinds of Christmas cookies. These treats are shared with guests, and it is customary to take decorated plates of cookies to friends and relatives. This custom is the origin of the well known porcelain Danish Christmas plates that can be found in many homes.
The celebration of Christmas culminates on Christmas Eve, a holiday traditionally shared with close family. Usually the family attends church in the late afternoon and then returns to a feast of roast goose and all the trimmings. A special dessert is prepared:“risengrød”(reesingroidth), a rice pudding in which one whole almond is placed. The person who discovers the almond will have good luck throughout the coming year. After dinner, the family sees the decorated Christmas tree for the first time. It is lit with candles and decorated with paper cuttings of angels, woven straw ornaments, heart-shaped baskets, and strings of Danish flags. In Danish American homes, the tree is decorated earlier and lit with electric lights. The family joins hands and dances around the tree, singing favorite carols. Gifts are exchanged, and the family enjoys coffee and cookies. To assure happiness and good fortune, before the family goes to bed it is important to take a bowl of porridge to thenisse(“nisa”)—the mythical little people of Denmark who inhabit the lofts and attics of homes. (Information Credit: www.everyculture.com)
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