During our first year together I’ve gotten many looks of askance from Mr English saying “are you sure you’re not taking the piss?” Of course it goes both ways, the difference being that I openly utter the words. It is weird and amazing how two so similar countries – practically neighbours although separated by a vast ocean – can still be so different. From a world perspective Denmark and UK is pretty much the same, but when you go into detail you discover a world of difference. How we celebrate birthdays being one of them. Since I turned 29 two days ago I thought I’d give you all a guided tour of the wonderful Danish birthday traditions.
Even though my country is small and only occupied by 5,7 mio people there are still regional differences. I come from the island called Fyn (red area) in the middle of the entire thing – pretty darn good island life if you ask me (not being biased at all). We have our own regional twist and that is what you are going to be reading moving forward.
First up: it is the person whose birthday it is that throws the party. This is not a regional thing but a Danish thing, and it is why I almost got flustered when Mr English proclaimed that he wanted to take me out for my birthday. No one’s ever said that to me before. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been out celebrating at a restaurant with people before, but always on my initiative and, of course, my money. Women in Denmark are sometimes so busy with the question of equality that they (and by they I mean I) don’t realise how nice it actually is when your man says that he wants to treat you to a restaurant visit… With dinner! I must admit that I like it, so thumbs up for nice UK culture right there.
When you receive a birthday invitation there is usually a wish list attached. Now look, wish lists are not a must but since I’m really not a creative person, and never have a clue what to gift people, I really like having a guideline. You can choose to ignore it if you know the person well and have an idea as to what they’d be happy to receive. If I pick something off of their wish list at least I know that it’s something they want or need. Disaster avoided! So on the day itself you show up in something nicer than a t-shirt and sweatpants – because you know, effort! – and
nicely throw the present at the birthday kid. With the B-monster fed you then go say hello to the rest of the guests, and watch the object of the birthday open up presents. Once that’s over you typically mingle for a minute or two before you all are seated at the table ready to dig in.
You start off with homemade buns. You slice them in two and eat them with butter, marmalade or whatever the hosts put on the table. Nowadays it’s served with coffee or tea, but traditionally we have hot chocolate with whipped cream on top. When people are done a cake is served called brunsviger.
Brunsviger is a regional speciality, and can be used as regular cake you eat on a sunday morning – after eating a more nutritionist breakfast than cake(!) -, with coffee or tea in the afternoon, OR at birthdays (left picture). It can look slightly different depending on who made it but I think I’ve found a picture that looks a lot like most of the birthday ones. Usually the text says something like “Happy Birthday “insert name + and/or age underneath”” (not in the picture on the left though!) Brunsviger is not only very Danish, but very Fyn as well, so buying a normal piece of brunsviger for Mr English to try was a must. After all, we are famous for our pastries and now, a year later, I still haven’t been able to present him with a Danish type cake or pastry that he didn’t like.
** Side note: if you have watched the Great British Bake Off, Danish Week, I just want to inform you that the “birthday cake” they make at the end is NOT what I would call a true birthday cake! They only make those on Zealand, and I refuse to believe that they scream when the head is cut off. That’s just ridiculous! And btw, I find it odd that they can have a Danish born judge and even she has got most of our traditional Danish foods wrong. Okay, back to the scheduled program. **
Next, another cake is served: lagkage. It can be done in different ways (fruits, pastry cream, chocolate, you name it) and more or less fancy, but the concept remains the same.
We’ve finally made it to the no. 1 biggest confusion about Danish birthday culture – and culture in general. Never have I seen my poor man more bewildered or had to explain a concept as much as I had to with the birthday flag, and the relationship we Danes have with our flag in general. It’s a common joke amongst Danes that people from the US have a weird obsession with their flag due to the fact that some Americans hang it in front of their house on a daily basis, and the fact that they pledge allegiance to it which often make Danes shake their heads and mumble “crazy Americans!” The fact that I only recently realised how much we Danes use our flag is very telling as so how naturally embedded it is in the Danish culture. I simply took it for granted. To be fair, though, we don’t pledge allegiance or anything and our national anthem isn’t about our flag, but about our country and how beautiful it is with its beaches and green lands of which we have many. We just happen to think that our flag is unusually festive. And it is! I mean, come on. Those bright red and white colours makes you all happy inside. (You can read more about its other uses here.) Back to birthdays! Amongst many other things we use our flag to show that it’s someone’s birthday – and celebrate it – by, e.g. placing them outside our house, or by hanging them as banners in the window, or by putting small ones in the buns we eat, or brunsviger, or have tiny flags to confetti all over the table, or big ones to display on flagpoles… I’m officially out of breath! But you get the picture: it’s pretty, it’s festive, what’s not to like?
Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a household that didn’t own at least one birthday flag. The picture on the left is one you put on the table and it’s actually the one I have (for reference: it’s about 40 cm tall). I didn’t even think that the concept was open to interpretation until Mr English asked if he were to get one as well. As if they were personalised. An honest mistake, really, and one that I’d not thought about at all. I remember having to repress a smile and said: “no, baby, it’s a household flag.” Sadly, it will be nearly impossible to get one of Union Jack, but perhaps we can find one somewhere. It would be nice having both countries represented even though they don’t do flags for birthdays in UK.
So there you go, a traditional Danish birthday. Be sure to comment with your own birthday traditions in the comment section down below, and I hope to see you soon. Cheers!
Picture credit: schloesslehotel.com
What are your birthday traditions?
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