Danish flags and kagemand

Elements of a Danish Celebration

Danes love their celebrations (as probably everyone does). However, there are certain elements that you won’t necessarily be familiar with. These are some of those elements that I was not used to before.

1.Danish Flags

Danish flags are a prerequisite of almost any celebration in Denmark. Danes go all out with them especially if it is your birthday: you will raise the flag on the flagpole you inevitably have outside your house, you neighbours will raise the Dannebrog as well, and at home and in the office you will raise a small flag on a small flagpole you inevitably have around the house.

Magnus blowing the birthday lights

That’s not all! If you receive a birthday card expect the envelope to be decorated with tiny Danish flag stickers, and do not be surprised if the card itself is a drawing of the Danish flag. If you have a party expect tiny cocktail sticks with Danish flags decorating most of the dishes, and numerous flags all over the tables. It’s an understatement to say that you cannot have a birthday without a Danish flag (and no – if you are foreign you will probably still get the Danish flag for you party! Or at least that is what I have got so far).

2. Hand Shaking

Any Danish party starts with a prerequisite round of hand shaking, where as you arrive you shake the hand of everyone already there and then stand at the end of the line waiting to shake the hand of all new arrivals. I have been told a number of strategies to deal with this: either arrive early so you do not have to do much walking, or arrive late so you do not have to do much standing. In any case, beware if the crowd is mainly big burly farmers. You hand will be the worse for wear.

Oh, and by the way, this is all repeated as you are leaving!

3. When do I Sit Down?

In case you arrived early and are done with standing around, can you go to your chair and sit down? Oh no you don’t!

When it becomes time to get to your (invariably) chairs and tables, don’t you dare sit down immediately! Protocol dictates that you wait for everyone to find their chair (probably you need to hunt down a seating plan first if it is a bigger party), stand behind it, and wait for the party host to give the word. If you unknowingly try to sit down early, you will be promptly jerked back by your neighbour. Don’t-even-dare!

4. Speeches and Such

No Danish gathering is complete without a speech or two (or 25!). The speeches invariably consist of memories the speechmaker has with the speech receiver(s). Tears are optional.

If you are not much of a speechmaker, however, do not despair! Instead of a speech you can commission any of numerous songwriters to write a special song for the special person on a well-known tune. Do not expect the song to rhyme much, or if it rhymes don’t expect the metric to fit the tune. All you need to do then is to get someone to start off the song, and off they go! struggling through the song like pros.

5. Birthday: Kagemand

A cake is a common feature in most birthday celebrations around the world. Denmark, however, gives you the cake man! The cake, especially for young kids, has to be in the shape of a man (or woman), regardless of what it is made of. I have seen him made as a biscuit, a sponge cake, even open sandwiches! The emphasis here is on the man. Who cares about cake?


6 thoughts on “Elements of a Danish Celebration

    1. Ann Post author

      In Malta you are not expected to greet everyone at the beginning, but you spend the party circulating slowly and talking to everyone (which is when you shake hands and/or hug/kiss). I am used to always having the excuse “Oh I haven’t seen you in a while. How are you?” to go up to people at a party. However, if I have shaken their hands already and said hi I find it a bit awkward *need to find new starting sentence*

      1. Michael

        Haha, noo – you don’t shake hands or hug/kiss in Malta, even when circulating! Most of the time you just stand across from each other and say “Alright” and then you have greeted 😛
        I’m still adjusting to this coming from my farmer-handshake background…

        1. Ann Post author

          Haha – maybe you are right. There is no set system. You just do what comes naturally, but I guess if you are foreign nothing feels natural. Hmm – never thought of that! But yes, you just need to say ‘all right’ a couple of times, and then greetings are over.

  1. Howard

    Hi Ann

    A group of us are trying to organise a danish themed evening but we are struggling to find danish party games that are uniquely danish, any pointers would be greatly appreciated.




Leave a Reply