The Danes love to celebrate. And they love the many traditions that come with each individual celebration.
One tradition is that of the ”Æresport” or the ”Gate of Honour”. This honours the guests of honour at weddings and Silver and Golden anniversaries.
The “Gate of Honour” has the shape of a door or gateway and is placed over the front door or entrance to the house. It is decorated with pine or spruce branches, flowers and Danish flags.
At the top of this festive construction is a wooden sign in the shape of a heart or a shield. It carries the initials of the couple being celebrated.
How far back this celebratory gate has been used is uncertain. But we know that they were raised by the people of Copenhagen in celebration of two royal weddings as far back as 1749 and 1790.
It is certain, however, that the tradition is old indeed with ties to rural communities. Here, flowers were more abundant than funds for more expensive finery.
Standing the test of time
Now as then, friends and family gather on the evening before the day of celebration.
These gatherings are often quite festive in and of themselves and culminate with the placing of the Æresport. This takes place under much sh’ing and half-hearted attempts at stealth. This is by default hard as the Æresport is attached by hammering nails into the door frame.
Secrecy – or the feigning of – is as important a part of the Æresport-tradition as the Æresport itself. More often than not, however, everyone knows quite well, what is going on.
Song and music in the morning
On the morning of a Silver or Golden anniversaries, friends, family and neighbours join in to sing the guests of honour out of their home and into the (hopefully) sunshine. Here they are met by singing and music, a glass of champagne or a Danish morning bitter.
Part of the tradition is that the guests of honour remember to act surprised at the whole to-do. They also “just by chance” have prepared breakfast and coffee for however many well-wishers have arrived. And so the merriment continues throughout the day.
The Gate of Honour stands as long as the greenery and flowers can manage. Thus all who come and go, know that a celebration has been held.
December is here and so – sooner than we think, as usual – is Christmas with its preparations, celebrations and decorations. Everything “as per usual” in the traditional way, just as it should be. The light – or rather many lights – in the dark season.
Just as in many other countries it is possible to buy most of what is needed for the Danish Christmas. But there are still some things that we Danes like to make ourselves… like decorations for the Christmas tree.
No decorations without a tree The Christmas tree made its first appearance in Denmark in 1808 in the manor house of the Holsteinborg family on the island of Zealand (the largest of the Danish islands, on which Copenhagen is also found).
The newlywed Countess of Holsteinborg had German relatives who on Christmas eve would place a freshly cut pine tree in their living room. They decorated it with candles and finery made of paper before dancing around the tree, singing hymns and carols. The countess brought the tree with her to her new home.
A few years later, the Christmas tree made it to Copenhagen. By the 1910s it had become part of the tradition in most households. Thus the Christmas tree was brought to Denmark and with it the need for decorations for the tree.
Hearts, stars and cones for the Christmas tree
The first Christmas trees were sparsely decorated. This began to change in the 1840s, and since then new ideas have come and gone. A few things have remained the same and (often) homemade: Braided hearts, folded paper stars and finely coiled Christmas cones.
The braided hearts and the Christmas cones serve two equally important purposes : Decoration and ”keeper of sweets” – a throwback to the time when the tree was mostly decorated with edible ornaments.
And it is still one of the most loved pre-Christmas traditions in Danish schools and families to join in “cut and paste” get-togethers. The results may be slightly lopsided, but they are homemade and that is what counts.
The festival of lights – and hearts ”Christmas is the festival of hearts” is a popular Danish saying, and the braided paper hearts, which most Danes put on their Christmas trees is a purely Danish Christmas tradition.
The oldest known example of a braided paper heart was made in the 1860s by none other than world-famous Danish fairy-tale author Hans Christian Andersen. Whether this was meant to be hung on a Christmas tree, however, is uncertain, as this heart does not have a handle. In 1871 a magazine printed directions on how to produce your own heart – now with a handle, and since then, these pretty, heart-shaped baskets have been a staple on the Danish Christmas tree in a plethora of designs from the very easy to the frustratingly difficult.
The star – a symbol of Christmas and a DIY headache
It is unsure just how old the tradition is of creating paper stars out of strips of paper, but a “how-to” guide was first printed in 1891 in Germany. The stars were traditionally white but the necessary paper strips may now be bought in many different colours and patterns – and they can be notoriously difficult to get the hang of.
“Learning-by-doing” is by far the best way to proceed and it seems that you either “get it” or you don’t. It is, however, part of the Christmas-hygge and fun – and for the “get it’s” it is always fun to follow the frustrations of the “don’t get it’s”.
Coiled cones filled with sweets The Christmas cones are among the decorations, which have been on Danish Christmas trees the longest. Cones were traditionally used as packaging for smaller items of goods – spices, coffee, sweets, sugar, etc. by merchants. They were easy to make and with an added handle they were ready to go on the tree and be filled with sweets and goodies.
As with the braided hearts, you may use any colour or design your heart desires, or use the “ready to cut”, which are available in many Danish stores. In supermarkets and the like, you may find Christmas “hobbyposer” with all you need. And for a more traditional feel, give the museum shops of Arbejdermuseet (The Workers’ Museum) in Copenhagen or Den Gamle By (The Old Town) in Aarhus a visit.