Customs of Denmark

Marriage and Family

Many couples live together before or instead of getting married, and common-law marriages are recognized by the state. Families in Denmark are small, usually having one or two children. Both father and mother often work outside the home, and children are encouraged to be independent from a relatively young age. Average incomes are among the highest in the world, but Danes also pay high taxes, which in turn fund generous social welfare provisions such as child care and maternity and paternity leave. Northern Europe


Breakfast consists of coffee or tea, pastries or rolls, and cheese, eggs, or cereal. For lunch, many have open sandwiches (smørrebrød) and a drink. Pumpernickel and rye are popular types of bread for sandwiches. The main meal is dinner, which the family has together at around 6 pm. It usually consists of just one course, although it is likely to be more elaborate on weekends. Danes eat a wide variety of foods found throughout Europe. Pork is the most commonly eaten meat. For family gatherings and special occasions, a frokostbord (a buffet of many different foods) is often served.

At the main evening meal everyone is seated and serves themselves before anyone begins to eat. A parent will often say Vær så god (“Please, begin”) to begin the meal, especially if guests are present. When passing and receiving food, one might say Vær så god and Tak (“Thank you”). Because people usually serve themselves from dishes on the table, it is considered bad manners to leave food on one’s plate. When being entertained, everyone waits for the host to say Skål! (“Cheers!”) before they take a drink. Upon leaving, guests may thank the hosts for the meal by saying Tak for mad! (“Thanks for the meal!”).


When meeting someone for the first time it is normal to shake hands, but on further occasions, if the circumstances are informal, Danes may not bother with a handshake. Acquaintances often greet each other with Davs, which is the equivalent of “Hello.” Young people say Hej (“Hi”) both when greeting and parting. A more formal greeting is Goddag (“Good day”). The use of first names is widespread.

It is common for people to drop in on friends in Denmark, and Danes tend to be informal hosts who are concerned with making their guests feel at home. When visiting someone’s home for the first time, it is usual to take a gift such as a plant or cut flowers. Similarly, many people take a gift when invited to someone’s house for a meal. Punctuality is very important; if there is any chance of being even 15 minutes late, it is polite to telephone one’s hosts to warn them.


Soccer was brought to Denmark in the mid-19th century by British workers sent to help build a railway. It caught on rapidly and has become the country’s favorite sport. The Danes exported soccer to Germany near the turn of the century. People also enjoy a range of other sports, including handball; badminton; tennis; swimming; sailing; and golf, which is growing in popularity. Since a commercial channel was introduced in 1988 (before which there had been only one state-run channel that broadcast during limited hours) and with the growth of cable, they have started to watch more television. In Copenhagen, the arts are well supported.

Holidays and Celebrations

Official holidays include New Year’s Day (1 January), Easter (Thursday through Monday), All Prayers' Day, Ascension, Whitmonday, Constitution Day (5 June), Christmas Day (25 December) and 26 December. Queen Margrethe’s birthday (16 April) is a day of special celebration. Christmas is celebrated over three days. On Christmas Eve, there is a tradition of singing songs while dancing in a circle around a lighted tree. Celebrants also exchange gifts and eat a special meal.

On New Year’s Eve, Denmark is filled with activity: there are parties, speeches by the Queen and prime minister, the ringing of cathedral bells, and a night sky illuminated by fireworks. In some villages, young people play pranks on this night.

The Monday before Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent) is called Fastelavn. Special buns called fastelavnsboller are baked. Children dress up in costumes and go door-to-door begging for buns, but are content with candy or coins. There is also a Fastelavn tradition of hanging up wooden barrels filled with candy, which children beat until the barrels come apart and spill the candy.

Instead of individually celebrating a number of holidays honoring various minor saints in the spring, Danes celebrate Store Bededag, or All Prayers' Day, on the fourth Friday after Easter. This public holiday was instituted by Count Johann Friedrich von Struensee in the 18th century. A special hot bread called varme hveder is eaten on Store Bededag.

Source: Encarta Interactive World Atlas