Festivals and traditions


A celebration of Jesus' birth

Christmas - in Danish jul - is the celebration of Jesus' birth. It is the church festival that occupies the largest number of days in the festival calendar of the Danes. In the Bible we read about a birth that was very human and yet divine. Jesus was born while his mother Mary and her fiancé Joseph were travelling. They were poor, unmarried and came from the outskirts of Israel. Jesus was born under conditions that resemble those of millions of other children. At the same time the birth was divine: Shepherds came to tell Mary and Joseph that angels were singing and proclaiming that the saviour of the world had been born. Thus, Jesus was both true man and true God.

The Christmas days in church

On December 24, Christmas Eve, all parish churches have a least one daytime church service. The Christmas Eve service is the most visited church service of the year. In some churches, especially in the cities, the (last) service is followed by a Christmas celebration open to anyone who wishes to spend Christmas Eve in the church. December 25 and 26, Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day, are celebrated with a morning service. St. Stephen was the first martyr of the Church. His story is found in the Book of Acts, chapter 7. Some churches continue the celebrations with an event that may be primarily for children and families. To find out what is happening in your local parish church during Christmas, go to the page Find a church.

The history of the Christmas festival

Christians have celebrated Jesus' birth since the 4th century. In the Roman Empire the festival for Jesus' birth replaced the festival for the invincible sun, sol invictus. In Denmark Christmas replaced a winter solstice festival called Yule or Jol. This festival celebrated that light was beginning to return and days beginning to get longer. 

Several prophecies in the Bible hold promises about Jesus' birth; they describe Jesus as a light that will shine in the darkness. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we read from the Book of Isaiah, chapter 9"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." Hence, Christmas too is a festival that celebrates the light, just like the solstice festival it replaced. However, we do not merely celebrate the light in nature. The light symbolises the hope that was born when the Son of God entered our world to save us.

It is not only in the church that Christmas is celebrated. The festival marks families, workplaces, schools, institutions and shops, for example with regard to such things as food – special cookies, confectionery and dishes – and decorations inside as well as outside.