Traditions and customs of Denmark

What customs and traditions are there in Denmark?

A look from above at the traditions and customs of Denmark, a Nordic country.


Food in daily life

Danes eat most of their meals at home and in private places, although there are also public places to eat, from small hotdog stands to upscale restaurants.

A breakfast of coffee, bread or cereal is eaten at home. The Sunday breakfast commonly includes fresh bread from the bakery, boiled eggs, juice, tea or coffee, and the Sunday newspaper.

Lunch at a workplace, school, or institution is homemade or available in kitchens or dining rooms, offering open sandwiches, hot meals, or a buffet table. It can also be purchased at butchers, cafes, and sandwich bars.

Open sandwiches are traditional and consist of rye bread with salami, liverwurst, herring, roast pork, plaice, cod roe, cheese, chocolate or fruit. Dinner at home traditionally consisted of an appetizer, main course, and dessert. Soups, porridge and fish dishes were served, but nowadays they are rarely eaten on a daily basis.

A main dish is traditionally made up of boiled potatoes, boiled vegetables such as green beans and cauliflower, and fried meat such as meatballs, chops, or roast pork served with golden sauce. Pizza, pasta, rice, chicken and turkey have become common foods among young people. Imported fruits, vegetables, and spices are also common.

Inns, often dating back centuries throughout the country, offer traditional Danish food. Pizzerias are found in small towns and cities. In the larger cities, there are Chinese, Italian, and Greek restaurants, along with American, Middle Eastern, and South American fast food outlets and restaurants serving Danish open sandwiches (smørrebrød) and pastries.

Food taboos include pets such as cats, dogs and horses. The green movement and informed consumers have been mutually dependent since the 1970s.

The demand for and production of organically grown food has grown, with most supermarkets offering a range of organically grown vegetables, meat and dairy products.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

The Danes eat or drink at any social occasion, preferably traditional dishes, cakes and drinks. However, the act of drinking and eating together is considered more important than what is actually consumed.

Formal social occasions include birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, baptisms, confirmations, graduations, and funerals. Private parties at community centers or restaurants are common. Hosts spend one to six months’ salary on a formal party rental, food, drinks, and musicians.

Holidays with special meals include New Year’s Eve, Easter, Martin’s Mass and Christmas. New Year’s Eve is traditionally celebrated with boiled cod, Easter with elaborate lunches and roast lamb for dinner, and Martin’s Mass with roast goose.

The traditional Christmas Eve dinner includes roast pork, roast duck or goose stuffed with prunes, served with pickled red cabbage, boiled white potatoes, brown sugar fries and thick gravy.

Desserts include rice porridge and ris a la mande (rice porridge mixed with whipped cream, almonds, and vanilla and served with a spicy cherry sauce). At Christmas and Easter special flavored beers are sold. Christmas is celebrated with a traditional and extravagant lunch and dinner that brings the family together.


Privacy is a paramount value in Danish etiquette. One is not supposed to invite oneself to another person’s house or search other people’s land, property and salary.

Danes show little emotion in public, as open expression of feelings is considered a sign of weakness. Unless provoked, Danes avoid getting into an argument and don’t like to be interrupted during a conversation.

Informality is considered a virtue. However, the informality in social interaction makes it difficult to enter new social circles. At dinners, meetings, and conferences, there are no formal introductions, leaving people to initiate the interaction.


Religious beliefs

Religious freedom is in line with international standards on the right to freedom of religion. Eighty-six percent of the population belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which has been supported by the state for centuries and is considered the national church.

Many other Christian communities exist, including the Catholic Church, the Danish Baptist Church and the Pentecostal Movement. Other world religions represented in the country include Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Baha’i Faith, and Sikhism. Recently, religious groups have emerged that celebrate the ancient Viking gods.

Religious practitioners

The majority religion is Christianity, and at birth all Danes are considered to belong to the national church, with an obligation to pay church taxes as part of income tax.

Since the 15th century, priests have been educated at a university, and ministers of the national church are officials under the Minister for Ecclesiastical Affairs.

Official duties of religious leaders include performing church ceremonies for local members of the national church and keeping a register of births, marriages, and deaths. Many religious practitioners participate in worldly affairs as social workers or defend the less privileged in public debates.

Rituals and Holy Places

Churches are located inside and outside villages, towns and cities and are surrounded by cemeteries. In a Lutheran service, there is a minister, a cantor, a servant, and an organist.

Members attend ritual events such as baptisms, confirmations, wedding ceremonies and funerals, and major religious events such as Christmas and Easter. Only a minority of people attend services regularly, and on weekdays the churches are virtually empty.

Death and the afterlife

The Danes are not great believers in God; therefore, practices related to death, the deceased, funerals, and life after death are handled in a rational and practical manner.

Dead people are buried in coffins on church grounds or are cremated and their ashes buried in the cemetery. The graves are decorated with a headstone bearing the deceased’s name, dates, and greetings, and are surrounded by greenery and flowers. After twenty years the grave is neglected unless family members pay for its care.

Religious practitioners are often available to support surviving family members and discuss life, death, and the afterlife. Neo-religious communities have emerged in which people are guided to the other side in order to communicate with deceased relatives and relatives.

Arts and Humanities

Arts support

Artists can join a union from which they receive unemployment insurance. In this job security system, artists must contribute in the form of work, and many artists take menial jobs to maintain their union status.

During their training, artists can receive grants through the State Educational Grants and Loans program. Some artists are awarded a civil list pension based on merit and talent. A few excellent artists are totally self-sufficient.


Danish literature was pioneered by the historian Saxo Grammaticus, who wrote about Danish history up to the end of the 12th century, including Norse mythology, with its traditional stories of gods and legendary heroes. Since then, Denmark has had a long history of poetry and literature, with Hans Christian Andersen and Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) among the most famous writers.

Graphic arts

There is a widespread culture of painting, sculpture, textiles and ceramics. These subjects are part of the school curriculum and are taught in free time courses. Many of the islands are known for their artifacts. Bornholm produces pottery, sculpture and glass.

The artifacts are displayed in museums and art shows attended by schoolchildren, college students, and tourists. Professional artists known outside of Denmark include the sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) and the contemporary painter Per Kirkeby.

Performing arts

Music and dance from Europe have been dominant, but genres from Africa and South America have become popular. The Royal Danish Conservatory of Music was founded in 1867, and the Conservatory of Rhythmic Music was founded in 1986.

Conservatories are for those with special talents and ambitions, while many other schools are open to a wider range of people. Danish cinema has received numerous international awards.

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