When I was a kid we celebrated Christmas on Jule Aften (Christmas Eve), a tradition my parents carried with us from Denmark to the 3 countries I was assembled in. In this post I'll share some of the Christmas traditions we brought with us including how to make Danish Christmas tree decorations, my grandmothers recipe for æbleskiver and a kick-ass drink that will keep you warm and get you in the Christmas spirit!
My first memories of Christmas are from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Spruce or pine trees don’t grow in the tropics, so our Christmas tree looked a little tattered. We decorated it with lit candles, tinsel, danish flags, baubles and homemade woven “julehjerter” (Christmas hearts). The hearts are generally filled with Danish treats but it was hard to find them in Rhodesia, not just because of the sanctions, but there just wasn't a very substantial Danish expat community to drive demand for Danish food and goods. That changed when we emigrated to Calgary, Canada. There was pretty good sized Danish expat community and the julehjerter were now filled with chocolate covered marzipan, unshelled hazelnuts or walnuts, cookies or other tasty treats.
After moving to Canada, we continued to burn live candles for a few years, but my folks discovered colored electric Christmas tree lights and the candles were soon replaced, I think the fire hazard had more to do with it than the fancy colors. The julehjerter remained unchanged though.
Julehjerter - Where Did They Originate And How To Make Them
Making julehjerter was a tradition leading up to Jule Aften that would always get us in the Christmas spirit. My parents would get out the glanspapir (glossy paper), and we would get to tracing out the designs, before cutting pieces and weaving them together. The first julehjerte was green and white and was woven by none other than Hans Christian Andersen (in Danish he's simply known as H.C. Andersen) author of Little Mermaid, The Emperors New Clothes, The Snow Queen (basis for Frozen), The Ugly Duckling and 152 other children's stories. The original julehjerte can still be viewed in his home (now a museum) in Odense, Denmark.
My dad read me a lot of Danish childrens stories growing up. He would trace his his finger across the page as he read so I could see the words as he spoke them. That's how I learned to read Danish, Many of H.C. Andersen's stories had a moral, one example is his Christmas story The Fir Tree.
The tradition became an annual event that included my parent’s friends and their families. The grown ups would drink jule gløgg, a warm and spiced wine drink, the kids would drink hot chocolate and we would all eat æbleskiver while making the julehjerter. Mom would make a few templates for the kids to use and we would continue cutting and weaving for hours. By the time we were done, the adults were tipsy and we were all stuffed with æbleskiver.
Here are a few more templates if you're inspired to make more intricate julehjerter.
Gløgg Makes The Spirit Bright!
The word gløgg is from the old Swedish glödgad, meaning burned. That is a drink in which most if not all of the alcohol has evaporated. My parents, Inger and Kai’s version, was meant for those of us who love to party as they did. Their recipe adds back a considerable % of alcohol with a generous pour of Danish Akvavit and they didn’t boil the gløgg to ensure as little alcohol as possible evaporates. My parents are awesome! Here, for the first time is Inger and Kai’s finest party enducing gløgg recipe. :
Inger & Kai’s Julegløgg
1 bottle Red wine
2 Cinnamon sticks
100g (1/2 a cup) Raisins
100g (1/2 a cup) Chopped almonds
Lemon peel (no white) sliced thin
1 dl (1/2 a cup) Sugar
1-2 dl (1/2-1 cup) Akvavit (aka snaps)
Warm wine and spices, covered at a low temperature. When warm, add sugar and lemon peel and stir until sugar disolves. Add 1-2 dl snaps (my personal favorite is Alborg Jublæums Akvavit) to make it stronger to taste. If you can’t find akvavit, substitute dark rum or brandy
Serve warm and Enjoy!
Making æbleskiver is a bit of an art, First of all you need a special cast iron pan. Arne Æbleskive can help you choose the pan that's right for you. Then there's the challenge of making them, learn from an expert how to make them perfectly round, we've never made them this perfect! We
eat them with powdered sugar and raspberry jam.
This is my maternal grandmother, Else (pronounced El-seh) æbleskive recipe that she noted in her personal recipe book on August 17, 1946. This is a word for word translation of her recipe.
500g (2 cups) flour, 8.3 dl (3.5 cups) milk or sour whipping cream, a little teaspoon salt, one lemon peel finely shredded, whisk all ingredients, then stir in 5 egg yolks and one teaspoon baking soda and then finally add the 5 egg whites. The dough should not be too thin. Approx. 55/æbleskiver. Note from Mike: you want about the same consistency as pancake mix.
Glædlig Jul og Godt Nytår!
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