What’s with the duck?


Roasted Christmas duck

If you’ve ever considered going to Denmark to celebrate Christmas, in case you have some Danish friends or relatives, then it might be worthwhile reading this blog.

You might just be interested in how Danes celebrate Christmas.

This blog is mainly intended to explain some of the Danish Christmas traditions.

It will help you avoid having a “WTF” moment when witnessing a Danish themed Christmas or wondering if these Danes are weirder than allowed, then this post will explain why we are eating duck for Christmas – not forgetting to mention all the other food we eat for Christmas too.

How do we stay so fit?

It doesn’t even help to be Danish as to why we eat duck and it was never explained to me.

It was not one of these things, where your dad took you to one side to explain the tradition behind the mighty duck feast.  My dad just told us kids to eat what’s being served.  And, I was probably a lot more interested in the presents than the duck anyway.

To make matters even more complicated, not all Danish people eat duck!

It depends where you live or originate from in Denmark.  People living in Copenhagen, let’s call them the snobs, are more likely to eat Goose with silverware, whereas the culchies from Funen are more inclined to eat duck with wooden cutlery.

To get to the bottom of this tradition, I decided to investigate this in a bit more detail.

And, here’s some useless background information.  In 2007 there were almost 250.000 wild ducks in Denmark.  That’s pretty impressive until you discover that there were 16 million chickens.  Who counted all these birds, and why, I do not know.  Not interested in verifying the numbers by recounting, so I’ll take their word for it.  But, it explains that Danish people are a bird-eating nation … and pigs … and fish … and spuds.

In most countries, including Denmark, it is tradition to eat either turkey or ham (or both) for Christmas, served with gravy and spuds (potatoes).  But, there’s obviously a reason why some Danes eat duck and here’s the reason.  This is not a trade secret or at the same level as Santa’s existence, so you can freely share this knowledge with your friends.

The main reason behind the duck actually starts with another Danish tradition called Morten’s Aften.

Not sure how to translate that into English, other than calling it Morten’s Evening.  This tradition is symbolizing the day where Morten was voted bishop in Germany, the 11th of November in or around 370 AD.  Morten actually didn’t want to become a bishop, so he hid among the geese.  However, he was discovered when the geese started to make a lot of noise and dragged back to his clerical duties.

What confuses me about this tradition is, why the hell the Danes adopted it?  Morton was the son of an Italian legionary, who when he got older, founded monasteries in Germany.  At the same time, the Danes were still clubbing each other with stone tools and fighting off the Fenris Wolf.

Anyway, it should, in fact, be geese that are eaten on Morten’s Aften instead of duck.

Geese have always been slightly more expensive to buy, so I assume that poorer families couldn’t afford to eat Goose for neither Morten’s Aften or Christmas, and substituted it with duck.  You could compare it with buying Lidl products instead of more expansive brands such as M&S.

From what I can gather, and knowing the Danish mentality of simplicity (you see it with Danish designed furniture; simple, but fantastic), something similar happened with the Christmas dinner.  Why reinvent the wheel, when we already know the duck is cheap and tastes nice?

The working class still couldn’t afford buying geese and bought ducks instead.

Absolutely nothing wrong with this approach, as it tastes much nicer.  You could go as far as to argue that the duck is the working class goose and therefore the main dish for both Morten’s Aften and Christmas.

Later, when people started to have more money, they started to add additional dishes to the Christmas dinner. The duck was no longer the main course but became part of the entire Christmas feast.

Many Danish families eat duck, pork (crackling) roast, pork sausages, beet-root, white potatoes, brown (sugar-coated) potatoes and not to forget ris al amande for dessert.

The story behind ris al amande comes later, once I fully grasp where and why it emerges in Danish Christmas dinners, and why we throw in an almond … and get presents for finding the almond.

Most Danish families use these traditions, Morten’s Aften and Christmas, to gather the families around the dinner table.  It creates special bonds among relatives.  We could easily spend 2-4 hours around the dinner table, eating slowly and enjoying each other’s company.  Then we might go for a walk, only to return to the dinner table to eat some more.

Now you might have a better understanding as to why some Danes have a “little” belly, especially around Christmas?  Our gorgeous body shapes are simply a result of living in a family and food-friendly era, eating a little more than we can fit and spending more time around the dinner table.

Personally, I don’t care why we eat duck.  It simply tastes fantastic.  I’m already looking forward to next Christmas dinner.  That’s my reasons. Yours?

I love Christmas, not for presents, but for the funfilled moments spent around the dinner table with your family and friends – eating too much food and drinking a bit too much Christmas beer.

Just in case you wondered what Christmas beer is.

christmas beerWell, it’s a beer specially brewed for Christmas.  It is really nice when served cold and is much stronger than traditional beers.  We even have a celebration for when the Christmas beer is released, called J-day (J stands for Jul, which means Christmas in Danish).

We certainly like Christmas food and beer!


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