6 Danish Birthday traditions
I have found out that birthday celebrations can vary a lot across cultures. Here are my observations about Denmark:
- People are expected to make their own birthday cake and bring it to work for everyone
That’s right, in Denmark it’s not really your birthday if you come to work without a cake. This also applies to your last day at work, where you’re supposed to bring cake. In France, it is actually the opposite. The birthday person is supposed to be treated like a king/queen during the whole day, and not do a thing. Therefore, it is far more likely that someone else would bake/buy a cake (even better if it’s a surprise) for the lucky birthday lad/gal, than them making one.
- Danes make birthday wishlists about the presents they would like
They send it around their family or friends’ group (like a wedding or christmas list), and if you have Danish friends, they might expect such a list from you, as spontaneous gifts ideas are not a big thing here. In France, taking the time and making the effort to look for a present that the person will like, is considered being a good friend (either because they mentioned it briefly 5 months ago and it shows you pay attention, or because you know the person so well that you know what kind of gift they would like). Also, it is customary for Danes to make a post on Facebook to thank people and relate what you did on your birthday or what gifts you got. Something we would not do in France.
- Flags on the door, flags on the cake, flags everywhere (also a flag on the table at the restaurant)
While in France people would use colourful balloons to indicate where the party is, or just to decorate inside, Danes prefer to use their national flag, which, as we mentioned previously, is linked to every celebration, big or small. There is just something so festive about that flag.
- Blowing candles on the cake is reserved for small children
This is surprising given that Danes otherwise have a love for candles (Denmark is the country in the world that consumes the most candles), but apparently candles are meant to stay alight, not to be blown off. I was just informed by a Dane, that the unofficial age limit for blowing candles is, quote: “when you’re old enough to get drunk on your birthday“, which I will leave to your own interpretation. Bottomline is: adults never blow candles.
- There is no Danish version of the famous “Happy Birthday to you” song
I couldn’t find in how many languages this song has been translated, but I think we can all think of at least 4 (Joyeux anniversaire, Tanti auguri a te, Feliz cumpleaños, Zum Geburstag Viel Glück,… sorry if I misspelled). But Danish is not one of them. Or at least it is not a song they use at all (maybe it exists). Instead they usually sing a cute song about the person’s evolution through life, which always includes chocolate and cakes (and some “Hurra, hurra, hurra!”). You can find it here if you’re curious.
- A cinnamon shower when you are not married when you turn 25 and pepper when you turn 30
You can regularly see puddles of orange cinnamon close to lamp posts or traffick lights if you walk around Danish cities. This is because tradition has it that the lucky birthday person must be tied to a post or a chair, equipped with protection glasses, splashed with water, and then generously covered with cinnamon by their friends. The protection is important though, as cinnamon can cause burns and breathing issues. This rather weird way of celebrating only seems to only be seen in Jutland though. Fun fact: in France (mostly in couture brands like Dior or Chanel), unmarried women traditionally get a pretty hat for their 25th birthday, on St Catherine’s day, patron of single ladies (and they are called “Catherinettes”).
These are some things I have found different about birthdays in Denmark. Have I forgotten anything? Have I gotten it wrong? Let me know in the comments below!