Arts & Culture

How to Celebrate Your Birthday Like a Dane

For most of us, the measure of a successful birthday is being in the presence of cake 80% of the day. In Denmark, birthday celebrations go beyond just mere confectionary; it’s A Whole Thing.

Here’s our guide to getting another year older and a little bit wiser in the home of hygge:

Fly the Flag

Not every country boasts such an unwavering love for their national flag as Denmark does. The Dannebrog symbolises celebration, so there’s never much persuasion required to whip it out. Birthdays are no exception and the Dannebrog comes in many shapes and sizes for your special day. Most importantly is the miniature flagpole that decorates the birthday table and makes you feel like a big deal. You can also buy miniature confetti-style flags or flag-printed table attire if you want to go all-out. And if it’s a Royal family member’s birthday, she/he gets flags on the local buses (because that’s what happens when you’re a VIP).

 
 
 

BYO Layer Cake

Bring-your-own birthday cake is a practice that often divides opinion. It’s commonplace here to organise your own cake and for the practically-minded amongst us, it makes perfect sense! In one fell sugary-swoop any awkwardness around what social protocol to follow (nobody wants those, “oh, it’s your birthday today? I didn’t realise…” conversations with co-workers) is totally diminished when you take on the task yourself. Layer cake is a classic choice, with its towering levels of light sponge coated with custard, topped with cream and berries. If you want to impress, make sure it’s homemade!

Lager Cake Lagkage Danish by Miriam Bak McKenna | Scandinavia Standard Abi with Lager Cake Lagkage Danish Children's Birthday party by Miriam Bak McKenna | Scandinavia Standard

 
 
 

Go for the Jugular

The most superbly macabre of all birthday traditions: the cutting of the cake man’s throat. The cake man (or woman) is a little pastry person decorated with what looks a lot like an average adult’s weekly sugar intake: marzipan icing strewn with sweets and finished with laces for its hair strands. This kind of cake is typical for a child’s birthday and less-so for adults, so don’t expect to see too many of them at grown-up dinner parties.

The great ceremony comes when all the candles are blown out in unison (any left lighted are said to represent how many boyfriends or girlfriends you have). The cake must then be cut, with the first slice being the dear little person’s head sung in with a chorus of screams. It’s like the pastry-themed slasher movie we never knew we needed.

 
 
 

Hope for Sun

According to Danish tradition, you’re responsible for the weather on your birthday. If it’s blue skies and blinding sunshine, you’ll have people slapping you on the back in thanks. But if you’ve been a bad human this year, expect grey drizzle and probably some smaller gifts. Why would you do that to us?!

Danish Party Balloons by Miriam Bak McKenna | Scandinavia Standard Leckerbaer Danish Sweets Deserts by Miriam Bak McKenna | Scandinavia Standard-2

 
 
 

Spice up your Life

When unmarried Danes reach the ripe old age of 25, many have the occasion marked by their nearest and dearest dousing them in handfuls of cinnamon. Nothing says “many happy returns!” quite like a mouthful of spices right? The key to surviving the onslaught is to come well-equipped: we’re talking swimming goggles and waterproofs. If you’re still single by 30 then you graduate up the spice rack to pepper, where friends and family build a giant pepper mill in your honour. Because, tradition.

Interested in other Danish traditions? Learn more about Christmas, Easter and Fastelavn.

Photo credit: Miriam Bak McKenna. Follow her inspiring Instagram here.

How do you celebrate your birthday? Are there any traditions we haven’t mentioned? Tell us!

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