Unlike the Brits, Scandinavians celebrate New Year only with family or very close friends, but that doesn’t mean there’s any less partying…
At midnight on New Year’s Eve, people in most countries turn on their television to watch a fireworks display from their capital city. Swedes, however, tune in first to a screening of the 1969 British slapstick show Grevinnan och betjänten (Dinner for One / The Countess and the Butler), then a live poetry reading from Skansen Museum in Stockholm. It’s usually Nyårsklockana, a Swedish translation of Tennyson’s Ring Out Wild Bells, read by a famous actress or actor and followed by a choir performance, a series of live performances and, finally, a fireworks display.
Danes tune in to an equally reflective address from their queen at 6pm, live from one of her palaces, which is followed at 7:15pm by a more politically-centred broadcast from the prime minister at Marienborg, their country residence. Bookies take odds in the run up to New Year’s Eve as to what the Queen will mention in her address. In 2011 the odds were 50-1 that she’d mention Justin Bieber (she didn’t). Close friends and family gather early in the evening, so watch the broadcast together, but only after it has finished can they open the champagne.
Queen Margrethe delivers her Nytårstale (New Year’s Address)
After that, toasts can be to anyone or anything, but glasses must be constantly replenished until midnight, when the television is switched back on for the countdown at Copenhagen’s Rådhus. Danes like to jump into the new year, so when the countdown begins they find a chair or sofa, perch themselves on it and, on the stroke of midnight, jump off. Provided nobody has broken their ankles, the evening is rounded off with guests joining arms to sing Vær Velkommen Herrens År (We Welcome the Lord’s Year) and both national anthems: Der Er Et Yndigt Land (There is a Lovely Land) and Kong Christian Stod Ved Højen Mast (King Christian Stood By the Lofty Mast). Those with energy left may take part in a bizarre competition in which they travel from house to house to see how many plates they can smash on the doorsteps of their friends and neighbours. This usually goes better when the neighbours are on good terms.
Norwegians are alone amongst their Scandinavian neighbours with a preference for turkey or fish for dinner, rather than duck, as is traditional in Sweden and Denmark, but they share the more harmless Danish convention of placing a whole almond in rice pudding or risalamande, usually left over from Christmas Eve. Whoever receives the whole almond must keep it secret until everyone has finished eating, but once they have revealed it, they are blessed with good luck for the year ahead. The Norwegian king, like the Danish queen, also addresses the nation on New Year’s Eve, live from the Royal Palace in Oslo.
This article has also been published in Nordic Style Magazine.