Danish Culture and Customs

The Royal Family

Having existed for more than 1000 years, the Danish Monarchy is one of the oldest in the world. The head of state is Queen Margrethe II. The Queen, who is a popular and respected monarch, is married to Prince Henrik, a former French count, and they have two sons, Prince Joachim and Crown Prince Frederik.

In 2004 the Crown Prince married Mary Donaldson, an Australian commoner born to Scottish parents. The couple had their first son Christian Valdemar Henri John, 15 October 2005 who is second in line to the Danish throne. 21 April 2007 the couple had their second child Princess Isabella Henrietta Ingrid Margrethe. On 8 January 2011 the couple had their third and fourth children, the Royal Twins, Prince Vincent Frederik Minik Alexander and Princess Josephine Sophia Ivalo Mathilda.

The Role of the Monarchy

Denmark has a Constitutional Monarchy, which means that the monarch cannot independently perform political acts. Although the monarch signs all Acts of Parliament, these only come into force when they have been countersigned by a Cabinet Minister. As Head of State, the monarch participates in the formation of a new government. Additionally, it is the monarch who is the formal Head of the Government and therefore presides over the State Council, where the Acts which have been passed by the Folketing, are signed into law.

For more information: www.kongehuset.dk

The Danish Flag “Dannebrog”

The Danish Flag – DannebrogThe don’t just claim to live in the oldest kingdom in the world, they also claim to fly the oldest national flag! Fact of the matter is, that the “colours of the Danes”, in old Danish “Dannebrog”, probably is one of the oldest flags in the world.

The Dannebrog is said to have been the banner for the Danish crusaders, who in the beginning of the 13th Century made efforts to christianise Estonia. According to legend, during the invation of June 15 1219 there was a sudden, great peal of thunder – and a red banner with a white cross floated down from the sky. According to the Danish king, Valdemar II, who led the attack against the pagan Estonians, the banner fell into the arms of a Danish archbishop, and a voice from the heavens said: “When you raise this banner against your enemies, they will yield before you”. The King waved the banner high; and this miraculous sign from heaven encouraged the Danes, and gave them their final victory.

There is, however, no historical evidence to document this ancient legend. But legend or not; the Dannebrog has since been the national symbol of Denmark, even though the common Danes were not allowed to fly Dannebrog until 1854. Prior to then, Dannebrog had been the sole symbol of the King and the State. Since 1912 the day of June 15 has been proclaimed the Day of the Flag, Valdemar’s Day.

Famous Danes

The most famous Dane, which most people know is Hans Christian Andersen, writer of fairytales such as The Ugly Duckling. Other famous Danes include:

  • Niels Bohr, a physicist and Noble Prize winner
  • Arne Jacobsen, architect of several buildings, and designer of style icons such as the egg and swan chair
  • Jørn Utzon, architect of the Sydney Opera House amongst others
  • Thomas Bjørn, a famous golf player
  • Johan Kobborg, a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet in London

The Danish Language

Over 98% of the population speak Danish. German is recognised as an official regional language in the Nord-Schleswig region that borders Germany, where it is spoken by 23,000 people, about 0.4% of the 5.2m Danish population. Greenlandic, an Inuit language, is spoken by 0.1% of the population.

Danish comes from the Indo-European family of languages and is further classified as Teutonic/Germanic along with Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish. There was a common Scandinavian language between 200 A.D. – 1200 A.D. and Danish was one of its dialects. As time has progressed Danish has adopted words from many other languages, ranging from Lower German to French and English. These changes happened because of factors such as trading with Hanseatic merchants, religious missions in the Viking Age, the Lutheran Reformation, German immigration in the Middle Ages, and increased business and social contacts with the remainder of the world over the last few centuries. In short, money and religion fuelled the changes in the Danish language.


The public libraries offer books in Danish, English, and several other foreign languages. Most cities have their own library, and all university libraries are open to the public. Get an overview of books and materials available at www.bibliotek.dk.

In order to borrow, however, you need to register with the university or municipal library. Typically this means that you have to be registered in the Personal Register and have a Health Insurance Card, which you use as your borrower card.

Danish Holidays


Other Danish Customs and Celebrations


Shrovetide (in Danish “Fastelavn”) is another word for “Carnival” – a spring festival, which can be traced as far back as Ancient Greece. In Denmark, Shrovetide originally marked the commencement of fasting according to the Christian faith. According to ancient custom, children dressed up in fancy dress and beat a barrel. Historically there was a real black cat in the barrel, and beating the barrel was superstitiously considered a safeguard against evil.

Today, Shrovetide is a festive event for children at all ages where they dress up and beat a barrel filled with sweets – not a cat! Most schools celebrate the day by cancelling normal school activities for the day and gather all the students in a common area to beat the barrel. Often, Shrovetide will also be celebrated in your local community, for example in yards and other common areas in the neighbourhood. Shrovetide falls 49 days before Easter.

May 1st

May 1st is the International Workers’ Day, and is celebrated with various events across the country.

Fælledparken in Copenhagen is the location for the biggest event in the country.

Sankt Hans fire. Foto: Christian Olsen

Midsummer Day / Sankt hans

Midsummer Day is celebrated on the evening of 23rd June and has its origins in heathen folk tradition and Christianity. The celebration marks mid-summer, and according to ancient custom, dolls signifying witches are burnt atop a big fires all along the Danish coasts and lakes.

Today, Midsummer Day is celebrated after working hours in many public parks, where where people gather and bring food and drinks and watch a big fire put up for the occasion.

It is a tradition to sing the “Midsummer hymn”, written by Holger Drachmann and P. E. Lange-Müller in 1885, and delicately called “Vi elsker vort land…” (We Love Our Country).

The Clock/Time

Expressing time in Danish can be confusing…
klokken… = … o’clock, hence, klokken et = 1 o’clock
Klokken er… = It is … o’clock, hence, klokken er et = It is 1 o’clock.

Danish uses two reference points: the main hour and the half hour. Such as:

  • klokken et (one o’clock)
  • halv to (half past one) [Note that it is NOT “halv over et” NOR “halv i to”]

If the time is between the main hour and the first quarter, they say:

  • fem minutter over et = 1:05
  • ti minutter over et = 1:10 (Do not leave out the word minutter)
  • kvart over et = 1:15

If the time is between the first quarter and the half hour, then we have:

  • ti minutter i halv to = 1:20
  • fem minutter i halv to = 1:25

If the time is between the half hour and the third quarter, then we have:

  • fem minutter over halv to = 1:35
  • ti minutter over halv to = 1:40 or tyve minutter i to = 1:40

If the time is between the third quarter and the next full hour, then we have:

  • kvart i to = 1:45
  • ti minutter i to = 1:50
  • fem minutter i to = 1:55

News and Newspapers

There are many national newspapers, and each town usually has theirs own local newspaper. There are also a few English-language newspapers (notably The Copenhagen Post).

See a comprehensive (external) list of online newspapers in Denmark

Food and Grocery Shopping

There are a number of supermarkets that vary in price, The supermarkets have been divided into three price categories upper, mid, and lower price range.

Upper price range: Irma and SuperBest, are however well organised and may have a lot of products (international, organic) that other shops do not.

Medium price range: Føtex, Bilka, Kvickly and Super Brugsen. These shops also have non-food sections that are reasonably priced, and they generally have a large range of discount products as well as other brands.

Lower price range: Lidl, Aldi, Netto and Fakta. These shops have low prices on everyday products and also have several discount offerings on non-food goods.

All supermarket websites will help you find your local shop. Just look for “Find din …”.


There are several opportunities for shopping, both in the city and in shopping centres.

The big cities in Denmark all have their shopping street, however, the smaller cities and towns all have their core “bykerne” where you can also go shopping.

Discount Gift Stores

Tiger and Søstrene Grene offer a variety of products that generally do not cost more than DKK 20, and the product range changes relatively often. The shopping is informal and light, with no shopping carts.

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