Weird Copenhagen Traditions you may see on your Next Visit
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Copenhagen is well known for its stunning architecture and innovative cuisine. But beyond the surface, Copenhagen has some pretty weird things going on that may surprise you. From centuries old Danish holiday traditions to modern day Copenhagen-specific eccentricities, there is always something happening in Denmark’s capital city. And in this article I’ll share with you the top weird Copenhagen traditions so that you’ll know what to expect during your visit.
Weird Copenhagen Traditions you may see on your Next Visit:
The New Year’s Eve Jump
If you find yourself around Danish people as the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, you may see them jumping off chairs and sofas. That’s because it is a Danish tradition to “leap” into the new year, which is believed to ward off bad luck and bring good fortune in the coming year.
However, if the Danish people you’re with are more adventurous, you may witness the Nytårsbadetur, or the New Year’s Eve Jump. This tradition sees Danes wearing nothing but their bathing suits, plunging into the frigid Baltic Sea as the clock strikes midnight on December 31st. They believe that by doing so, you’re washing away your past year’s troubles and embracing the new year with a clean slate.
Nowadays Danes will likely wait until New Year’s Day and make the jump in daylight.
Celebrated in the Nordic Countries during the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, Fastelavn is best described as a mix between Halloween and a Carnival. During this time children dress up and go door-to-door singing in exchange for Fastelavnsboller (sweet buns with cream), candy or money.
Additionally, you will also see children slå katten af tønden, or knocking the cat out of the barrel. A candy-filled barrel is decorated with a cat and suspended from a tree. Children take turns hitting the barrel with sticks and the one who knocks the candy out of the barrel is crowned cat king/ queen and the candy is shared between the children. According to folklore cats are associated with evil, and by beating the cat barrel with sticks you’re beating out the evil spirits.
The Maypole Dance
Every year on May Day, the 1st of May, you will see the Maypole Dance. During this traditional dance, people with ribbons in their hands dance around a tall pole, and in doing so they are weaving the ribbons around the pole. This dance symbolizes happiness for the upcoming warm season. You can also see this type of dance in other countries, though some will celebrate at midsummer.
Also known as Flødebollernes Dag, Flødebolle Day is the tastiest of all weird Copenhagen traditions. Taking place on May 11th, this tradition can fly under the radar if you’re unaware of it. There aren’t any festivities across the city, rather people celebrate by eating Flødeboller. These sweet treats are composed of a crispy cookie base, soft meringue and a chocolate coating. During this time you may see bakeries and confectioneries showcasing interesting flavors they wouldn’t normally produce.
Drunk Kids at Distortion
If you’re not a fan of loud music, I’d suggest you avoid Copenhagen in early June. Every year thousands of youth come to the city center to celebrate at Distortion, the largest street music festival in town. As far as weird traditions go in Copenhagen, Distortion isn’t strange at all… for the locals. However, there are many foreigners who have expressed shock after seeing “drunk children” at this festival.
In Copenhagen it is perfectly acceptable for youth to drink alcohol, even in public. Beer is available on the shelves at grocery stores and nobody checks for ID. Thus, people of any age (including kids) are getting drunk in public. This is a normal and common sight on Copenhagen, but quite weird if you’re a foreigner, particularly North American where alcohol is difficult to buy.
The Naked Run
If running naked in public is something you’d like to engage in, then you can do that at the Roskilde Festival, one of the largest music festivals in Europe. Every summer since 1999 a group of around 30 participants race each other while wearing nothing but running shoes. The winning male and winning female each receive a ticket to the next year’s festival. To watch or participate in the naked run you need to purchase tickets to the Roskilde Festival which is held in late June or early July of every year. But if you’re thinking of participating, just keep in mind that thousands of people attend this festival and you’ll have quite the audience 😉. The town of Roskilde is only 30 minutes outside of Copenhagen, and there are multiple daily trains.
The (Other) Naked Run
To commemorate the end of their first year of studies, students at the University of Copenhagen participate in russerløb, or the Naked Run. But don’t be scared, you won’t see fully naked students running throughout the city! Participants typically wear underwear or some (minuscule) costume and the event is specific to the University. However, the main campus is located in the heart of the Old Town so who knows what sights you’ll come across.
This tradition started sometime in the 19th century and has become a rite of passage for new students. During this event there is a youthful and fun (but also loud) atmosphere.
Dancing Midwives around the Stork Fountain
In Danish folklore, the stork is associated with the arrival of a baby. It is also a symbol of fertility, good luck, and blessings. Thus it should not surprise you if you see young graduates dancing around the Stork Fountain. In fact, since the 1950s it has become a bit of a tradition for midwives to dance around this fountain on their graduation day. They believe that doing so will bring them luck in their new careers.
However, lately, other students have started dancing around the Stork Fountain to celebrate the end of their exams and their graduations.
Graduates in Trucks
To be honest, this is what inspired me to write this article about weird Copenhagen traditions. I was really taken aback the first time I saw trucks driving down the street with dancing, noisy, sailor hat-wearing youth in the back. Known as vognløb (wagon parade), this is actually a popular graduation tradition in Denmark. Students decorate trucks or wagons, they hop in the back and shout out their accomplishments as they’re driving around the city. They may likely be drinking alcohol, and they’re very loud.
So if you see a bunch of trucks with seemingly drunk youth during your visit to Copenhagen, just know that it’s completely normal. Don’t panic.
Every year during the summer solstice Danes celebrate Midsummer. Although it is an old religious holiday, nowadays Midsummer is mostly celebrated in the Nordic Countries with Sweden leading the way.
In Denmark Midsummer, also known as Sankt Hans Aften, is celebrated with various outdoor activities. The most popular or them being bonfires at sunset in parks and beaches. You will also see people singing and dancing, and in some places burning of the “witches”. This tradition sees people burning effigies, which represent negative energies and misfortune. It is believed that doing so will bring luck and blessings in the new year.
In Copenhagen, Tivoli Gardens usually puts on a special program for Midsummer. This includes live music throughout the day and fireworks at the end of the night.
Also known as Kulturnatten, this event takes place on the Friday in October, that starts off the autumn break. Usually it falls on the second Friday of the month.
The intent of this festival is to celebrate all things culture. During this night, the whole city is decorated with lights and there are multiple events happening at most museums and other cultural venues across Copenhagen. There are exhibitions, tours, concerts, and workshops for all ages. You can see the full list of activities here.
In 2023, Kulturnatten takes place on October 13th, and if you wish to attend you will need to buy a pass. Although there are some free art installations in public places you can admire, most events require you have the pass.
You can purchase the pass at train stations, libraries, museums, and all all 7-Eleven stores. It costs under 16 USD per person and in addition to giving you access to all venues, you also can use it to take public transit on the night of the festival.
St. Lucia’s Day Parade
Every year on December 13th is St. Lucia’s Day Parade, a widely popular festival across the Scandinavian countries. Legend has it that Saint Lucia used to carry candles on her head as her hands were occupied feeding the poor during Lent, which started on December 13th.
During this day, throughout the Scandinavian countries, you will see parades of young girls dressed in white, carrying candles on their head while singing the Saint Lucia song.
However, in Copenhagen you will also see kayaks decorated with lights and Santa hats making their way across the canals. Some of the kayakers will also be singing carols. The kayaks start at Kajakhotellet around 5 pm and make their way to Nyhavn, Christianshavn, and Højbro Plads.
Changing of the Guard
I’m not sure if this classifies as weird, but the changing of the guard is one of my favorite Copenhagen traditions. Every day from the military barrack next to Rosenborg Castle, at exactly 11:30 am you will see a parade of marching guards starting off their journey towards Amalienborg Palace. When the queen is in residence between September to April, the music band is also part of the parade. They slowly make their way across the Old Town before arriving at the Palace at 12:00 for the changing of the guard ceremony.
For a full experience I recommend you follow the parade from Rosenborg Castle all the way to Amalienborg Palace. It will take almost one hour, but it’s worth it, especially if your home country is not a kingdom. If you don’t have the time for the full parade, just go straight to Amalienborg Palace right before noon for the ceremony only.
Youth Covered in Cinnamon
If you are unmarried in Denmark by the time you turn 25, it is customary for your friends to pelt you in cinnamon. And no, they don’t just throw a little bit of cinnamon at you. They soak you in water and then completely cover you in this spicy dust from head to toe. And if your friends are feeling a bit mean, they may also throw some eggs to make the cinnamon stick better.
Nowadays this tradition is a fun, playful way to celebrate a big milestone.
These have been the most popular weird (and not so weird) Copenhagen traditions. Have you seen anything weird on your trip(s) to Copenhagen?