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Memoirs about Christmas in the 1860s – Danish Family History

Lene Dræby Kottal, Certified Genealogist®
Memoirs about Christmas in the 1860s – Danish Family History

Danish Christmas traditions have changed over the years. Furthermore, regional differences in the celebrations existed and still do. Even if your Danish ancestor did not write their memoirs, you might still be able to get an idea of their traditions. Someone else from the same time and area might have written their memoirs, such as Niels Peder Grønvald Nielsen of Ryslinge.

Niels Peder Grønvald Nielsen's Memoirs about Christmas in the 1860s in Denmark

In 1911, the school Vestbirk Højskole sent a pamphlet with Christmas greetings to its former students. Therein were some memoirs by the principal, Jens Peder Grønvald Nielsen, who was born in 1857 at the mill Krumstrup in Ryslinge Parish, Funen, Denmark.1 His account includes details about Christmas traditions during his childhood. The following is my translation of one of the passages:

Mother... did not decorate a Christmas tree, such [practice] was very rare among peasants in those areas, and then she was also afraid of offending her rather outspoken mother-in-law, my godmother, Peder Pedersen's wife in Lørup who had a Christmas tree every year, and whereto children and all grandchildren were hospitably invited. Unforgettable evenings! The big tree with the lights and the presents; the singing of psalms while we walked round the tree, and I held father and mother's hands. Yes, that was the height of the party atmosphere during my first years of life.2

In this passage, Grønvald Nielsen does not only write about the family's Christmas traditions, but also about the relationship between his mother and her mother-in-law. These are details that archived material rarely provides about our ancestors.

Newspaper clipping, which is translated and cited in the blog post.

Perhaps the mother-in-law bought powdered sugar or a Christmas cake from baker Petersen in Ryslinge. The image above shows an advertisement he ran in the Funen newspaper Fyens Stiftstidende on 20 December 1869. It translates as follows:

First-class powdered sugar, 6 mark per lispund, is recommended for Christmas by the undersigned. Orders are taken for Christmas cakes and other large cakes as well as everything for the craft. Additionally, freshly roasted coffee at 2 mark 12 skillinger per pound is recommended. Petersen, baker in Ryslinge.3

Where to Find Danish Memoirs?

Thanks to the Danish genealogical association Danske Slægtsforskere, the pamphlet with the Christmas greetings and many other Danish books and periodicals, including memoirs, have been scanned and made freely available as searchable PDFs at this website: https://bibliotek.slaegt.dk

You can search for names, places, topics, etc., but bear in mind that the contents are in Danish. If you are looking specifically for publications about Christmas, you could search for jule because that will include search results for Julen (Christmas, a specific one), Julehilsen (Christmas greetings), Juleaften (Christmas eve), Juleferie (Christmas holidays), Julefest and Julebal (Christmas party), Julehæfte (Christmas pamphlet), Julenummer (Christmas edition of a periodical), and many more.

You might not find memoirs written by any of your relatives, but perhaps others from the local community wrote their memoirs. Consider searching for prominent persons who lived in the same parish at the same time as your Danish ancestors.

You can limit the search results to online materials by clicking E-materiale in the left-hand menu under the menu item Medietyper (media types).

Happy hunting!


Source References:

  1. Ryslinge Parish (Svendborg County, Denmark), parish register 1845-1861, clerk's copy, Male Births, 1857: no. 21; image copy, the Danish National Archives, Arkivalieronline (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=420009#420009,77145329). Also, [Niels Peder] Grønvald Nielsen, "Minder fra min barndom og ungdom," Julehilsen fra Vestbirk Højskole til den gamle Elever 1911 (Kolding: 1911), p. 4; PDF copy, Danske Slætgsforskere, Danskernes Historie Online: Danske Slægtsforskeres Bibliotek (https://skolehistorie.dk/722366.pdf).
  2. Nielsen, "Minder fra min barndom og ungdom," p. 12.
  3. "Prima Flormeel, 6 Mk. Lispundet," advertisement in the newspaper Fyens Stiftstidende (Odense), 20 December 1869, p. 3, column 3; image copy, the Danish Royal Library, Mediestream (http://hdl.handle.net/109.3.1/uuid:05da9f9f-6c74-4e48-8998-6286035f8619). Lispund is an old measurement equal to sixteen pounds.
  4. The photo at the top of the post is not protected by copyright. I generated it using the AI image generator by DALL-E. There is no guarantee that an 1860s living room would look like this at Christmas time in Denmark, but that is what I asked the app to draw.