Danish Canadian Museum Advent Calendar - December 19, 2020
There is one Christmas tale many have to read every year in Denmark it is the famous Peter's Jul. Peter’s Christmas
Jeg glæder mig i denne tid – nu falder julesneen hvid – så ved jeg, Julen kommer. (I’m happy in this season – now the Christmas snow is falling white – then I know, Christmas is coming.) So begins Peters Jul (Peter’s Christmas), an old children’s book that still colours the way Danes view Christmas…
Preparation of æbleskiver for Christmas. Drawing from the original book. (Copyright expired; found at Wikimedia Commons.)
Published by Johan Krohn in 1866, the illustrated book has become a Danish Christmas classic that keeps turning up again and again in Danish homes. I guess generally julen [yooln] is a nostalgic time for many Danes, where you take on your rose-coloured glasses and look back at the ”good old days” – before nytår (New Year) sets in and it’s time to party and look forward.
Here’s a classical quote from the story to give you some idea of the mood. The main character, drengen (the boy) Peter, hears his bedstemor (grandmother) telling a story about Julemanden (Santa Claus):
Et dejligt juletræ han bær’,
det største vist i skoven.
Hans skæg når lige til hans knæer;
og på hans hat for oven
et lille julelys der står;
det stråler, og det skinner
på næsen og det hvide hår
og på hans røde kinder.
Og gade op og gade ned
sit træ han om vil bære;
hvor alle bo, bestemt han ved,
derpå kan vis man være
A lovely Christmas tree he carries,
the biggest, apparently, in the forest.
His beard reaches him to his knees;
and on top of his hat
a little Christmas candle is standing;
it’s sparkling, and it’s shining
on his nose and his white hair
and on his red cheeks.
And up and down the streets
he’ll carry his tree around;
where everybody lives, he knows precisely,
thereof you can be certain.
Ved husets Dør han stille står
og lytter meget længe;
han vide må, før ind han går,
om der er slemme drenge.
Og hører han, at far er vred,
imens han træet tænder,
han rokker straks ad trappen ned
og ud på gaden render.
By the door of the house he stands silently
and listens for a long time;
he has to know, before he enters,
if there are norty boys.
And if he hears that Dad is mad
while lighting [the candles] of the tree,
he immediately wobbles down the stairs
and hurries onto the street.
Men, hører han, at far og mor
er glad for deres drenge,
imens de pynte julebord
og lys i træet hænge,
da ler den gamle Julefar
og ind i stuen smutter.
Sit lys fra hatten ned han ta’er,
det funkler, og det futter;
med det han hen til træet går
og nikker i det samme,
straks fra hvert lille Lys der står
en klar og dejlig flamme.
But if he hears that Dad and Mum
are fond of their boys,
while decorating their Christmas table
and hanging candles in their tree,
then old Father Christmas laughs
and slips into the living room.
His candle he takes down from his hat,
it sparkles and it burns;
with it he walks to the tree
and nods in the same moment,
immediately from each candle springs
a bright and lovely flame.
We follow little Peter and his family from the Christmas preparations until after New Year. From the hushed voices in the corridors and quickly hidden Christmas ornaments, to the baking of cookies and ordering of candles, red ribbons and prunes. From the goose to the cakes and the making of presents.
The book opens with these famous phrases:
I am so happy at this time. Now yuletide snow is falling white. And so Christmas is on its way.
Then comes Christmas Eve!
This night we hardly slept for joy and the day has been so long.
In the afternoon Granny tells the impatient children a Christmas tale about Old (Father) Christmas who will visit every family. Where the children have behaved the true Christmas atmosphere will warm up everyone. Where they have misbehaved he will leave quickly, the candles in the tree will not burn well and Christmas spirit will never shine in that home.
And then finally – the tree! Decorated with sugar figurines, figs, apples, chocolate frogs, candy pigs, and, and, and...
Then they sing and all is wonderful.
After Christmas Eve the children play with their presents and get visited by the poor Rasmus who gets presents too and baked apples.
On the 6th of January Christmas ends. This is where some mother’s always cries a bit when she reads it aloud.
And Christmas ended – The children found their books again and went happy to school. There they didn’t think about Christmas but when they returned home they played with their presents.
And even worse the last sentence regarding the Christmas tree when it is thrown out:
It was dead for sure, but even then it was as if an old friend left them for the last time.
The book has been illustrated various times. The first edition carried Pietro Krohn’s illustrations that I think are the most authentic – Most know them in a beautifully coloured version.
The link leads to a Movie made based on Peter’s Jul, for a Hyggelig evening may we suggest snuggling up with popcorn and a hot beverage of choice and enjoying this holiday classic
In 1942 the book was re-illustrated with entirely different pictures by Herluf Jensenius which some generations prefer. They perhaps carry more artistic value, but still the old ones stay the favourite.
A new edition came a couple of years ago, but those illustrations were definitely too sweet.
Peter’s Christmas gives a romantic and ideal image of old Danish Yule, but after all it is not that far from the Danes own Christmas and it is wonderful to read aloud.
These are lovely if well executed, so a deep-fry thermometer is vital. They are small and delightfully crunchy.