“Same procedure as every year James” is the reply given by elderly Miss Sophie to her butler in the famous TV sketch that has become part of the Danish New Year tradition. Every Danish man, woman and child eagerly watches television on the last night of the year and howls with laughter at the familiar lines that they know by heart. This is a perfect example of Danes in their comfort zone. It is all about ‘sameness’.
My Danish audiences tell me that Christmas is not Christmas unless they come every year, with their whole family or their colleagues, to see my Crazy Christmas Cabaret and, ever since we moved into Glassalen when Tivoli opened its first Christmas Market 15 years ago, my show has become a regular feature of the Danish winter season.
We perform the show from November through January to 60,000 people a year and, of course, I am delighted to be considered an integral part of the Danish Christmas, especially as my comedy show is performed (as indeed is the TV sketch) in English and is very much English humour.
There is nothing more important to Danes than consistency and predictability when it comes to their annual events. Imagine then, their reaction this year, when I stand on stage every evening and announce that, as it is my 30th anniversary, I have decided to do a new style of show. I explain that I do not want to present my usual crazy comedy but instead, I shall be giving them an adaptation of a long-lost Hitchcock screenplay. The usually quiet, reserved Danes respond with a loud and lusty “BOO”, and then happily shout, with my fellow actors’ encouragement: “What a cock up!”
After 30 years of writing the shows, I wanted to try something different, but my Danish audiences will not accept that. They want the show they expect to see, with the usual elements I have been giving them for years: the telephone chat with Queen Margrethe, the panto ‘dame’, lots of audience participation and the oddball Dane, Doctor van Helsingør from Elsinore. Of course I end up giving it to them. It’s Christmas after all!
The one criterion for Christmas in Denmark is that it must be the same: the same height of Christmas tree, the same professionally wrapped presents that can be returned the following week, the same Christmas songs, the same menu, the same candles and (grandmother’s) home-made decorations on the tree … in short, the same procedure as last year. Familiarity is a Dane’s comfort zone that he can cling to during the endlessly long dark days of December.
Backstage at the theatre one evening before the show, I asked my Crazy Cabaret team: “What is the first thing that comes into your head when I mention the word ‘Christmas’?” Their quick-fire responses included, in roughly this order: eating, shopping, drinking, songs and decorations. My young stage manager, with a endearing smile, said: “Family”.
I continued: “And now what is your first negative thought? He said immediately: “Family”. They all laughed. This quip was inevitably followed by a list of negatives: over-eating, insane shopping, excessive drinking, ghastly julenisser and those endlessly repetitive Christmas songs. But they wouldn’t change any of it for the world.
When a Dane wants something exciting and different, he travels abroad. At home in Denmark he wants to surround himself with what is familiar and makes him feel secure. For a country that does not display much family intimacy throughout the year, why do the Danes rush home to cook and eat and drink and dance around the Christmas tree with the family on Christmas Eve? For a country that is not particularly religious, why are the churches full at Christmas? Because that is what they always do. In this tiny Nordic country where the sun disappears at 3:30pm for many months of the year, this consistency is comforting and possibly not such a bad idea.
So bring on the same ol’ Danish jul with its julemand, julekalender, juletræer, julehjerter, julehygge, julegløgg, julemad, julefrokoster, and skillema-dinke-dinke-du, bar´det altså snart var jul. Kan ikke vente”…
We can’t wait – for the same procedure as last year.