The art of the office Christmas party: Boozy fun or occupational mine field?

For the most part, Christmas is a jovial time of year, but beware of the julefrokost’s hidden obstacles

Christmas in Denmark is a gleeful time of year, when many enjoy family get-togethers, cosy rendezvous in warm glögg cellars by Nyhavn and brisk evening strolls through Tivoli’s winter wonderland.

But it can be a desperate and dark time as well. Aside from the inescapable sounds of Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’, the sun only creeps out for a few hours a day and the wind blows straight through even the heartiest winter garments. And then there is the dark side of that staple of the Danish holiday season: the julefrokost (Christmas lunch), which many Danes hold so dear.

Sure, it has its perks, such as the over-indulgence of roast pork crackling, potatoes and red cabbage, all drowned in brown and cranberry sauce. It’s a time for fun and games with family, friends and colleagues, partake in an open chat with your boss, and to enjoy a hot mug of glögg in the warm comfort of the Christmas spirit. 

While the police only netted 27 drunk drivers over the first julefrokost weekend of the year, December is traditionally a month in which the nation’s roads see an increase in inebriated drivers. The police also have their hands full because of all the partying. In late November, when the julefrokost season began in earnest, police in Hjørring, Jutland were forced to use pepper spray and arrest three people when a 700-person julefrokost turned ugly. It was just one incident in a season that keeps police busy every year.

But they’re not the only ones. Marriage counsellors also have their hands full during julefrokost time. As anyone who has been to one can attest, as the schnapps and Christmas beers begin to flow and the blood alcohol level increases, people have a tendency to abandon their moral standards.

A recent survey, undertaken by Zapera for 24timer newspaper, indicated that ten percent of Danes have been unfaithful to their partners at a julefrokost. According to relationship counsellor Martin Østergaard it is no coincidence that Danes end up in the sleigh of someone other than Santa, or their partners.

“In the summer the evenings are light and there is not as much alcohol involved. It’s more about barbecues, relaxation and civilised demeanour. Winter, on the other hand, is a depressing time in Scandinavia. There are many crises in the dark period and more tendencies to embrace the dark aspects of life,” Østergaard told 24timer.

Seemingly no-one is immune. Even Copenhagen’s mayor, Frank Jensen (Socialdemokraterne), got in on the act last year, garnering the nickname Creepy Frank (Frank Klam) after he apparently licked and kissed some young women at a City Council julefrokost.

If the tree is in focus, you're reading this on your way home from a julefrokost

This time of year also sees the unions receiving a high volume of calls from members who have landed themselves in some sort of julefrokost-fuelled trouble.

“We do get quite a few phone calls from people who feel bad about something they’ve said or done and are unsure of what to do about it,” Svend-Erik Hermansen, an occupational health specialist for HK/Privat, a office workers’ union, told metroXpress newspaper. “It really goes wrong when the employee tells the boss ‘the truth’ while they’re both under the influence of schnapps and Christmas beer.”

And for many foreigners, their first julefrokost was one of pure disbelief and a battle to survive a formidable evening of swilling and gluttony. American Brian King, who spent time in Denmark a few years ago, contends that “only the strong survive” a julefrokost.

“The pork theme continued into the next course, which was a pork liver pâté and bacon dish. It, too, was a little on the salty side. I began to wonder whether I was having a stroke, because I was having trouble seeing out of one eye (I think some bacon grease had splattered onto my contact lens) and understanding the person sitting next to me speaking both Danish and English in a single sentence,” King wrote in a contribution to the US newspaper The Oregonian

There is also the disappointment that many foreigners endure when a Danish colleague is overly friendly and gregarious during a julefrokost, only to pretend not to know you the following Monday. Shahar Silbershatz, an Israeli expat who has written about his impressions of Denmark for Politiken and Berlingske newspapers, suggested that Danes just need to let off steam sometimes before returning to their colder, more reserved ways.

“Perhaps the conclusion is that the Danes are not as much ‘themselves’ in the office environment as I had always thought, and that therefore they do in fact have a need to let their hair down during the Christmas party. Or maybe the Danes, just like the English and so many others, simply enjoy getting drunk and frisky with their colleagues one night a year,” Silbershatz wrote on Denmark’s official website,

Over-indulgence is an ingrained part of the julefrokost tradition – “At the Christmas lunch, where a lot of alcohol is usually consumed, people traditionally let their hair down and without risk suspend some of everyday boundaries, both in relation to the social hierarchy and generally accepted social conventions,” it concludes.

So, yes, the most Danish of traditions can be quite festive. But the julefrokost also offers ample obstacles for the uninitiated. Above is our humble six-step plan for making it through your julefrokost without getting sacked from your job or disowned by your in-laws.

Factfile | Six things NOT to do at a work julefrokost:

  • Get too wasted. Yes, it is fine to get boozy and to embarrass yourself on the dance floor, but passing out in the men’s room after vomiting in the boss’s antique filing cabinet is not a good career move.
  • Backtalk your colleagues. When alcohol is involved, attempts at witty retorts can quickly be misconstrued as hurtful and cruel, potentially leading to your swift ostracism at the office.
  • Discuss business with your boss. The julefrokost is a time for relaxation and having fun. Do not approach your boss and ask for a pay raise or give him tips on how to run his business. That can lead to a strained relationship come Monday morning.
  • Mess around with a colleague. You must remember that you have to maintain a working relationship with that person and you risk feeling the wrath and gossip of your co-workers, especially if he or she is married. Never mess with the boss’s partner. Ever.
  • Drink only alcohol. If you’re a lightweight or not used to drinking alcohol, drink at least one glass of water or soft drink for every glass of beer or schnapps shot. Especially snaps can be risky, as it is known to sneak up on its unsuspecting victims. It’s a long night, pace yourself.
  • And, finally, what should be a very obvious one: drive home drunk! Instead, join the hordes of incredibly intoxicated Danes using public transportation.

  • How internationals can benefit from joining trade unions

    How internationals can benefit from joining trade unions

    Being part of a trade union is a long-established norm for Danes. But many internationals do not join unions – instead enduring workers’ rights violations. Find out how joining a union could benefit you, and how to go about it.

  • Internationals in Denmark rarely join a trade union

    Internationals in Denmark rarely join a trade union

    Internationals are overrepresented in the lowest-paid fields of agriculture, transport, cleaning, hotels and restaurants, and construction – industries that classically lack collective agreements. A new analysis from the Workers’ Union’s Business Council suggests that internationals rarely join trade unions – but if they did, it would generate better industry standards.

  • Novo Nordisk overtakes LEGO as the most desirable future workplace amongst university students

    Novo Nordisk overtakes LEGO as the most desirable future workplace amongst university students

    The numbers are especially striking amongst the 3,477 business and economics students polled, of whom 31 percent elected Novo Nordisk as their favorite, compared with 20 percent last year.