Christmas Through the Ages at the National Museum of Denmark


The National Museum of Denmark is displaying a new ‘Christmas universe’, where visitors can explore the history of Christmas from the 19th century to the present day. This special Christmas exhibition – Merry Christmas – opens on 18 November and runs until 5 January 2024.

In 1811, one of Denmark’s very first Christmas trees was carried into the Lehmann family’s living room in Ny Kongensgade in Copenhagen. When darkness fell, the candles were lit and the tree twinkled and glowed in the elegant living room of the luxury flat. Crowds gathered in the street and looked up. It did not take long before they got hold of some ladders. They clambered up to gaze through the windows at this magnificent sight – a tree with decorations and candles.

When the new exhibition Merry Christmas opens at the National Museum of Denmark on 18 November, visitors will be in for a taste of the same Yuletide astonishment that struck the people of the city one December evening just over 200 years ago. It is a chance to explore the history of Christmas. The exhibition features examples of the Christmas decorations with which we have decorated our trees through the ages, showing how the Christmas tree has evolved since that evening back in 1811.

“The Christmas tree has become an institution in itself: a cornerstone of Christmas for the people of Denmark. It is sacrosanct, even though our notions of what a Christmas tree should actually look like have changed,” says the curator Mette Boritz, creator of the exhibition.

What does the exhibition Merry Christmas have in store for visitors?

Christmas is our favourite festive season, and we honour it with ideas of the ‘real’ Christmas of the good old days. But, if truth be told, the Christmas we know is just a drop in the ocean of history. Because, to a great extent, the Christmas we celebrate today is rooted in the 19th century. The exhibition will reveal this – and much more besides.

Visitors will be reintroduced to the highly popular Christmas Calendar TV series, listen to much-loved Christmas tunes, and see Christmas presents that were originally hung on the tree, but would later be wrapped and placed under the tree.

The exhibition is a total experience, in which visitors walk from one Christmas scene to another. They start off in the living room of a 19th-century farmer. The fire is crackling in the hearth, the Christmas table has been laid, and the Yule goat is lurking. Then comes the gnome. Originally a temperamental, unmarried  country fellow, he went on to become a cheerful family man who loved making children happy. Leaving behind the story of the gnome, visitors venture out into the snowy Christmas forest. Everyone dreams of a ‘white Christmas’, but since 1911 Denmark has only experienced nine of them. Then it is time for a stroll into the city, where visitors will meet those people who cannot afford Christmas: for example, the Little Match Girl and the so-called ‘Star Men’.

The exhibition also features amusing Christmas baubles that illustrate support of football clubs and political parties – not to mention some Christmas decorations we have just about forgotten, such as Jacob’s Ladder and the gnome tree-topper.   

“The Christmas tree has become a stage on which we show who we are. For some people, aesthetics is the most important consideration. They decorate their trees to reflect the latest fashion or in matching colours. Others prize nostalgia and use old family Christmas decorations,” says Mette Boritz.

Christmas, Christmas and more Christmas at the National Museum of Denmark

In the museum’s lobby, visitors will be greeted by a huge Christmas mobile, featuring 1,000 years of Christmas symbols.





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