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Christmas Through the Ages at the National Museum of Denmark

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.

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.